B Lambert’s Spitalfields, 1806
Let us take a brief stroll around the neighbourhood in the company of B Lambert, author of the ‘History & Survey of London’, 1806. This is the latest in my occasional series of antiquarian surveys that includes John Stow in 1598 and John Entick in 1766.
To the south of Shoreditch is Spitalfields, which derives its name from having been built upon the fields and grounds belonging to St Mary’s, Spital, which stood on the east side of Bishopsgate St. When, by revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Louis XIV compelled his Protestant subjects to fly to foreign lands, for shelter and protection, a considerable number of them sought refuge in this country – the greater part of whom settled on this spot and established here the manufacture of silk in all its branches – and the neighbourhood is still, in a great measure, peopled by their descendants.
Spitalfields was originally a hamlet belonging to the parish of St Dunstan, Stepney, but from the great increase of the inhabitants, it was, in the year 1723, made a distinct parish and the church is one of fifty ordered to be built by Act of Parliament.
This building is situated on the south side of Church St. It was begun in 1723 and finished in 1729, and, from being dedicated to our Saviour, is called Christ Church, Middlesex.
It is a very handsome edifice, built of stone with a very high steeple, in which is a fine ring of bells. The body of the church is solid and well-proportioned. It is one hundred and eleven feet in length and eighty-seven in breadth. The height of the roof is forty-one feet and that of the steeple, two hundred and thirty-four feet.
At the west end of the church is a neat brick building in which are two charity schools, the one for girls, the other for boys, erected in 1782 and supported by voluntary contributions.
A short distance to the north-west of the church is Spitalfields Market, for the sale of all sorts of provisions, but principally vegetables.
To the east from Spitalfields is Bethnal Green, which was also one of the hamlets of St Dunstan’s, from which it was separated by an Act of Parliament passed in the thirteen year of his late Majesty. The church which is dedicated to St Matthew was erected in the year 1740. It is a neat commodious edifice, built with red brick, coped and quoined with free stone.
The old mansion at the south-east corner of the Green, now called Bethnal Green House, and traditionally reported to have been the residence of the celebrated Blind Beggar, was built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, by a citizen of London, named Kirby and is called in writings belonging to it, Kirby Castle. It has long been appropriated to the reception of insane persons.
The old Roman way from London led through the hamlet and being joined by the military way from the west, they pass on together to the ferry of the River Lea at Old Ford.
At Mile End, is an hospital belonging to the corporation of Trinity House. It was found in 1695 for twenty-eight decayed or ancient seamen who have been masters or pilots of ships and for their widows, each of whom receive sixteen shillings a month, besides twenty shillings a year for coals, and a gown every other year. This is a very handsome edifice, consiting of two wings with a chapel which rises considerably higher than any other part of the building. Within the gate is a fine area covered with grass and in the centre is a statue of Captain Robert Sandys with a globe and anchor at his feet and his right hand upon a bale of goods.
In this parish is one of the most extensive charitable foundations in the kingdom. The building is situated on the south side of Whitechapel Rd and was formerly called the London Infirmary, but now the London Hospital. This excellent charity ws instituted in the year 1740 for the relief of all sick and diseased persons, particularly manufacturers, seamen in the merchants’ service and their wives and children. It was at first kept in a large house in Prescot St, Goodman’s Fields, but that being found too small, a more capacious edifice was erected in the present airy situation.
At the west end of the hospital was a considerable hillock called the Whitechapel Mount, which owed its origin to rubbish deposited there after the Fire of London. This mount has been lately removed for the purpose of forming a row of houses on the site of it.
The parish of St Mary, Whitechapel, extends as far as Goodman’s Fields and Rosemary Lane. Goodman’s Fields was actually a farm belonging to the nunnery of St Clare, or Minoresses, who gave their name to the adjoining street, called the Minories. Rosemary Lane is better known by the name of Rag Fair, from being the grand mart of the metropolis in old clothes, which however contemptible the trade may be considered is a source of immense wealth to those who embark upon it.
Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute
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