Champagne socialists and punk squatters at Sutton House

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.

Clive Jenkins

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:

Image couresty of John Bates and the All The Madmen website

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
  • Antisect
  • Flowers In The Dustbin
  • Bad Dress Sense
  • Blyth Power
  • Splatterbabies
  • God Told Me To Do It
  • Disorder
  • 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:

image courtesy of Penguin / Kill Your Pet Puppy

(“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.

9 thoughts on “Champagne socialists and punk squatters at Sutton House

  1. The Anti Sect gig was an A.l.F. benifet gig they were supported by The Deaf Tones who lived there at the time , I have photos of us (The Deaf Tones) playing and of course Anti Sect , I also have a photp of Pinkie McClure playing there with her band . We all drove down to Glastonbury festival in 1987 (June) and when we got back people had broken in and stolen the panelled room from the ground floor left !! This was the main reason we got evicted shortly after ! On a happier note I had previously worked for the only firm where the thieves could possibly sell the oak panelling (London Architectural Salvage & Supply co.) So a quick phone call was enough to ensure that the thieves got arrested and the panelling recovered and installed back in the house ! I still tell people today I used to live in the oldest dwelling in Hackney !

    • thanks john, for setting thijngs right ! too much rumours and disinformation going round , or at least was at some point.
      we had looked up about the house in hackney library. it was written, that built by lord sutton – well, i guess, he payed for it. he built it as a place , where the community could meet, so the book said, for that purpose , it had the barn at the back of building. when we moved in, the barn was all little rooms, not to be recognised as a barn, only when we smashed them walls down, the original barn came back to live – in its original purpose – which i found a very good thing , indeed. quite happy about the fact, that the oldest building has been brought back to its original purpose through squatters !
      the name “blue house” came from the idea to squatt a big place and make a centre for the people. i had planned to paint the building all blue, but as i fell over this national trust building, it was clear, the idea of painting it blue was not a good idea, but the name remained, i have very fond memories of the blue house.

      • Hi Christine, I always wondered why you called it “The Blue House”. I should have asked you I suppose. You might not remember me as I was only there a couple of months and I moved out when the winter got cold. My girlfriend had squatted a council flat round the corner with free heating. It must have been autumn 85. My only contribution was when we had to raise money to pay some bill, I suggested I could brew beer and sell it at the gigs, rather than selling cans at the same price we bought them for, as we always did before. I suggested that we could sell homebrew at more than cost price. The idea of making a profit made a lot of people uneasy. I worked out that it cost about 8p per pint to brew the beer so someone suggested we sell it for 10p. At the time cans probably cost 50p each. I eventually persuaded everyone that we could sell it for about 25p per pint. So we became filthy capitalists and raised the money. I have many happy memories of the place and the people. I particularly remember my guided tour when I moved in. Someone – can’t remember who – unlocked the panelled room and we tiptoed in, whispering for some reason. I was told how rare linenfold panelling was, that John referred to, and that no-one was allowed to touch it.. I’m glad to see that the National Trust finally felt obliged to do something about the place, but it was a real pity it never had the chance to grow into the kind of community centre they (used to?) have in Copenhagen and Berlin, and which probably inspired you.
        Your post is eight years old so you probably won’t see this.

  2. I went to the Blue House once, to see Flowers In The Dustbin. Many, many years later, I lived nearby and visited the place as Sutton House. It looked somewhat different by then! Although I admit to not remembering much of the gig, apart from wandering around Homerton looking for a toilet, as I don’t recall the Blue House having such a luxury!

  3. Pingback: More Stuff | Adventures in Motorcycling

  4. Pingback: Mike Gray remembered at Chats Palace | The Radical History of Hackney

  5. Pingback: Blue House squat at Sutton House – can you help? | The Radical History of Hackney

  6. Pingback: Forthcoming events of interest | The Radical History of Hackney

  7. I went to a party there once in 86 or 87, (perhaps it was meant to be a gig as there was live music). A friend of mine called Nigel told me about it and we trekked out there from Ealing. At some point during the evening I found myself in a treehouse in the garden, and the tree then caught fire and a number of us scrambled to get out of it. Later on I couldn’t find Nigel and had no way to get home so ended up sleeping under a piece of carpet until it was time for the trains to start running again. It was an interesting evening for a naive kid who’d never met any squatters before.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.