Hackney's Royal Palace

Brooke House's Long Gallery
Brooke House's Long Gallery

Hackney’s largest house was Brooke House, which stood on a site north west of the junction of Lea Bridge and Upper Clapton roads, now occupied by part of Hackney Community College. The earliest part of the house was probably built for William Worsley, Dean of St Paul’s, who owned the estate from 1476 until 1496, when he sold it to Sir Reginald Bray. It passed to the Southwell family and was sold to Henry Algernon Percy, earl of Northumberland in 1531. In an exchange of lands with Henry VIII, the Hackney house passed to the King in January 1535. Henry Percy retained a house at Newington Green, though he was short of money and often in poor health. In one letter from Newington Green he described himself as “diseasid and crased”.

Worsley’s house was built around a single courtyard, with a substantial brick built hall, grand enough to serve as a model for a City Livery company hall, which stood on the side facing Upper Clapton Road. In the middle of this eastern block was a gatehouse, with a turret staircase. On the north side of the hall was a chapel. The other three sides of the courtyard were surrounded by timber-framed two-storey buildings. To the north lay various out-buildings.

Henry VIII in turn granted the estate to Thomas Cromwell, who carried out substantial alterations and improvements, which included work to the roof, new chimneys, enlarging the buttery and the solar, and “all other lodgynges trymed with wyndowes glasse and hangynges”. Cromwell was never to live there, for the house passed back to Henry VIII in May 1536. In the following July, it was the scene of the reconciliation meeting between Henry and his eldest daughter Mary, who travelled down from Hunsdon after agreeing to take the Oath of Supremacy (recognising the King as head of the Church of England) and accepting her illegitimacy.

The earl of Northumberland returned to his Hackney house in May 1537, but his illness was so advanced that he died there the following month and was buried at Hackney Church. King Henry was an occasional visitor to his Hackney house in 1538. It was loaned to the Lord Chancellor, Wriothesley, in September 1545, so that he could escape an outbreak of plague in the City of London.

After Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the house and estate went as a reward for services to one of his gentlemen of the Privy Chamber - Sir William Herbert.

A full description appears in the Herbert lease:

“...there is a Manor place which is a Fayre House all of bricke [in fact only parts were brick built] havinge a Fayre Hall and a parlor a faire ketchyn a Pastory a drye larder with Buttry Pantery and all other houses of Office necessary and many Fayre Chambers a Faire long Galerye a proper Chapell and a Closet commynge out of the great Chamber over the Chapell a proper lybrayre to laye bokes in many other proper Roomes wythin the same Place And also a Fayre barne to ley haye a Faire Stable Roome able for stabling horses And the said house is inclosid on the backside wyth a greate brode dyche and without that a Fayre large garden inclosid to the sayd House with a pale necessary for a garden or an Orcharde And at the furder ende of the sayd house [an] Orcharde havinge but Fewe trees of Frute therin wiche conteyneth di acre or thereaboutes And at the Hither end of the House comynge from London ys a Faire large garden grounde inclosyd with a bricke wall.

Herbert was quick to cash in on his reward. The purchaser was Sir Ralph Sadler, in August 1547, the builder of Sutton House. Sadler then sold the house in 1548 to Sir Wymond Carew. The Carews held the property until 1578, but did not live there. Their tenants included Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, a granddaughter of Henry VII, whose husband had been Regent of Scotland until his death in battle in 1571. Her royal blood did not endear her to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, and the marriage of her son Henry, Lord Darnley, to Mary Queen of Scots led to one period of imprisonment in the Tower, which was followed by another when her son Charles married Elizabeth Cavendish secretly in 1574. Released in 1575, the Countess joined her son and new daughter-in-law at the Hackney house. Charles died in 1576 and his mother two years later.

With the end of the Lennox tenancy, Richard Carew, the owner, sold the house to Henry Cary, the first Lord Hunsdon, in 1578. Cary was a nephew of Ann Boleyn and at the time of his purchase was a court office holder and Privy Councillor. His new Hackney house became his country residence, and he had a new water supply built from fields to the north as well as enlarging the gatehouse. In 1583, Hunsdon sold the property to Sir Rowland Hayward, twice Lord Mayor of London. In 1597, it was sold by his heirs to Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford, a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth, who had married Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford in 1591. The Earl had been a spendthrift, and it may have been a prudent move for the Countess to retain the house in her own name. Her husband died there in 1604. It may have been the profligacy of her son Henry, that induced the Countess to sell in 1609. She moved elsewhere in Hackney and died there in 1613.

The Countess’ successors, the Greville family, were to give the house its more familiar name of Brooke House, from their title Baron Brooke, by which the head of the family was known from 1621. It is likely that the later form of the house, surrounding a double courtyard, dated from between 1630 and 1666. Later alterations were made in the early 18th century, when Brooke House ceased to be a private residence and was divided up. It was altered again in 1758, when it became a lunatic asylum. Damaged by bombs in the Second World War, the surviving parts of the house were demolished in 1954.


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This site, developed with funding from the New Opportunities Fund as one of the projects within Sense of Place, London, forms part of the National Archive's Education site. It was developed as a partnership between Hackney Archives Department, Immediate Theatre and the National Archive's Education Team