Into May: Brighton, Clothworker’s Centre & Sutton House

Something very unusual has happened! My blogging has caught up with my life- well, my writing has.  So, in the interest of helping the blog get on schedule, I’m posting twice this week!

After Greece, our spring was a bit quiet. Aside from a day in Brighton, we stayed pretty close to home.  I still fit in a bit of local adventure though, visiting Sutton House in Hackney, and the Clothworker’s Centre to see a collection of antique beaded purses.

Brighton was lovely.  T rented beach chairs for us, and we settled into them and remained there for several hours, watching the waves crash, watching the shifting clouds, and nibbling on the homemade crumble and snacks we brought along with us. 

First: the V&A Clothworker’s Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion in West London. 


My trip there was a result of some research I’d done on the beads I was gifted by my cousin (mentioned a while back in Brunch, Bubbles and Beads! ).  Access is free with an appointment, after providing details as to which objects you would like to see and for what purpose (their focus is education), as well as providing identification and signing a waiver.  With their permission, I am sharing some photos here but please note they cannot be used without consent, or for any monetary/commercial purpose.

I was allowed to choose a number of items, which were laid out on a table.  I was paired with a staff member who came to turn over, hold up, and open items for me to look at them closer.  It was such a fantastic experience!! 


One of my requests was on display at the V&A at the time, which left 4 for me to view.  All were beaded, all English.  Three of them were made in the 1800s, and one was made in 1628.  While none of them shared the colours, likely size, or patterns of the beads I have, it was still incredibly helpful. 

The biggest surprise of the 1628 purse was that the beadwork was completely independent of the fabric base!  It was literally fabric, in and of itself!  Woven into the beadwork is the slogan ‘Hit or miss there it is 1628’ and the lightweight leather interior is completely in tact as if new. 

There is a 2 inch band of silk at the top of the purse with a drawstring closure. 

Four rows of baste stitch extend from the base of the purse of the seam where the leather meets the delicate silk edging, attaching the beadwork to the framework of the purse.  What was most surprising to me was the hand stitching!  I’d love to know how the beading was done, whether is was machine made and then attached to the hand sewn purse, or whether the beading itself was also meticulously done by hand! So many questions!


I enjoyed looking closely at each purse, taking in the varying sizes of beads, the varieties in technique and fabric, and appreciating the high level of detail.  When I was prepared to leave, I noticed that the next table over had some beautiful examples of beadwork as well, but in the form of clothing. 


I was allowed to join them, and learned that they were designers who were viewing costumes!  Such fun!

My other local adventure took me to Hackney, East London.  I walked through the St. John at Hackney Churchyard first, where St. Augustine’s Tower is all that remains of the church that once stood there.  It was demolished in 1797, after the ‘new’ (this makes me giggle) larger St John-at-Hackney church was built.  Records for the church there go back as far as 1275, though it is thought that a church has been on the site since prior to the Norman Conquest.


The tower was a happy accident- I was on my way to Sutton House in Hackney. Today,  the facade is that of a duplex, and the gardens offer a quirky and fun play space for children.  Those toy cars are bolted to the fence, and check out the swanky interior of the trailer come children’s playhouse!

In 1535, Sutton House was unique in being built almost entirely of brick in a time when most houses were built of timber, with wattle and daub panels.  The exterior is difficult to photograph, so instead, enjoy detailing from: 1) oak carved with a pattern of hops, found under the fireplace in the old kitchen; 2) preserved interior paintwork; the well-preserved brick cellar; and the beautiful wooden steps into the cellar.  I absolutely love these steps! The hundreds of years old wood, their still-anchored-like-concrete attachment to the brick, the organic colours- I just love it all!

Originally called The Bryk Place, it was built for Sir Ralph Sadleir, an English statesman and diplomat of Henry VIII.  He was arrested when Mary I rose to power, but was granted a pardon and later returned to favour under the reign of Elizabeth I.  He also served on the committee that sentenced Mary Queen of Scots to death.

The house has had an interesting history in its more almost 500 years.  In the 1700s, Mary Tooke was the first of many Huguenots who would occupy the house over the next 70 years (Huguenots were French Protestants who fled from religious persecution in Catholic France).  Pictured below: dining room in the modern wing, cellar level chapel, and clothing owned and worn by  Mary Tooke.  That lace is even more stunning up close and in person!

For a time, it was a school, which is why historians and volunteers believe the large rooms were maintained, and later, a group of artistic squatters stayed there.  Interestingly, the squatters are credited for protecting the property, because after their eviction there was actually quite a bit of theft and damage when it sat empty.  For some time, the National Trust wasn’t sure what to do with what they believed was a not-particularly-special Georgian house, because of exterior renovations done by one owner which covered up the original tudor form.  The left half of the house, inside and out, was remodelled to a more modern Georgian standard, while the right side maintained more of its original qualities. Current volunteers comment on the hilarity of this, as the widely contrasting styles must have drawn very different types of tenants!

Despite the duplex conversion, the main central hall is still in tact, which is quite rare for a property of this age.  It might also be why so many of the original carved fireplaces and windows remain, along with impressive Tudor oak panelling. 

If you’re a history buff like me, you might enjoy a collection of facts, courtesy of the National Trust’s Sutton House brochure:

~ Sutton house is the oldest home in East London
~ When the house was divided and renovated in the mid-1700s and became home to Huguenots, it was home to the de Ste Croix family and their 12 children in 1800
~ the cellar is original, only became a chapel in 1914.  St John at Hackney Church Institute, a club meant to “promote the Spiritual, Mental, Social and Physical welfare of young men” was run in the house from 1891 until 1939.

My only regret is that I didn’t take more notes while I was there!  There is so much more to its history that I can’t remember and wish I could share with you now, especially regarding the historian who uncovered the true Tudor identity of the house!  There is more to be found on the EastLondonHistory site. Perhaps I’ll just have to go back! But then, there are so many places to see just in the city of London, to say nothing of Britain, of Europe!

Silly me, I arrived here a year ago with a list, and while we’ve done so much, rather then check things off and have a list that’s gotten smaller,  the list just keeps getting longer!  Living abroad is such a unique experience, but that’s a whole conversation for another post!


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