13: 16thC bricks in Hackney, ‘the Arcadia beyond Moorfields’..

13: 16thC bricks in Hackney, ‘the Arcadia beyond Moorfields’..

The first posts on this blog have been about granite, and granite is indeed the dominant feature of building along the Thames through central London. But London more generally is about brick and I’ll focus a lot on that in posts to come. And to start, yesterday, I checked out the 16thC bricks/brickwork of the Tudor Sutton House in Homerton! And wonderful they are!

Even though the Romans had used a variety of bricks and tiles for building [1], which can be seen in London Wall, [2] often then re-cycled as ‘spolia’ in Mediaeval churches, those who came after them did not carry on the brickmaking tradition. Indeed generally up until the Great Fire of 1666 London was built with timber from woodland around London. When stone was used it was bought in from Essex, Kent or Surrey or occasionally further afield like Beer in Devon and the Normans brought their own stone with them from Caen e.g. for the White Tower.

However in the 15thC brick started to be used again in Europe, in Vlaanderen and the Nederlands particularly, and due to their proximity to London the London rich started to copy this new fashion. But still it was a rarity in the early 16thC.

Sutton House was built in 1535 for Sir Ralph Sadler, a Principal Secretary of State to Henry VIII. [6] It was apparently originally know as “Bryck Place,” as brick built houses were so rare. ( N.b. it is mis-named as Sutton House due to a mix up! [7] ) And it is then one of the oldest brick buildings in all of London. In east London there is only one older, Bromley Hall, sat sadly next to the Blackwall Tunnel approach, thought to be from the 1480s [3] but Sutton House is much better preserved. It also then predates other famous London early brick buildings like Charlton House [ 1607-12] [4] , the oldest brick terrace in London, at not so far, Newington Green, by 130 years and is contemporary with Hampton Court (finished 1525) [5] I suspect Sir Ralph Sadler knew of Hampton Court when he had his house built!

And I love the bricks! There seem to be two types of 16thC bricks in the old walls at Sutton House ( n.b. it has been rebuilt/repaired a number of times so many bricks are not Tudor ) : Firstly ‘red rubbers’, soft red bricks whirly like marble cake from their manual mixing and many with pebbles in them, nothing like modern bricks, commonly made from brickearth [9] of which Hackney had a lot until it was used up by the 19thC, and secondly, burnt or semi-vitrified bricks – if you look closely you can see they are glassy [10]

The bricks have then been used in a pattern, a diapered pattern “Tudor polychromatic brickwork built of orange-red bricks laid in English Cross-bond to display ‘diapers’ of flared headers,” [11] “A decorative feature evident in medieval brickwork that extended into the 17th century was the use of diaper patterns. This saw saltires and diagonal intersecting lines picked out using well-vitrified or flared headers that were overburnt during firing and presented a grey to blue colour.” [12] The main brick laying seems to be English Bond. [13]

Sutton House is full other other ancient architectural features including Tudor oak panelling, but sadly at the moment is only open for pre-booked tours. And it’s not cheap, £8 for non-National Trust Members [6] [ though there are decent family concessions ] but you can see some of the brickwork from outside.

p.s. I love the Hackney as “Arcadia beyond Moorfields” quote but no indication who said it .. It’s from here – https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol10/pp10-14

Getting there
Sutton House is at the end of Sutton Place at the very beginning of Homerton High Street.
It’s a short walk through the St John’s Church Yard past St Augustines Tower.


[1] https://www.brocross.com/Bricks/Penmorfa/Bricks/Bits/BRICKS%20THROUGH%20HISTORY.pdf
[2] https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/london-wall/History/ [3] https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2019/09/11/bromley-hall-the-oldest-brick-building-in-london/ [4] https://www.greenwichheritage.org/visit/charlton-house [5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hampton_Court_Palace#Tudor_times6 [6] https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-house/features/delve-into-the-history-of-sutton-house [7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutton_House,_London [8] https://archaeology-travel.com/england/sutton-house-hackney-london/ [9] https://www.lrbm.com/news/lrbm-adds-two-new-brick-types-to-soft-red-range/ [10] https://historicengland.org.uk/content/docs/education/explorer/teachers-kit-brick-making-pdf/
[11] https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/tudor-brickwork/tudor-brickwork.htm
[12] https://www.isurv.com/info/390/features/11968/building_history_bricks_and_mortar [13] https://www.wienerberger.co.uk/tips-and-advice/brickwork/how-do-i-choose-the-correct-brick-bonding-pattern.html

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