Recently, Hilary Mantel was the guest on Radio 4's Book Club. Book Club is a lovely Sunday afternoon treat, ideal for those replete and resting off a large Sunday lunch indoors on a winter day, perhaps while ironing. Jim Naughty (pronounced Knockerty, for any foreign readers visiting here), was the interviewer. He kicked off with the question, "What inspired you to write "Wolf Hall"?
Hilary, bless her, answered, in her tremulous, slightly squeaky voice, that she had been visiting an Elizabethan house. It was the home, and was first built by, one of the protégés of Thomas Cromwell, by the name of Ralph, or Rafe Sadler (or Sadleir - Tudor spellings vary). Ralph is a historic, real-life character in "Wolf Hall" and "Bring up the Bodies". He did well for himself, learning much from his mentor Cromwell, who in his turn had learnt much from his own mentor, Cardinal Wolsey. Ralph built the house when he moved out from the Cromwell multi-generation and multi-occupancy household, to what was then a small country village three miles east of London.
Hilary said that she was so overcome by the Tudor brickwork, tiled floors, wood panelling and cracks in the plaster, that she burst into tears, and immediately started imagining her Tudor stories.
"And," she wound up, triumphantly, "It's still there!"
As soon as the programme ended, I looked the house up in the National Trust handbook. As I suspected, it is a NT house, and open to the public all the year round. Quickly, I arranged a meeting with my friend of longstanding, who shares just about all my interests, and we went down to London on Saturday to visit Sutton House, NT, Hackney.
It was pouring with rain, and we struggled along the High Street, deafened by traffic and police sirens. Hackney is now an uber-urban environment. We were disappointed that the café inside offered only one type of cake, and we were tired.
Unfortunately, beautiful though Sutton House undoubtedly is, we just could not access the atmosphere which had enchanted Hilary Mantel. However, don't let that put you off. It is well worth a visit if you are at all interested in the novels.