Museum Prize Readers Poll - Sutton House, Hackney

By Corinne Field
Shows a photograph of A boy dressed in period clothes and hat, standing on a balcony and holding a sheet of paper.

Photo: Black Londoners Performance. Courtesy of Sutton House, Hackney.

Fourth on the shortlist for this year’s Gulbenkian Prize is Sutton House in Hackney, the oldest domestic residence in London’s East End, chosen for Black History Month 2003.

The only National Trust venue to celebrate Black History Month, its programme of events and activities explored the lives of black Londoners through the centuries, from Tudor times to the present day.

Run in partnership with volunteers and staff, activities included a black Londoners’ history mystery trail, a school visit programme, storytelling workshops for the over 55s and a community event led by local students telling the story of Mary Seacole, a Jamaican nurse who tended troops in the Crimean War.

Shows a photograph of a large, heavy, open wooden door. There are two steps leading up to it and plants either side.

Photo: Sutton House is the oldest residence in London's East End © NTPL/David Watson.

"Everyone associates the National Trust with white middle class values," says Community and Learning Manager Ruth Clarke who was involved in the project. "So how do you breakdown those public perceptions?"

This year what the judges are looking for is a project that enhances or changes public perceptions of museums and galleries and the Sutton House project does just that.

The aim was to make the house more relevant to the Hackney community in which it is located. Putting on special events and exhibitions for Black History Month was an opportunity to involve local people and change the public’s opinion of the National Trust at the same time.

"It think it is incredibly unusual to do what we did and in the context we did it," says Ruth. "What’s really fantastic is how the black and ethnic minority community embraced it," she adds.

Shows a photograph of two girls dressed in Elizabethan clothes and hats.

Photo: Black Londoners Performance. Courtesy of Sutton House, Hackney.

"Sutton House doesn’t have a black history of its own. We had to find a relevance so we created an interactive trail," explains Ruth. The trail consisted of placing prominent black historical figures in rooms that would have been relevant to them and had resonance in their lives.

For example the story of Mary Seacole, a Jamaican Florence Nightingale, was told in the Victorian Parlour, a similar room to one she would have lived in.

The story of Dido Elizabeth Bell, the daughter of a Royal Navy captain, is told in the Great Chamber. Kenwood House houses a portrait of Bell alongside her cousin Lady Elizabeth Lindsay. The painting is of a similar style and from the same historical period as paintings on show in the Great Chamber at Sutton House.

Ruth thinks that the project at Sutton House has inspired other National Trust properties who now want a piece of the action.

She is certainly proud the house has made it on to the Gulbenkian shortlist as is Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, who pays tribute to the staff and local communities.

"The Gulbenkian Prize is one of the most best known accolades in the arts and museums world. We are delighted that the innovative and inspiring work of the staff and local communities at Sutton House is being recognised in this way," says Fiona Reynolds.

Shows a photograph of a girl dressed in Elizabethan style clothes and tending a plant.

Photo: Black Londoners Performance. Courtesy of Sutton House, Hackney.

Sutton House is one of 13 museums and galleries shortlisted for the prestigious Gulbenkian Prize for the Museum of the Year.

Ruth thinks her biggest rival on the list is the Creating History project at Merseyside’s Prescott Museum with its multi-modal approach. "Capturing peoples stories is very important they’ve hit on something quite timely," says Ruth.

But if they can beat off the competition what would it mean to Ruth and Sutton House to win?

"It would give us the opportunity to take this work further. It would mean everything to us."

The 24 Hour Museum is conducting a poll to find out who our readers want to win this year's Gulbenkian Prize.

To vote for Sutton House click here.

If you haven’t decided yet which museum you want to win there will be another chance to vote in March when we will feature the full shortlist.

To find out more about the Gulbenkian Prize, click on this link to visit the website.

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