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At Anna Maria Garthwaite’s House

June 30, 2021
by the gentle author

Anna Maria Garthwaite, the most celebrated texile designer of the eighteenth century, bought this house in Spitalfields when she was forty years old  in 1728, just five years after it was built. Its purchase reflected the success she had already achieved but, living here at the very heart of the silk industry, she produced over one thousand patterns for damasks and brocades during the next thirty-five years.

The first owner of the house was a glover who used the ground floor as a shop with customers entering through the door upon the right, while the door on the left gave access to the rooms above where the family lived. For Anna Maria Garthwaite, the ground floor may also have been used to receive clients who would be led up to the first floor where commissions could be discussed and deals done. The corner room on the second floor receives the best light, uninterrupted by the surrounding buildings, and this is likely to have been the workroom, most suited to the creation of her superlative designs painted in watercolours – of which nearly nine hundred are preserved today at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Anna Maria Garthwaite contrived an enormous variety of sprigged patterns each with different permutations of naturalistically rendered flowers, both cultivated and wild species. Yet equally, her work demonstrates a full understanding of the technical process of silk weaving, conjuring designs that make elegant employment of the possibilities of the medium and the talents of skilled weavers. Many of her designs are labelled with the names of the weavers to whom they were sold and annotated with precise instructions, revealing the depth of her insight into the method as well as offering assistance to those whose job it was to realise her work. She was credited by Malachi Postlethwayt in The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce of 1751 as the one who “introduced the Principles of Painting into the loom.”

Born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, Garthwaite moved to York with her twice-widowed sister Mary in 1726, coming to down to London two years later  – and it is tempting to imagine that the pair became a familiar sight, taking long walks eastwards from the newly built-up streets into the fields beyond, where they collected wild flowers to serve as inspiration for botanically-accurate designs.

In spite of its commanding corner position at the junction of Wilkes St and Princelet St (known as Princes St in Anna Maria Garthwaite’s time), this is a modest dwelling – just one room deep – and, nearly three centuries later, it retains the atmosphere of a domestic working environment. In common with many of the surrounding properties, the house bears witness to the waves of migration that have defined Spitalfields through the centuries, subdivided for Jewish residents in the nineteenth century – the Goldsteins, the Venicoffs, the Marks, the Hellers, who were superseded by Bengalis in the sixties and seventies, until restoration in 1985 revealed the interiors and unified the spaces again.

Apart from wear and tear of centuries, and the stucco rendering on the exterior from 1860, Anna Maria Garthwaite would recognise her old house as almost unchanged if she were to return today.

Christ Church seen through an old glass pane from Anna Maria’s Garthwaite’s workroom.

You may also like to read more about Spitalfields silk

Anna Maria Garthwaite

A Dress of Spitalfields Silk

Stanley Rondeau at the V&A

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Sue permalink
    June 30, 2021

    Thank you so much for this post, I’ve often wondered what the interior of the house was like and it’s beautiful. Many times I have stood on the corner, looking at the house and learning of Anna Maria Garthwaite’s amazing story from the wonderful local guide, Charlie de Wet.

  2. June 30, 2021

    I love you posts … they are about the last thing I see every night, and invariably give me joy. THANK YOU

  3. Helen H permalink
    June 30, 2021

    Wow, wonderfully preserved interiors, great photographs. Long may these beautiful places of historical interest be preserved. Thank you!

  4. Richard Smith permalink
    June 30, 2021

    I really enjoyed looking at the interior pictures of this wonderful old house. You could practically see the history of the building oozing out of it’s structure. Nice to see a feline guardian too. Thank you GA.

  5. June 30, 2021

    Nearly 300 years old. It’s wearing well. Sincerely hope it is a listed building.

  6. Linda Granfield permalink
    June 30, 2021

    Those sanded walls are lovely–each layer of the home’s history glows.
    And I’d like to sit at that kitchen table with a morning cup of tea.
    Many thanks to the current home-owner for permitting you to share these moody shots.

    (One commenter said SLife is the last thing she reads each day–here in Canada, it’s the first thing I read each day! Your world, GA, truly is the World!)

  7. June 30, 2021

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what an absolutely charming home in the center of Spitalsfield – with such an interesting history. Obviously, it has been lovingly restored by its recent owners. I love the dining room and the fireplaces.

    Wonderful photos too…

  8. June 30, 2021

    This is a fascinating example of female agency in the 18th C, a topic of hot debate among the writers and scholars attending the Historical Novel Society Conference last week, in San Antonio, Texas/USA and online. The problem is, of course, that when we write about female characters placed in the past, how do we animate them with self determination, with freedom of movement and wlll so that they are interesting to read about and can carry the burden of being a protagonist in the novel? There are so many wonderful examples, though, of empowered women in history, and this one is delightful! Thank you so much for all the wonderful writing and recording of times that you do, Gentle Author.

  9. June 30, 2021

    I love it, cats and all !!

  10. Sylvia seal permalink
    June 30, 2021

    Dear GA,
    Thank you so much for this serendipitous post.
    Today I began reading Portrait of a Woman in Silk by Zara Anishanslin, all about the independent and immensely talented Anna Maria Garthwaite and those fascinating times.
    What a treat to see the interior of her home.
    I do so miss my urban rambles and your posts go some way to fill the space until my return.
    Kind regards to you and Mr Pussy

  11. June 30, 2021

    Who did the restoration? Looks very tidy if it’s still lived in 🙂

  12. June 30, 2021

    What an amazing woman Anna Maria Garthwaite was. I would have liked to have met her.

  13. Dave Hunt permalink
    June 30, 2021

    Thank you SO much for the excellent photos of that fabulous house – I could quite happily live there!
    Also very many thanks for my daily dose of Spitalfields life- I really look forward to reading it – such a wonderful range of interesting and diverse topics.

    It’s a part of London I was not familiar with – but next time I’m there (Covid permitting!) I shall make sure to explore the area

    I have also recommended your site to several friends here in Shropshire – they all love it too

    Keep up the valuable work

    Best wishes Dave Hunt (Telford)

  14. Guillaume permalink
    June 30, 2021

    What an utter heaven to live in Spitalfields, in such a heavenly domicile! Those who do must have done something very good in their past lives to warrant such bliss as this!

  15. Mike McGonigle permalink
    July 1, 2021

    Only modest in size! Fantastic piece – thank you so much. Mike McGonigle

  16. June 26, 2023

    Anna Marie Garthwaite was my first cousins twelve times removed.
    Her father Ephraim Garthright was the brother of my 11th great grandfather
    Michael Garthwaite. Such splendid photos.
    Brilliant artist, how lovely it would have been to have known her.
    I hope one day I have the opportunity to visit this inviting place.
    If any of you reading this are related to her, you are also related to me.

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