Virtual Reality House

Hackney's lost Rectory house

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 two cottages.

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 visible.

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.

Surviving inventories 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 from 1430-40.

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 reality model.

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 into two.

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.


Image of the Parsonage from Virtual Tour

If this is the first time you have visited the Daniells' House, you will need to download the special viewer program - a link is provided to do this

Please note: this virtual reality tour was developed in 2003 and the software it requires is not compatible with modern browsers. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

The quality and features which we can deliver to you depend on the speed of your modem. We have therefore created different versions of the Virtual Tudor House. You will be able to select the one you want

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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