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Remembering Jean Rondeau the Huguenot

September 7, 2011
by the gentle author

Marney & Ian MacDonald

This weekend the Huguenots returned to Spitalfields – three hundred years after they originally came from France and Belgium fleeing religious persecution and bringing flair and sophistication to the textile industry that was to occupy this corner of London for subsequent centuries. The occasion of this recent gathering was the dedication of a plaque to Jean Rondeau, Master Silk Weaver and Sexton of Christ Church from 1761-1790, honouring all those Huguenot families who passed through Spitalfields so long ago.

Here you see Marney MacDonald from Montreal being photographed in Christ Church by her husband Ian in front of the new plaque to her great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Jean Rondeau – or, as he is known in the family, John the Sexton, to distinguish him from his father Jean Rondeau who came here from Paris in 1685. Naturally, it was necessary have a record of the proud event, because it was the culmination of a long journey from the day Marney picked up on her father’s research into her great grandmother Phoebe Rondeau (Jean’s granddaughter), begun more than forty years ago.

Through a chance meeting in Christ Church when she visited as a tourist in 1999, Marney learnt of the study being undertaken of the human remains exhumed from the crypt and she met Stanley Rondeau, a voluntary tour guide who is a fellow descendant of Jean Rondeau. They pooled researches into their forbears, even going to the Natural History Museum where John the Sexton’s bones are now preserved to examine the remains of their common ancestor. And together they have been responsible for initiating this new memorial.

On Sunday, around thirty guests gathered on the North staircase  in a location that would have been familiar to John the Sexton, while Andy Rider, Rector of Christ Church, undertook the dedication of the plaque and, although for the most part these people did not know each other, there was the affectionate intimate atmosphere of a family gathering in which no-one was a stranger to another. And in spite of the tenuous nature of the threads stretching across long periods of time which connect these people, there were visible shared qualities of visage, physique and colouration. “Being involved in finding ones antecedents is a fascinating process,” Marney confided to me in a quiet moment, speaking of a project that has occupied her for decades, “Something old in Canada might be two hundred years old but things here go back much further.”

Yet even though we were in the building that John the Sexton knew, he did seem very far away – until I joined the guests for a cup of tea afterwards and was introduced to so many of his relatives, especially seven week old Cassandra Stanley, his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter. Peacefully sleeping through the event, she was summoning her energies for a whole life ahead. Among the speeches and announcements, including a letter of greetings from the Queen, was an apology for absence from ninety-two year old Lynn Rondeau who wished it to be known that she was “proud to be a Rondeau.”

Marney showed me the album she has collected with copies of the documents relating to John the Sexton, an extraordinary paper trail which constitutes the evidence of her ancestor’s life – his name on the petition to parliament for Christ Church to be built, silk designs made for him by Anna Maria Garthwaite, his will and even the collection to raise a fund for his widow Margaret. The book is the result of detective work on Marney’s part. “How I wish I had the forethought to ask certain questions of my grandfather, that it has taken me a lifetime to answer.” she admitted in good humoured resignation as she closed the book.

Jean Rondeau was one of between twenty and twenty-five thousand Huguenots who came to Spitalfields, around half of the total of all those who came to make new lives in Britain. Although his story is documented and his descendants have traced the lineage, establishing the Rondeaus as one of Spitalfields’ oldest families, equally there exists all those other families that will never be traced and whose stories have faded forever into the ether. Yet the story of Jean Rondeau reminds us of the direct connection we share to forebears known and unknown, and of the common bonds of humanity that unite us all.

The Rondeaus gather in Christ Church where their ancestor was Sexton two hundred and fifty years ago.

Just seven weeks old, Cassandra Stanley (held by her great aunt Beryl Happe) is the youngest descendant of Jean Rondeau the Huguenot, her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather who came to Spitalfields in 1685.

Stanley Rondeau

If you visit Christ Church on a Tuesday, when Stanley works there as a guide, he will show you the album collected by Marney MacDonald with all the documents and information about their common ancestor.

You may like to read my other stories about Stanley Rondeau

Stanley Rondeau, Huguenot

Stanley Rondeau at the V&A

16 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    September 7, 2011

    stanley rondeau in your earlier piece mentions the significance to him of seeing the things saand hearing the organ john the sexton saw and heard. i think the sensation of being here to be the eyes and ears of our ancestors is common, fleeting, and very important.

    thank you for the photo of little cassandra as she takes her place in the procession.

  2. Gillian permalink
    September 7, 2011

    How fascinating to read this. Jean Rondeau would have been sexton when my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Jacques Profichet was buried at Christ Church in March 1775. According to his will, written in french, he was a silk manufacturer. I suppose they might have known one another. John the sexton would have been busy with this family, Jacque’s daughter Madelaine married and buried her first husband there, the latter ceremony only 5 months after the first, which took place in November 1775. She also married her second husband, Jean Michel Tainne at Christ Church in1781.
    Jacques Profichet didn’t live to suffer the dark years when his other daughter, Susanne, buried 4, possibly 5 of her children in the same churchyard ( I’ve often wondered about the crypt…)
    Anne Susanne and Jean both in November 1783, Francoise Amelie in 1788 and Anne Peninna 1790. The oldest was 6 years and 4 months, the youngest 5 days. Susanne was later buried there in 1825, a different sexton dug her grave. Her husband Jacques Mousset joined her, somewhere close by I hope, in 1831.
    Seeing the images of John the Sexton’s descendants brings to life the brief, dry facts scribbled in burial records and reminds me that those who recorded such unions and partings also had lives, and that there is continuity: Susanne and Jacques went on have at least 8 grandchildren, some of whom they saw marry and some not. When not they too were laid to rest in Christ Church.
    So my family of Wilkes Street – a short journey for them – are also remembered along with John the Sexton who perhaps said hello to them in the street, tousled their hair, shook their hand, later to tend them but no longer to meet.

  3. September 7, 2011

    Fascinating stuff! I always like to think I may have French – even Huguenot – blood, as my great-grandmother’s name was Pickard. All my best efforts have failed to unearth that her family may have originally come from Picardy. One day maybe….

  4. Dawn Crossingham permalink
    September 20, 2011

    How lovely to hear from my dad – Ryder Rondeau Rogers about how lovely this event was, in bringing the Rondeaus together for such an auspicious occasion. Maybe next time there is a gathering of the Rondeaus / Hugenots we can come and bring Jacob Fraser Rondeau Crossingham who is now 3yrs old what fantastic roots to be proud of.

  5. Marney MacDonald permalink
    September 28, 2011

    The dedication ceremony on September 4 was the culmination of the project of all three of us, to commemorate our Rondeau ancestors at Christ Church. The Sexton and his wife Margaret were actually our 4th great grandparents, rather than the 6th great grandparents listed in the article.
    The project took more than 2 years, and we are indebted to Andy Rider for his guidance through the whole necessary permission process. Matt Nation of Taylor Pierce guided us in making the final choice of the appearance of the plaque.
    Thank you to Christ Church for helping us to organize our reception following the dedication. This enabled us to meet our newly discovered cousins living in the UK.

    Rondeau Baker, Whitby, Ontario; Marney Baker MacDonald, Montreal, Quebec; Karen Baker Martin, Brooklin, Ontario.

  6. Paul P. Gallant permalink
    October 19, 2011

    Thank you Marney and Ian for sharing this amazing geneology story !! Congratulations on your efforts that culminated in the dedication of a plaque being placed in Christ Church honouring all the Huguenot families and to commemorate the Rondeau ancestry.


  7. Natalie Rondeau permalink
    December 29, 2011

    I was looking at my family tree and did some googling and came across this! Jean Rondeau is my great, great, great, great, great, great? grandfather. My family came to Australia in 1964, were the only Rondeau’s here. Funny I could spot the ‘Rondeau’ nose in some of those faces 🙂

  8. Sarah Catterall permalink
    October 15, 2012

    How wonderful to see my ancestors . My ancestor Benjamin Hooper Apothecary Chemist married Elizabeth Rondeau, John and Elizabeths daughter. Now I know where the nose comes from !!

  9. October 23, 2012

    I too have Hugenot blood in my veins! My relatives came in 1700 or thereabouts; the family name is Nadal. I can find very little reference to anyone of that name, and yet they supposedly refined the method of ‘Watered Silk’. Does anybody have any leads or info for me?

  10. laura simons permalink
    December 26, 2013

    Hi there. I have had my family tree traced back to the rondeau family who were silk weavers in spitalfields.

    i am fascinated by it all.

    Laura simons( maybe sitton) due to my grandad being adopted by a simmons and changed by my grandad changed it to get married. ( he was under age)

  11. Sarah Catterall permalink
    December 12, 2014

    I Have just walked in the footsteps of my ancestors and paid a visit to Christchurch Spitalfields. A wonderful feeling .Unfortunately I missed Stanley Rondeau and the plaque. Please can you advertise the next Rondeau gathering as I would like to be there to share my story. My ancestor Benjamin Hooper married Elizabeth Rondeau and all 12 of their children were baptised at Christchurch.

  12. Mrs. Rita Sullivan permalink
    August 17, 2015

    I believe I am an ancestor of John Rondeau who married a Sarah ? In the late 1700 they had at least one child ( born 1788) named Sarah who went on to marry. John Poyton.
    All the above seem to have been in the silk weaver trade.
    Can anyone out there tell me the first Sarah,s maiden name please
    Regards Rita Sullivan

  13. October 30, 2015

    I would like to know more about a Jaques Rondeau who lived in Kent around 1686. I believe he was a Huguenot pastor in France before settling in the vicinity of Hollingbourne, England. In 1686 he wrote a lovely letter of encouragement to a distant ancestor, Marie Camin, when she was in confinement at a Catholic convent in Dieppe. She was captured after trying to flee to England.

    You can read the letter on my family website:
    (the last letter on the page, at the bottom)

    This page is part of a larger translation project of old letters written in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s.

    Any information about Jaques Rondeau would be much appreciated…

    Miff Crommelin

  14. Emmanuel Rondeau permalink
    August 3, 2016

    I have been working for six years in Spitafields, but only discovered today this great story. All the more interested as my son’s first name is Jean.
    Happy to be part of ‘the French friends of Jean Rondeau huguenot.’

  15. Frances Ingram permalink
    January 14, 2017

    I’m quite blown away to find out in one day that I have Hugenot ancestors & having Hugenot ancestors is a “thing”. I am descended from Elizabeth Rondeau via her marriage to Benjamin Hooper. Their great grandson came to the Antipodes at His Majesty’s pleasure & went on to bring into the world a large and successful family. His descendants still farm around the Carcoar area near Bathurst, N.S.W.

    It’s also nice to know where mum’s nose came from.

  16. Geraldine Petherbridge permalink
    October 28, 2020

    My late mother always said that we had Huguenot ancestors. When I was researching the family tree, I found that my great great great grandmother was Matilda Happe, a silk weaver from Spitalfields. Unfortunately, I can not find any records of her prior to her marriage in Hackney in 1833. I believe she was born in 1809 in Bethnal Green, but I do not know who her parents were. One of the witnesses at her marriage was Charles Happe, but I can not find out what relation she was to him.
    I was reading your article and was very excited to see the photograph of Beryl Happe. I wonder if we might be related. If you have any information about the Happe family I would be very grateful. Thank you.

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