The Tudor connection
Sutton House was built in 1535 by Ralph Sadleir, then Thomas Cromwell's close aide in the court of Henry VIII. At the age of 14 Ralph had been placed in Cromwell's household, where he learned Latin and developed many other skills he would later put to good use in his political career.
Sadleir carried out missions in connection to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He was later sent on embassies to Scotland and France.
At Cromwell's house Sadleir met his wife Helen Barre. By 1535 he had built his family a three-storey house in semi-rural Hackney, which became known as 'the bryk place'.
The silk merchant
In 1627 the house was bought by silk merchant Captain John Milward, of the East India Company. The EIC had been founded in 1599 by traders including Milward’s brother, and many of its early merchants had houses in Hackney.
Captain Milward mainly traded silk with Iran, on favourable EIC terms granted by Elizabeth I, and quickly became very wealthy. By 1625 he had joined the governing body of the EIC, which was transporting enslaved people from East Africa to Indonesia by 1628.
Milward and his wife Anne filled Sutton House with rich imported furnishings and silks, and probably commissioned its painted ‘trompe l’oeil’ staircase to impress their guests. He also had prominent roles in the community, including being captain of a marching band. But in the 1630s the value of silk dropped rapidly, as the popularity of American cotton grew, and Milward had to mortgage the house to an EIC colleague.
A house divided
In 1751 John Cox divided the house into two self-contained residences; Ivy House and Milford House. The former was later lived in by Victorian solicitor Charles Pulley for around 40 years, while the latter was an academy for girls from 1841. The Hackney Parish rate books give us a complete record of the occupants of the two houses from this point.
From 1891 the whole house was once again in use as St. John’s Church Institute, which provided skills-training and pastimes for young men from the parish church. The Institute revived or reinstated a lot of the house's Tudor features, and were in residence until the Second World War.
The Blue House
From 1985 the house was occupied by squatters, and re-named 'the Blue House'. They held diverse community activities here, including a cafe and cultural workshops - and rock concerts and club nights in the barn.
Find out more about our fascinating 500-year history by visiting for one of our guided tours