The Unprecedented Case (London, June 2019)

In October 1545, Sir Ralph Sadleir learned that his wife and the mother of seven surviving children, Ellen Mitchell, had been married before. In order to save his reputation and legitimise both his marriage and his children, he wrote a letter to his employer and close friend Henry VIII, asking for help. The Act of Parliament that followed annulled Ellen’s first marriage on the grounds that her husband, Matthew Barre, had abandoned her, saving Sir Ralph’s family as well as his career. It was a truly unprecedented case.

In 2019, The Unprecedented Case a group of local artists and children will be based in Sutton House, Homerton, which was built in 1535 for Sir Ralph and Ellen. The group will explore Sir Ralph’s tale, discovering what life was like in the Sadleir household, as well as some surprising tales from Sutton House’s 483 year history since – including its time as a school, a church, a punk venue and a squat.

The group will also enjoy a rare chance to visit the Houses of Parliament, where they will be able to see a 1545 Act of Parliament about Sir Ralph’s story, up close. This unique trip includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the Parliamentary Archives, with bespoke workshops delivered by some of the Archivists there. These workshops include learning about vellum scrolls in the famous Act Room, making their own scrolls, and even learning how to decipher Sir Ralph’s Act – including a very famous signature…

Some examples of workshops that the children will participate in include:

Musical activities: designing and building instruments using household materials (e.g. wooden crates, funnels, hose pipe); writing graphic scores; experimenting with electronic music (e.g. recording and manipulating found sounds).
Performance activities: exploring stories using theatre exercises (e.g. freeze frames, hot seating).
Literacy activities: treasure hunts with riddles and clues to find stories hidden in and around the workshop location; personal diaries to record thoughts and ideas, with some structured questions to encourage reflection and writing practice.
Cross-curricular activities: after learning about societal changes over the last 500 years, the children can consolidate facts and information learned by responding artistically, and telling their own stories about life in 21st century Hackney.

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