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The Sclater St Weavers Houses

January 20, 2020
by the gentle author

Weavers houses at 70-74 Sclater St built 1718-20

The terraces of lavish silk merchants’ mansions in the streets by Christ Church in Spitalfields are celebrated eighteenth century survivals, but the modest dwellings of the weavers who actually wove the silk are less visible and less appreciated, though no less significant in telling the history of this place.

Last year we were delighted when Historic England listed a pair of 1760s weavers’ houses at 3-5 Club Row in response to a campaign of letters by readers of Spitalfields Life, at the time the buildings were threatened with demolition.

Now the spotlight has fallen upon 70-74 Sclater St. These three brick-built weavers’ tenement houses were constructed 1718-20 and form the last remnant of a terrace. They are of three storeys and a cellar, with staircases to the front. Each floor comprises one room which served as both a working and living space. Number 70 was refronted in 1777 and is subtly different from its neighbours.

Anyone that knows Sclater St market will recognise these houses, shored up with girders and smothered in graffiti. Neglected and forlorn, these three hundred year old houses have been permitted to fall into spectacular disrepair yet they a crucial part of the history of Spitalfields. Possibly constructed when Sclater St was laid out in the eighteenth century, they have been there longer than anything else and sit today within the Brick Lane Conservation Area.

The terrace is part of the contested Bishopsgate Goodsyard site and, if the current proposal goes ahead, it will be swallowed by an office development. This entails repairing the front walls of the houses but destroying the rear wings, yards and outhouses, which are rare survivals and form an integral part of these buildings.

In an attempt to prevent this destruction, the Spitalfields Trust has submitted an application for listing to Historic England, offering the Trust’s expertise to assist in repairing the houses in their entirety. As with the Club Row houses, it will be invaluable if readers can write letters of support for listing to Historic England.

Please email ApplicationsSouth@HistoricEngland.org.uk

‘shored up with girders and smothered in graffiti, they have been permitted to fall into spectacular disrepair’

Yard with original outhouses and pantiled roofs at the rear of 70 Sclater St

In the seventies, a lot more of the terrace was standing – 70-74 Sclater St are the last houses with pitched roofs to the right (photo by Dan Cruickshank)

70-84 Sclater St, showing more of the terrace intact (photo by Dan Cruickshank)

Looking west down Sclater St, 70-74 can be seen towards the end of the terrace on the left (photo by Dan Cruickshank)

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20 Responses leave one →
  1. January 20, 2020

    It just never ceases to amaze me how people can deface a historical building with graffiti. To make matters worse is the dumping of household rubbish, have people no self respect or respect of others.

  2. January 20, 2020

    Though far away in the Pacific Northwest, I still feel a bit connected through my Chamberlain and Boisson silk weavers, who lived in Sclater St mid-19th century. I also am encouraged by the Club Row ‘campaign’ result.

    I’ll contact fellow Sclater St descendants in Yorkshire, the States and Australia, to see if we can’t get some letters in again. I will certainly send one.

    Thank you, it is so heartening to see these heritage activism efforts bear fruit, under your guidance and encouragement. Much appreciated.

  3. January 20, 2020

    Just a quick addendum to say I’d love to learn how these houses were finished inside, and exactly how the families lived. Flooring materials–finished or no, cooking and sleeping arrangements, original window style, etc. I’m sure they were quite spartan compared to the Dennis Severs interior.

    I have seen a diagram or two showing the silk loom on the top floor, to capture the best light. The loom occupied the entire space.

  4. Tony Taylor permalink
    January 20, 2020

    Have sent an email to the Historic England address you provided. If there is a flood of interest from around the country and around the world (and I’m in New Zealand), then surely the dwellings can be saved. Good luck.

  5. Naomi permalink
    January 20, 2020

    The photos of the market in the 70s so take me back. As a school girl in the 70s, I used to get the no.8 from Maida Vale to Brick Lane pretty much every Sunday. There, I would mosey around with the crowds, always popping into that huge shed containing floor to ceiling piles of second hand clothing on Sclater street to pick up some schmutter, have a beigel, argue with the NF, take some photos (sadly, no idea where they are now…). The place was intoxicating with all the sellers and the locals and how the market was so locally important and so timeless. Another world to my NW London middle-class existence and one where I found myself, not being born in England, rather at home.

  6. Annie Green permalink
    January 20, 2020

    These could be renovated and turned into reasonably priced apartments. That would be a fine way for them to continue their busy lives.

  7. JA Woolf permalink
    January 20, 2020

    I assume SPAB have been informed and are being involved in this?

  8. January 20, 2020

    After writing half my art history thesis on Huguenot silver and silk arts, I spent time examining their homes and workshops in the East End of London and in Canterbury. The row of silk weavers’ houses in Spitalfields back then were probably not livable, but at least there was no dirt or destruction. And I too remember the workshops of the top floors, maximising the light.

  9. saba permalink
    January 20, 2020

    I live in the Hudson Valley of New York State and have studied and written about the Huguenots extensively. Many of the London weavers were Huguenots, part of a band of skilled artisans who emigrated from France to all parts of the world, including the Hudson Valley. Therefore, if the weavers’ houses were occupied by Huguenots, another historical layer connects with other countries around the world.

  10. Peter permalink
    January 20, 2020

    email sent to English Heritage. Let’s hope these historic properties can be saved. Keep up the good work!

  11. January 20, 2020

    Thanks for alerting your readers to these buildings and the threat to their continued existence. I first learned about the Huguenot silk-weaving industry in London from Spitalfields Life. As an American descendant of London Huguenots, I have taken an interest ever since. In hopes that Historic England will take note that potential visitors from around the world take an interest in London’s preservation of its history, I have sent an e-mail in support of the application. I pointed out that your readers’ comments show not only interest but expertise that could be put to use in future study and restoration of the buildings. Keep up the good work!

  12. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 20, 2020

    It would be great if they could be saved and renovated.

    I note that some the photos were supplied by enthusiastic historian Dan Cruikshank and I’d like to take this chance to recommend his latest programme The British at Home. Spookily enough the last episode was all about terraced housing and gave a fascinating insight into this uniquely British form of domestic architecture. I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say about high rise buildings tomorrow night… (BBC4 11pm Tuesday)

  13. January 20, 2020

    I’ve written supporting the proposal to list these historic houses.
    Thanks for bring it to our attention.
    Chris.

  14. Joe permalink
    January 21, 2020

    Depending on the internal condition this should be listed for it’s historical significance of working class history surviving Victorian and post war bulldozers. Just look at 10 hockenhall alley in Liverpool as another example of early industrialisation working class housing that is listed.

  15. January 21, 2020

    It is vital to protect,
    conserve and restore these precious 18th century houses London gains millions from tourists who want to see our heritage lets keep it rather than destroy our architectural heritage now and in posterity.

  16. Robin jung permalink
    January 21, 2020

    I’m fed up with developers destroying historical London, perticularly East London and, notably, Whitechapel and Shoreditch. This site (Sclatter st) needs saving and redevelopment that retains the original structures in their entirety, I realise the greed factor, the Gentrification fetish these developers have but, the best thing they can do, is tear down the abominations they have erected over the last decade or so (Walkie talkie and the like) and use their so called ” talent” to actually design something that is classical or at least fits in with the area instead of the monstrosities we now have in the financial district. They can still over charge or demand excessive rents, it would just look more fitting if it was attractive rather than a hideous toilet that is does.

  17. January 22, 2020

    It is so sad to see such important terrace houses left to fall into disrepair. There are so many historical building that go this way.
    I live in Australia and we have so little history here compared to England. Sometimes we find that an old terrace house that was used in the late 1800s early 1900s for travellers, suddenly burns down overnight.
    At Parramatta we have the beautiful Willow Grove historical home built in 1870s and a group of terraces from around the same period in Parramatta. We have so little history and they are going to demolish these and bring the Power House Museum from Sydney out to Parramatta!
    How stupid are these people. Willow Grove does not even need work done on it, it is is great condition.
    At least in England they seem more aware of historical value.
    I wish you luck in saving these weavers’ terraces

  18. Zena permalink
    January 22, 2020

    Given that HE made such a pig’s ear of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry proposal, I am not sanguine about Sclater Street. However i have emailed them. I am tired of the destruction of what historic buildings we have left: tired, and angry. Destroy such, & what do you have left? Only folk memories. Perhaps that’s the aim…

  19. Sarah permalink
    June 21, 2020

    I’ve been researching my family history and my ancestor Claude Dumas was a silk merchant who lived at 32 Scatler street in the 1800s from AnchorStreet. It would be amazing and of historical importance to have these properties restored to some form of how they were at the time when that part of London was dominated by Weavers and merchants.

  20. July 5, 2020

    My father was born in 1914 in Anchor Street, now demolished, I believe it was a continuation of Sclater Street. Can anyone confirm?

    Thanks,

    Barrie.

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