Sutton House on Homerton High Street was “built in 1535 by Sir Ralph Sadleir, Principal Secretary of State to Henry VIII. It is the oldest residential building in Hackney”. (Wikipedia). I doubt that Sadleir mixed up the mortar and laid the bricks himself, but details of the names of the actual builders have not been recorded for posterity.
The house has been used variously as a school, a centre for fire wardens during the 2nd World War blitz, and the headquarters of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS) trade union.
I’m not going to lie – labour movement history is not something that particularly excites me. The ASTMS are notable for being a “white collar” union which later merged with others to become MSF, then Amicus, now Unite.
Having said that, Clive Jenkins – the General Secretary of the ASTMS sounds entertaining. For example he listed “organising the middle classes” as a favourite recreation in Who’s Who.
His scepticism about the sixties “I’m Backing Britain” campaign was admirable: “When the British ruling class is in trouble it wraps itself in the Union Jack.”
Jenkins went on to join the ruling class by becoming a millionaire. He died in 1999. The obituaries were effusive:
“He had a reputation as a champagne socialist. He used to go to Blackpool to the various conferences and you would find him in a fish and chip shop not far from the Imperial Hotel with a bottle of Chablis. He was quite a character.”
(From BBC obit)
Also: Guardian obit
After the ASTMS vacated Sutton House in the early eighties it fell into disuse and disrepair before being rescued by squatters:
The squatters named it The Blue House. This remarkable bit of footage on Youtube shows the exterior and interior of the Blue House and some of its residents:
The space was used as a social centre and music venue as well as a home:
(Flyers above from the Blue House album on facebook – click to enlarge).
Bands which played the Blue House included:
- Band of Holy Joy
- Brain of Mobius
- Decadent Few
- Another Green World
- Flowers In The Dustbin
- Bad Dress Sense
- Blyth Power
- God Told Me To Do It
- Slave Dance
- Sons of Bad Breath
The last three played a benefit gig for the anarchist group Class War’s “bust fund” on 21st September 1985. This event followed the “Bash The Rich” march from Camden to Hampstead earlier on the same day.
There’s some confusion around the web about whether My Bloody Valentine and Shake Appeal (who went on to be Swervedriver) played The Blue House, but it seems that this gig was actually at Kerouacs/Club Mankind nearby in Hackney Central.
Towards the end of 1985 a benefit gig for the Blue House took place at Stoke Newington Town Hall:
(“The Angels Ov Light” were Hackney group Psychic TV under an alias).
There are some great reminiscences about gigs at The Blue House on the excellent Kill Your Pet Puppy site. (See the comments sections here, here and here.)
The squatters were evicted at some point in 1986/7. If you know when or have any other info or memories please leave a comment below or get in touch!
In his book A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London, Patrick Wright goes into some detail about the subsequent wrangles between the squatters, other local residents (who wanted the house to be restored and/or a community facility) and the National Trust and a property developer (who wanted to turn Sutton House into five private flats).
The National Trust eventually saw sense and kept Sutton House, reopening it in 1994 after a great deal of rennovation. Artwork by the squatters has been retained (and images of it are now being sold), which on balance is a gratifying example of the importance of radical history being recognised by mainstream organisations:
Sutton House is now a popular National Trust museum/venue/shop/tea room. Full info is available on the National Trust website.
Music events take place regularly, courtesy of the Sutton House Music Society. Punks may be slightly disappointed however.
With thanks to Transpontine.