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The Huguenots of Spitalfields

April 14, 2013
by the gentle author

The wooden spools that you see hanging in the streets of Spitalfields indicate houses where Huguenots once resided. These symbols were put there in 1985, commemorating the tercentenary of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes which brought the Huguenots to London and introduced the word ‘refugee’ to the English language. Inspired by the Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival, I set out in search of what other visual evidence remains of the many thousands that once passed through these narrow streets and Dr Robin Gwynn, author of The Huguenots of London, explained to me how they came here.

“Spitalfields was the most concentrated Huguenot settlement in England, there was nowhere else in 1700 where you would expect to hear French spoken in the street. If you compare Spitalfields with Westminster, it was the gentry that stayed in Westminster and the working folk who came to Spitalfields – there was a significant class difference. And whereas half the churches in Westminster followed the French style of worship, in Spitalfields they were not interested in holding services in English.

The Huguenots were religious refugees, all they needed to do to stop the persecution in France was to sign a piece of paper that acknowledged the errors of John Calvin and turn up at church each Sunday. Yet if they tried to leave they were subject to Draconian punishments. It was not a planned immigration, it was about getting out when you could. And, because their skills were in their hands, weavers could leave whereas those whose livelihood was tied up in property or land couldn’t go.

Those who left couldn’t choose where they were going, it was wherever the ship happened to be bound – whether Dover or Falmouth. Turning up on the South Coast, they would head for a place where there were other French people to gain employment. Many sought a place where they could set their conscience at rest, because they may have been forced to take communion in France and needed to atone.

The best-known church was “L’Eglise Protestant” in Threadneedle St in the City of London, it dealt with the first wave of refugees by building an annexe, “L’Eglise de l’Hôpital,” in Brick Lane on the corner of Fournier St. This opened in 1743, sixty years after a temporary wooden shack was first built there. There were at least nine other Huguenot Chapels in Spitalfields by then, yet they needed this huge church – it was an indicator of how large the French community was. I don’t think you could have built a French Church of that size anywhere else in Britain at that time.The church was run by elders who made sure the religious and the secular sides tied up so, if you arrived at the church in Threadneedle St, they would send you over to Spitalfields and find you work.

It was such a big migration, estimated now at between twenty to twenty-five thousand, that among the population in the South East more than 90% have Huguenot ancestors.

Sundial in Fournier St recording the date of the building of the Huguenot Church.

Brick Lane Mosque was originally built in 1743 as a Huguenot Church, “L’Eglise de l’Hôpital,” replacing an earlier wooden chapel on the same site, and constructed with capacious vaults which could be rented out to brewers or vintners to subsidise running costs.

Water head  from 1725 at 27 Fournier St with the initials of Pierre Bourdain, a wealthy Huguenot weaver who became Headborough and had the house built for him.

The Hanbury Hall in Hanbury St was built in 1719 as a Huguenot Church, standing back from the road behind a courtyard with a pump. The building was extended in 1864 and is now the church hall for Christ Church, Spitalfields.

Coat of arms in the Hanbury Hall dating from 1740, when “La Patente” Church moved into the building, signifying the patent originally granted by James II.

In Artillery Lane, one of London oldest shop fronts, occupied from 1720 by Nicholas Jourdain, Huguenot Silk Mercer and Director of the French Hospital.

Memorial in Christ Church.

Memorial in Christ Church.

At Dennis Severs’ House in Folgate St.

Graffiti in French recently uncovered in a weavers’ loft in Elder St

Former Huguenot residence in Elder St.

The Fleur de Lis was adopted as the symbol of the Huguenots.

Sandys Row Synagogue was originally built by the Huguenots as “L’Eglise de l’Artillerie” in 1766.

Sandys Row Photograph copyright © Jeremy Freedman

You may also like to take a look at

Huguenot Portraits

Stanley Rondeau, Huguenot

Remembering Jean Rondeau the Huguenot

32 Responses leave one →
  1. sprite permalink
    April 14, 2013

    I would be keen to discover links between Spitalfield Huguenots and the southern part of France where silk worms were farmed and where mulberry trees are still part of the landscape. I went on a tourist visit of a small village in the Ardeche (Alba-la-Romaine) where the guide mentionned that the scars of those religious wars run so deep that people from the area are reluctant to talk about them to this day.

    For French readers, there is a book by Jean-Pierre Chabrol, ‘Les fous de Dieu’ where the plot takes place against the background of such fierce divisions. The first time I visited Dennis Severs house over 25 years ago, he commented on the low chairs in the basement and tight shutters as Huguenots had developped the habit of praying (and reading the Bible) as well hidden as possible, and ensuring that the light of candles could not be seen from the outside lest the Kings Dragons came to exterminate them.

    Anyone interested in following one of the silk thread linking back from Spitalfield to the Ardeche, I’d recommend Alba-la-Romaine which is also a medieval village built next to an ancient Roman site only excavated in the last five decades.

    BTW where were silk worms bred in the UK for the Huguenots craft and trade?

  2. sprite permalink
    April 14, 2013

    PS: Fleur de Lis, if I’m not mistaken, have been part of French Royal coats of arms and was usually associated with royalists.

  3. Peter Holford permalink
    April 14, 2013

    “…the population in the South East more than 90% have Huguenot ancestors.” Hard to believe. My great-grandfather and his father were silk weavers in Spitalfields (from at least 1770) and were also non-conformists but I can find no evidence yet of French ancestors.

    Fascinating stuff and hopefully these places are better protected than a certain Georgian building next to the Geoffrye Museum!

  4. Sandra Dukelow permalink
    April 14, 2013

    Fascinating. Can’t imagine that there would be anything here in Ireland to mark the anniversary of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes! As an Engliswoman married to an Irish man with (as obvious from my surname) Huguenot connections I find it interesting that so many Irish people descended from Huguenot refugees have little curiosity about their forbears. My name is common in the small West Cork village that I live in but even in Cork city I often have to spell it. Since joining Facebook I was amazed at the number of Dukelows there are in the States – all eager to trace their ancestry. Because Ireland has such a small population and only about 3% are Protestant it is often easy to point people in the direction of their Irish connections as most of the Dukelows in the States and Canada came here first.

  5. Elaine Napier permalink
    April 15, 2013

    My family were orris (silk and gold and silver wire) master weavers in the East End. However, I believe they were English and continued in trade in the area until the last one died in 1921. They did narrow weaving (trimmings manufacture) and worked in a number of places around the area, including within the City and, finally, in Dalston where they had premises within their house (opposite the house later occupied by the Mole Man of Hackney). (If you live at 110 Mortimer Street, those were the final premises of W Appleby and Co.)

    I’d love to know if anyone has any advice on places to search for information on orris/silk weavers who were not Huegenots please.

  6. Christine Swan permalink
    April 15, 2013

    My father is convinced of our Huguenot heritage but our ancestral surnames of Dighton (Deighton, Dyton or Diton) and Taylor, don’t appear to be French in origin. The Dighton’s were pretty much all silk weavers with the rest as “fancy trimming” and jacket makers. Would love to know if anyone does recognise this name and if my Dad is correct. I enjoy speaking French at any opportunity so I do wonder…….

  7. sprite permalink
    April 16, 2013

    Could the Huguenot heritage come from the women folks therefore not given away by ancestral surnames. With such a high concentration of Huguenots in Spitalfield, it seems very likely that the english weavers joining in would have intermarried.

  8. Stu Pond permalink
    April 16, 2013

    I’m descended from Sophia Camroux (my great-great-great grandmother), and her family were Huguenots originally from Nimes who settled in the East End and married into a family called the Hartlands. The Camroux family tree was researched by a lady in Switzerland, and it appears they came to England via Berlin. Other relatives came via Canterbury and were from Brittany and Normandy and I now have a fair list of French names in my family tree.

    We visited the East End a couple of years ago, walking from Whitechapel up through Spitalfields and on to Shoreditch and it was quite emotional seeing where they lived. Although I have no relatives in the East End I know of there is still a very strong cockney thread in the family, especially with the older folk.

  9. sprite permalink
    April 20, 2013

    I believe the repression was quite strong round Nimes. For anyone speaking French there is a strong book, God’s madmen (les fous de Dieu) by Jean-Pierre Chabrol about the ‘dragonnades’, the persecussion by the king’s soldiers to the growing numbers of protestants. It is set in the Cevennes where a lot of Huguenots (Camisards) stem from.

  10. Irene Fisher permalink
    April 22, 2013

    THank you for this great, informative website!

    I have just discovered that my ancestors were Hugeunots living in Bethnal Green. Their surnames were Debuse and Wallin.

    I would love to hear from anyone searching these families.

  11. bobby permalink
    April 30, 2013

    Hi.
    Good website.
    I missed the Hugeunots of Whitechapel Festival.

    I have walked all around the East End years ago and have always been interested in the history of areas that see big changes of cutlure over time. Liverpool had no shortage of this.

    In Liverpool 13 there is a pub called ‘The Glass House’ which is said to remember the time when the area had a community of Hugeunot glass workers.

  12. Christine Perez permalink
    August 13, 2013

    Through the work of cousins using ancestry.com I can trace my maternal grandfather’s family to Spitalfield. Their name “Field” was thought to be Anglicized from de la Field and were French Hugeunots. Interestingly enough, my great-grandfather, William Field, born in Spitalfield, has his named engraved on the Liver Building in Liverpool, a member of the committee of management and instrumental in seeing the building through to completion.
    So, here in California I continue to search for more information about this family from Spitalfield.

  13. Benjamin W. Labaree permalink
    October 17, 2013

    Does anyone know if there is a listing of Huguenots living in Spitalfields in the period 1690-1720 or so. A city tax list, perhaps, or a French church membership list, or birth, marriage,death records?
    I am trying to find from whence my Huguenot ancestor Peter Labaree (or Laboree or similar) came. He ended up in Salem and/or Newbury, Essex County, Massachusetts, USA where 2 or 3 daughters and at least one son (also named Peter) were born between 1710 and 1724.
    Thank you for whatever help you can give me.

  14. November 10, 2013

    I have been amazed and fascinated by many of the comments above. Quite by chance my son has met a man with the same surname and spelling – living in Ballarat, about an hour from Melbourne in Australia. He is from the East End originally and told my son that his cousin, living in Bournmouth, had been tracing the Payton family tree, but the trail went dry when a branch of them moved to Surrey. Imagine the excitement when my son and I thought we could be that missing link, as my grandfather moved his family (his wife, my father and my aunt), from Bethnal Green to Surrey in the early 1930′s. My father had told me many times that we were Hugunotes from Flanders, settled in Spitalfields and were silk weavers……… I have searched all day today and have traced the family back to 1815 when Joseph Payton was born (so many Joseph Payton’s in my family tree!), and I can find a couple of references to ‘weavers’ but nothing that links us to Flanders, so I too have have reached a dead end – so to speak. I do know that we are not related to the Payton in Australia – they originate from Cambridge, although did move to the East End, which is a shame, as my son and I are the last of the Payton’s from my grandfather’s move to Surrey. Also, I have discovered that Payton is a very old English name and there are many around the West Midlands and Manchester area – so am I really descended from Hugunotes from Flanders at all………..

  15. Mike Crossley permalink
    November 14, 2013

    I am British born and descended from the Guildersleve family of silk weavers (possibly flemish), appearing on various censors at Bethnel Green. My paternal grandmother was french and her name was Cordell. I have now retired to the South of France near Perpignan. I am very interested in discovering more about my french and flemish connections, also from where my family originated. A very interesting website!

  16. Jean-Pierre Lemonde permalink
    November 18, 2013

    I just discover a baptism of Benjamin Lemonde in august 1617 whose parents seems to be Samuel Tont Lemonde and Marie ?Does anyone know more about them?

  17. Jean-Pierre Lemonde permalink
    November 18, 2013

    I forgot to mention that this happen from Chapel of the Hospital in Spitalfields, Benjamin family was Walloon or french protestant

  18. November 21, 2013

    i love it

  19. Marilyn permalink
    December 14, 2013

    Message for Christine Perez

    I believe our Field ancestry derives from Hubertus De La Feld from near Colmar in France, he was a knight and came over to England with William the Conqueror and given lands in the North of England. My other French origins come from Peirre Dulieu from Nerac and his wife Marguerite Rouviere from Vesenobres. Both silk weavers in Bethnal Green. Regards Marilyn

  20. Gillian Ingle permalink
    December 16, 2013

    This is a reply message for Irene Fisher.

    I am a descendent of the Huguenots and have started researching my family tree. My grandmother on the maternal side was Susan Lillian Flemming and her Father George Thomas
    Married Harriet Wallin and I believe the name Debuse appears some way back.

    Would be very interested in communicating further with you.

  21. DENISE GOLDING permalink
    December 23, 2013

    My Huguenot ancestors were:

    Judict Madalaine ‘Judith’ Raby.
    Birth 18 Aug 1717 in Spitalfields.
    Death 7 Apr 1792 in La Providence French Hospital, London.

    She married Charles Cecil who was apprenticed as a Silk Weaver at the Bridewell Royal Hospital, which at that time was near the River Fleet in the west of the city of London. From 1730 to 1738. He set up a shop in St John Street, Spitalfields.

    Judict Madalaine Raby’s Father was Daniel Samuel Raby, B: 1696 and his Father was Daniel Raby, B: 1658 in Lore, Cher, Centre, France. “He is my 7th Gt Grandfather”.

    My Raby and the Cecil where ALL Silk weavers and lived in Spitalfield and Bethnal Green.
    The Cecil’s have an “extensive family”.

    I love this message board. It is fantastic hearing other peoples family stories.

    Th

  22. maree chisholm permalink
    January 18, 2014

    Hi Everyone, I am facinated to read your stories of your hugenot ancestors. I too believe that I have hugenot ancestors as my my mums maiden name is Duthoit which I think was derived from Dutoit. I have traced mmy ancestors back to about 1700 in Yorkshire but I have now come to a brick wall. Can anyone help? My Mum thinks her ancestor was a Jacques Dutoit who came over when the protestants were being persecuted but is vague about dates.

  23. Anne Coletta permalink
    January 19, 2014

    I have just discovered that my 5 x great grandmother could be descended from Huguenots. Her name was Marie Douxsaint and she was born in Spitalfields in 1754. Her father was Pierre Jacques Douxsaint and her mother Elizabeth Douxsaint, nee Pain. In 1775 Marie went to Canada and married a French Canadian, Pierre Lamontage. Their daughter Sarah Marie Lamontagne was born in 1777 and in 1799 Sarah returned to England and married my 4 x great grandfather, Walter Russell, in Bath. She died in Bath in 1857.

    In articles I have read about the Huguenots in Spitalfields, I have not found any reference to the Douxsaint name.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Anne Coletta

  24. January 24, 2014

    I have been tracing my family tree for years but recently have joined an online research site which has jumped the researches back amazingly. My family have always considered themselves “Cockneys” but it turns out that the oldest Londoners were in fact French . I have found a marriage between Abraham Reneau (surname spelling varies enormously) son of Isaac Reneau and Marie De La Mare and Marie De La Haye Daughter of Abraham De La Hay and Marguerite Wesson. Protestants despite what appear to be Jewish names Piece 4595: Eglise de Wheeler Street, Spitalfields (French Protestant), 1712-1727. married on Saturday 1st July 1721 If anyone has any information on the families mentioned I would be delighted to receive it

  25. Susan Cooke permalink
    January 29, 2014

    I have just come across this site whilst researching my Norton Folgate ancestors.
    Really enjoyed reading all the interesting comments. My ancestors were called Beavis and they made Engine Looms in Blossom Street (10) other members of the family were silk weavers
    They seem to have been living there from at least late seventeen hundreds. I am assuming they were of Huguenot decent. I have managed to obtain a copy of the will John Beavis(1814) he states he is leaving the Engine Loom Company to his sons and the oldest son Benjamin who was also the Beadle for Norton Folgate was to be the Executor. I would love to hear from anyone who may have heard of the Beavis family or anyone who knows anything about the making of Engine Looms. I was sorry I missed the Spitalfields festival, Ihope they do it again.

  26. John Cecil permalink
    January 29, 2014

    I noticed in the comments the name Payton. My Fathers brother, Alfred James Cecil, born Abt 1883. Killed in action , France Flanders 17 May 1917,husband of Catherine Hannah Née Payton of 11 Clare Street, Bethnal Green. Married 1908, Ref: Vol 1c ,Page 297.
    Does anybody know if the Mulberry trees ( 2 ) are still growing in the playground of Morpeth Street School, reminders of a bygone age or have the Health and Safety mob had their way.
    Great site, keep up the good work.

  27. Tammy permalink
    February 1, 2014

    My ancestors were Gastineau’s. From what I know so far they came from Lusignan, Vienne, Poito-Charentes, France. They were stocking makers and weavers. Their shops were on Threadneedle Street.

  28. February 2, 2014

    Can anyone assist in tracing the family name of Vauqulin or Vauquelin or Vauquelin de la Fresnaye from Normandy many years ago.
    Any family history or knowledge appreciated

  29. February 11, 2014

    Hi

    I am researching the following person/family. Are there any photos of the said church where he was baptised?

    Thanks.

    Ian

    Jean Dorée (1721 – 1798)
    2nd great grandfather of wife of grand uncle of husband of grand aunt

    Name: Jean Dore
    Event Type: Baptism
    Father: Jean Dore
    Mother: Susanne
    Baptism Date: 11 Jul 1721
    Baptism Place: Spitalfields, Middlesex, England
    Denomination: French Protestant
    Piece Title: Piece 4591: Eglise de St Jean, St John Street, Spitalfields (French Protestant), 1713-1733

  30. Diana Bush permalink
    February 23, 2014

    I am trying to track down the Duval family ( my paternal grandmothers family_ who it seems came from Normandey sometime during 1700,s – Pierre Duval (1710-1794) who married Marie Boulle (1713-1755) (parents Jean Boulee & Marie Goujat) We have believed (anecdotally) that this family was involved in the weaving – teddy bears.? Other family members have been silk importers. Would love to have some of this confirmed or otherwise – or any other information !!.

  31. Helena Gibbons permalink
    March 20, 2014

    My husband’s ancestor was Isaac Ferrieres and he married Elizabeth Robinson. They lived in Islington but Isaac had his cotton business in the Centre of London. If anyone knows more about this family I would be very grateful. Isaac was born in 1718 and died in 1780 but I have found it impossible to trace his parents.

  32. mary hurry permalink
    April 7, 2014

    I think I may have Huegenot ancestry though could have been Jewish – Isaiah Harris born 1781
    my father told me we had come from France, after reading how many ‘Jewish’ or old testament names used by Heugenots, this may be the link I am looking for and I notice a Harris name a list of names. Anyone Harris have Huegenot ancestry??

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