On my short exploration of the parts of England that I don’t usually reach I eventually arrived at Hackney, and Sutton House.  Now Hackney is not just a place-name, without the capitalisation it is defined here as

Middle English: probably from Hackney in East London, where horses were pastured. The term originally denoted an ordinary riding horse (as opposed to a war horse or draught horse), especially one available for hire: hence hackney carriage or coach, and the archaic verb hackney meaning ‘use (a horse) for ordinary riding’, later ‘make commonplace by overuse’ (see hackneyed).

As a Tudor mansion standing in modern London’s East End, there is nothing commonplace about Sutton House, but it has certainly seen a lot of varied use over its lifetime, as evidenced by the varying decor as you pass through the Tudor kitchen and onto rooms decorated in Jacobean and Georgian Styles.

Head below street level and on one side of the property you’ll find a cellar with medieval foundations, and on the other an Edwardian chapel.  Lift trapdoors in the floor to see original beams, slide moving panels to reveal a patterned wall decoration whose design anticipated the panelling that now conceals it.  Some of the most informative staff I’ve encountered in a National Trust property are keen that you should miss nothing (including London’s oldest loo!).

The house was originally built for Henry VIII’s Secretary of State, Ralph Sadleir, (known to fans of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as Rafe Sadler) in 1535 at a time when the majority of buildings had the familiar Tudor timber construction of a frame of beams with the spaces between filled with wattle and daub.   Sadler’s choice of a different material marked this out as a grander building; one that was referred to as “the bryk place”, though a decade later he upgraded again and moved to an estate in Hertfordshire where on his death he was claimed to be “the richest commoner in England”.  I wonder what he would have made of some of the later inhabitants of his brick mansion.

Though bequeathed to the National Trust in 1938, the house’s location in one of London’s less than leafy suburbs left them unsure as to its viability, and so over the years it was rented out, abandoned, considered for conversion into apartments, and occupied by squatters.  This last fact produces another surprise for in the loft space you come upon a graffiti’d room that represents this period; as valid a historical record as any other.

One of the ways in which the Trust run’s Sutton House in an area where fewer history buffs are likely to visit is to use the property for community events and exhibitions, often in the former scrubland to the side of the property now restored as The Breakers Yard.  When I was there though the Trust were creating controversy with an installation of their own.   A number of Trust properties around the country hosted LGBTQ events and exhibits and a building as fluid as Sutton House played host to a series of beautiful photographs by Sarah Moore of black trans activist Munroe Bergdorf.  Perhaps Sadler would have been less surprised by this; he lived in a period when every female role on the stages of London’s theatres would have been played by a man.

Plenty of surprises then, and far from hackneyed.

Daniel Lobb’s The Grange (1998)

Wooden It Be Nice

Of the two churches I visited in Manchester, it seemed right to begin with St Ann’s as archaeological evidence suggests that the first church to be built in Manchester was erected near that site though it was destroyed by vikings in the 10th Century.

_pw_4032That said my second church can also point to Anglo-Saxon origins as a carved stone from that period is embedded into the present building’s fabric.  I refer to the Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George, or as it is now known, Manchester Cathedral.  The present structure began as a parish church in the early 13th century, but in 1421 Baron Thomas de la Warre was granted permission by his king and the pope to establish a collegiate church here, and so began a remodelling into the current building.  The use of the same red sandstone as St Ann’s produced the same issues of erosion and with wartime bomb damage contributing to the need for restoration, the building has a more youthful look and might be mistaken for a Victorian gothic revival.  It is Grade I listed.

On this occasion then I’ll turn my back on the stonework, but not on the architecture for the most impressive structural details are in wood.

The roof beams are perhaps the first to catch your eye on entering the building, or perhaps the paired cherubs of the font cover,  but these are soon forgotten when you reach the chancel area and see the choir stalls.  Is exquisite too strong and adjective?  Centuries of wear from cleric and choristers passing hands over the carvings have softened some of the lines, but once out of reach of human contact the structures are detailed and intricate and look as sharp as when they were installed installed in the Tudor period.

A recent exchange on British quiz show Pointless had two suggestions for the meaning of the word misericord, the first was that it was an organ-like musical instrument, the second that it was a medieval knife.  Neither was fully correct, though there was dagger called a misericorde.  The correct answer is that it is a protrusion on the underside of a folding seat which gives support to someone standing, for example through a lengthy set of prayers.  The term means giver of mercy – hence the dagger.  The thirty examples in Manchester are considered to be amongst the best in Europe, though several weren’t visible on the day as many seats were folded down so I didn’t see the example which apparently shows the earliest example of backgammon being played in the UK.

_pw_4044Something else that was hidden on this occasion was the choir screen for a new organ is being installed, meaning that the perpendicular gothic lines were overlaid with vertical scaffolding that camouflaged and obscured them.

Luckily I’d found myself with a moment or two to spare earlier this year when en route to catch a train at Manchester Victoria.  I hadn’t had time to fully explore, but I did have enough to see this…


Think Before You Speke

APW_2289_90_91My usual base of operations in the Widnes area being fully booked, I found accommodation a little further afield on the fringes of Liverpool’s John Lennon airport, whose signage manages to borrow a line from Imagine without being completely cheesy (though I did have to remove the street lights from the picture to give truth to the quotation)

APW_2280_HDR-EditThis is the region of Liverpool’s motor manufacturing industry, the Halewood Jaguar/Land Rover plant being nearby; suppliers of two of the world’s favourite luxury brands.  Makes you proud to be British, though of course they are both owned by the Indian Tata Group!

Inevitably the area is peppered with factories and warehouses supplying the car plant, which means that even a fifth floor hotel room doesn’t benefit from the most beautiful vistas. untitled-1_HDR Even a moody sunset does little to prettify the surroundings.  untitled-10_HDR

Scanning the panorama that includes the airport control tower, you have the additional  though dubious benefit of the tanks and chimneys of the refineries of Ellesmere Port.  To be fair, the hills of the Clwydian Range, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are visible on the horizon to the right of the view though so distant as to be irrelevant to the overall impression.

APW_2292_3_4-EditAnd yet there is a small patch of woodland in the centre of this industry, an oasis of heritage in a desert of progress.  The dual carriageway that streams passengers to the airport, morphs into a tree-lined avenue beyond it.  This is Speke Hall, a Tudor mansion that fell into disrepair and ruination before being restored by the Victorians and eventually being passed to the National Trust just before the Second World War.APW_2259_HDR

My work schedule meant that I wouldn’t have time to explore its secret defences (the house was built by Catholics; targets for persecution in the era of the Hall’s construction) or encounter any of the spirits that make it one of Britains most haunted buildings, but I thought I’d have time to shoot a few images of the exterior at least, capturing the typical black and white Tudor exterior, and from a distance I did. That was as far as I got though.  Until July, the property is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Another time perhaps.