The rectory house you can see in our virtual reality
reconstruction, is based on documentary evidence, as there are
no pictures surviving to tell us what the house looked like in
1605. Indeed from the mid 18th century all named traces of the
house vanish from local sources like records of the local rates
people paid for their property. Research for this project showed
that the rectory had been rebuilt after 1764, by which time it
had ceased to be the rectory. By 1810 it had been divided into
The only surviving picture of the building shows
a square, brick building with two chimneys at either end. This
was drawn in 1811 as part of a view of a balloon ascent from the
Mermaid gardens. Just left of centre is the Assembly rooms, part
of the Mermaid pleasure gardens, and above it is the Old Church
tower. The rectory is just off centre with its north end facing
us and the two small chimneys on the back or west wall clearly
It is this drawing, and plans drawn up in the 18th
century, that enabled us to locate the rectory. For more details
of the history of Hackney rectory, you can read Naboth's
Vineyard : Hackney Rectory in the 17th century by Martin Taylor,
originally published in Hackney History Vol 5 in 1999 and published
by the Friends of Hackney Archives.
But the pictures show a brick-built building, and
one whose virtually square profile would have been unusual for
a building that we know existed in 1601. So how did we arrive
at our reconstruction in virtual reality timber and plaster?
The background to the Rectory house
The parish of Hackney was one of many where the
living was held by rectors, who were often absent, and whose
duties were performed by vicars. Consequently many of the medieval
rectors would have leased the rectory house and the glebe land
that went with it to laymen. The vicars lived in a house just
north of the church (on a site now marked by a Celtic cross).
Land for a vicarage was endowed in 1345, and we know from the
records that there was also a rectory house in the mid 14th
century, which may have dated from a century before. With most
rectors living elsewhere, there would have been little incentive
to make major improvements to the house.
But in 1502 Christopher Urswick became rector.
Medieval government depended heavily on clergy, who were often
rewarded with the income from several benefices, which they
held simultaneously. Urswick served Henry VII and is believed
to have played a role in arranging the king's marriage to Elizabeth
of York. He also served the king on a number of embassies to
foreign courts. Urswick had been Dean of York and was later
Archdeacon of Oxford, but he seems to have adopted Hackney as
his home. We know he rebuilt the church, and provided the parish
with Church House, in front of the church tower for local duties
and government business. It seems likely that he would have
improved his own house, the rectory, making it fit for a person
who had played his part in national affairs.
It is likely that the original rectory would have
had a central hall, with no internal floor, to which service
or solar wings may have been added. There would have been no
chimney, so smoke from an open hearth would have escaped through
one of the gable ends of the hall. We have no records of any
alterations that Urswick may have carried out, but he may have
replaced or improved the service or solar wings. The rectory
would have remained timber framed. When Ralph Sadleir built
his new house in Homerton over thirty years after Urswick became
the rector of Hackney, he built in brick, and his new house
(today's Sutton House) was known as 'the bryk place', an indication
that brick built houses were unusual in the area at the time.
The Daniell's rectory of 1601
After Urswick's death in 1522 the rectory reverted
to being leased to tenants and it was a lease that John and
Jane Daniell acquired in the autumn of 1600, using the money
John had obtained in exchange for his silence from the Countess
of Essex. In the ensuing eight years any improvements made by
Urswick would have seemed out dated and old fashioned. The years
from 1575 saw the beginning of the 'Great Rebuilding' as gentry
and yeomen used their increasing wealth to make their timber
framed homes more comfortable. Hackney was just such an area
where the profits of farming gave the local middle classes disposable
income. John Daniell had come by his wealth through a more questionable
route, but he put it to immediate use. He paid Robert Houlder
the substantial sum of 100 marks for building work. When rectory
was seized by the Crown commissioners, the haul included boards
and timber, presumably left over from this work.
What would Robert Houlder have been asked to do?
If Urswick’s improvements had not included chimneys, then
the Daniells would have certainly had them built, enabling the
central hearth fire with its wandering wayward smoke filling
the old hall to be dispensed with. This would have allowed the
hall to have been divided, with a new floor inserted. A framed
staircase would have replaced ladders to upper chambers in the
service wings and new partitions built to provide additional
privacy for the family. Cooking was moved from the hall to a
purpose built kitchen, while the parlour provided private space
for the family, leaving the hall to servants.
We have assumed that any brick work at this stage
would have been confined to external chimneys. The end result
would have been rectangular building with chimneys at both ends.
The square shape of the building in the 1810 view and the two
small back chimneys would have been added in the 18th century
alterations which saw the conversion of the rectory into cottages.
show that the Daniell's improvements left them with a kitchen,
parlour, and chambers on the ground floor, with a further four
rooms and a little closet - the study - on the first floor.
There was a staircase - surely new - linking the floors. The
presence of fire irons indicates that some rooms had fire places.
It is also likely that rooms were provided with ceilings for
the first time, covered over with plaster, possibly adorned
with simple patterns.
For commentary on the Daniell's goods and life
style see 'Naboth's
Vineyard : Hackney Rectory in the 17th century'
In reconstructing the rectory house of 1601, we
have followed the order of the inventories. The commissioners
would have walked from room to room drawing up the list of the
Daniell's possessions, and although this does not tell us the
exact positions of each room, it has provided a framework. This
information has been matched to layouts and features that survive
from houses that survive from the 16th century and before. These
have included the Ancient House in Church Street, Walthamstow,
which was in the last stages of restoration work as this project
was being developed. The oldest portion of this house dates
The gate house was demolished before any extant
plans of the area were taken. As we know it had one room in
it, we have chosen to show this as being over the approach track,
reached by an external stair case.
From the inventory we know that there were two
barns on the glebe land, but we have no record of their precise
site. In the plan of 1764 Buck House Lane (on the site of the
modern Kenmure Road) runs due north of the rectory to a building
over one arm of the Hackney Brook. We have assumed that this
was on the site of a cart track that provided access to the
barns, and have sited them accordingly just to the north of
the rectory, and to the east of the brook. Both barns are assumed
to be late medieval structures and drawn accordingly.
The rectory house after the Daniells
The rectory and the glebe land round it remained
leased to tenants after the enforced departure of the Daniells.
The environs of the house were changed before the 1740s when
the new Mermaid was built on the west side of Church Street
(now Mare Street) and the land on the south side of the rectory's
access road taken for a bowling green. The rectory gate house
could have been demolished at the time the new Mermaid was built.
The old Mermaid tavern remained on the east side of Church Street,
just north of the church, where we have shown it in the virtual
A plan of 1764 gives a clear idea of how the area
would have looked. The access way to the rectory survives as
Sweet Briar Walk, though this was to disappear when the Assembly
Rooms were built on the site about 1777. Other houses have been
built in the grounds although the rectory house still has coach
houses and yards. The square shape of the building (the 'capital
mansion' on the plan) may be accounted for by a one storey extension
at the rear. This would have been extended up to first floor
height either by 1764, or at the time the property was divided
The construction of the Assembly rooms in 1777
completed the downward spiral of the rectory house, for it is
likely that it was then or shortly afterwards that it was divided
into two cottages, possibly for use by staff working in the
tavern or the Assembly rooms. The new Mermaid and the Assembly
Rooms provided a gathering place for Hackney people until the
1840s. Then John Robert Daniel Tyssen, brother of the lord of
the manor, who also served as manorial steward, acquired the
Mermaid and demolished it, building the present 'Manor House'
on the site of the new Mermaid, which is the modern 387 Mare
Street. Some of the outbuildings at the rear had been badly
damaged in a fire of 1790, but the tithe map of 1843 suggests
that the former rectory house survived this fire, but was amongst
the buildings swept away in Tyssen's rebuilding.
Much of the former Mermaid gardens survived as
open land behind Tyssen's new house, completed in 1845, but
was bisected by Brett Road (whose name was approved in 1874)
and by the western extension of Cold Bath Lane (renamed Kenmure
Road) in 1877. The likely site of Hackney's lost rectory house
is now covered by houses on the west side of Brett Road, near
the Kenmure Road junction.