13 Princelet Street, the Landmark Trust
This is a historic photo of rare event, Pat Lloyd and Katherine Haspineall sitting down. It does not happen very often because they are the busy housekeepers at 13 Princelet St, the eighteenth century house belonging to the Landmark Trust that is available to let for holidays and short stays. “We have a cup of tea, put the world to rights, make the beds, clean the place top to bottom, flick a duster around, do the wax polishing and sweep the garden,” explained Kathy, outlining their routine. “Kathy’s really easy to work with,” Pat declared to me with a significant nod. “So are you!” replied Kathy, with a retort to Pat that was almost instantaneous. “We jog along,” Pat informed me summarily, and they both nodded their heads simultaneously in consensus.
Pat continued, speaking for both of them, with Kathy interpolating enthusiastic gestures of endorsement when Pat became lyrical, “We’ve become quite possessive about the house. We get incensed if people break anything. It becomes more than a job, you get very attached to it. I think houses take on a sense of the people who have lived there – the walls seep up the personalities of the people. I often think of all those that have lived here and imagine the weavers up on the top floor, working with their babies asleep under the loom. We’re proud of the house and we like to make it look beautiful. It’s very good thing to do. People come and stay here and they love it.” As you will have gathered, Pat & Kathy cherish 13 Princelet St as their beloved charge.
Thanks to their conscientious labours, I can confirm that the fine old edifice looked immaculate, as I sneaked around to snap my pictures, nipping up and down stairs, slipping in and out of the majestic empty rooms. The colour scheme of soft blues and greens was illuminated by the sunlight of early Summer, and the gardens of Princelet St, visible from the staircase at the back of the house, were verdant with new growth. The house has a stillness, entirely in denial of the modern city outside. In fact, the place has such presence, that I almost hesitated before opening closed doors, unable quite to dismiss the possibility that there might be someone there. There was no-one yet, but fresh bed sheets and towels, sparkling bathrooms, polished floors, plumped cushions and an intriguing box of groceries in the hallway were ready to welcome the guests for a christening to be held in the house that weekend.
Princelet St was one of the first streets to be built on this side of Spitalfields, upon a piece of land known as Joyce’s garden. The site of number thirteen was leased to Edward Buckingham, a stone mason, on a sixty year lease in 1718/9. Remarkably, no-one expected or even intended these houses to last. He built the house as a speculative development and, by the seventeen forties, the names of the residents, L’Amy, Durade, Allard were recognizably French, reflecting the Huguenot population in Spitalfields at that time. Princelet St became one of the most prosperous on account of the silk industry and in confirmation of this, by the seventeen eighties, silk weavers were advertised in trade directories at this address.
In 1984, the house was bought by Peter Lerwill in a dilapidated state. He undertook a three-year restoration programme, done as conservatively as possible to preserve the original joinery. Then he lived in it for seventeen years before bequeathing it to the Landmark Trust, so that others could enjoy it as he had done. Today, 13 Princelet St is booked throughout the year with a steady flow of guests who enjoy the place for a quiet holiday or to hold weddings, host parties, stage romantic Valentine dinners or celebrate birthdays. And Pat & Katherine are always there before and after, to clean up and put everything in order for the next arrival.
Most people who stay at 13 Princelet St never meet Pat & Kathy, they are the invisible fairies that prepare the house. But if any of the guests get the opportunity to strike up a conversation as I did, they will discover that their discreet hosts are real women with proud East End connections. Pat told me that when she was first married she lived in two rooms with one shared outside sink down by St Catherine’s Dock. Now she lives just down the road in an eighteenth century terrace in Folgate St next to Dennis Severs’ House. “He used to invite to me to his Christmas parties before he started making money out of it,” she recalled with delicate irony. Pat worked in the Spitalfields Fruit & Vegetable Market years ago, and was landlady of both the Poet in Folgate St and the Commercial Tavern before she took early retirement. All her husband’s family worked in the docks for the last six generations, she told me plainly.
Then Kathy chipped in to reveal her father worked in the docks too, as a lighter man, and described him as “a bit of a rogue.” In the age of post-war austerity, he purloined a roll of blanket fabric, wrapping it round his body to get it out of the docks and arriving home dripping with sweat. Her mother made it up into three dressing gowns for the children, but what Kathy remembers was that the coarse cloth was scratchy. Then changing tone, she added with a grin, “When the nuts arrived in port for the chocolate factory, they had to hire security to get them out of the docks!”
Our conversation had acquired its own engaging momentum that led us away from the house and Pat & Kathy’s benign stewardship of it, which was the subject of the day, but our digressions simply confirmed how conducive the place is for contemplation of the multiple histories of the East End. I was charmed by the company of these generous-spirited women. By now the time was drawing on and the next guests were expected imminently, so like household spirits before dawn, it was time for us to make our departure. Kathy left first, then Pat made one last circuit of the house, pulled on her jacket in the hallway, and stood for a moment to absorb the quiet and breathe in the aroma of wax polish. Satisfied that her work was done, Pat turned and walked out the door. We said our goodbyes in the street as she locked up, and went our separate ways in opposite directions down Princelet St.