Thursday 22 October 2015

Edited extract from: Spitalfields: A history of London in a handful of streets.

The Huguenots: From ‘Poor Strangers’ to model citizens.

With Special Thanks to Dan Cruickshank/June 2015 and The  Huguenots of Spitalfields 

Edited extract from: Spitalfields: The history of London in a handful of streets. Soon to be published. 

The arrival of French Calvinist Protestants – Huguenots – in the British Isles in large numbers from the 1670s to the early decades of the eighteenth century had a profound effect that, after nearly 350 years, continues to ripple through the nation. The Huguenots had a rapid – and very significant – influence on the social, artistic, religious and economic life of Britain and its colonies and provided, and still provides, an influential example of the mutual and ultimately creative benefits that can arise from mass and seemingly tragic forced immigration.

The story of the French Protestant diaspora started in earnest in the late sixteenth century following the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris when the Roman Catholic authorities, in a spasm of uncontrolled and ferocious rage, turned on the Huguenot elite and within weeks somewhere in the region of 20,000 Huguenots were killed in France. Many fled, to protect their lives and to practice their religion, with a significant number settling on the south-east of England – notably in and around Canterbury.

Immigration slowed after 1598 when the Edict of Nantes was ratified in France and civil rights and freedom to worship were guaranteed for Protestants.

But in the 1670s life once again started to become hard for Protestants in France and, haunted by distant memories of Roman Catholic treachery and violence during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, many started to consider leaving their homeland and the immigration to Britain started – at first a trickle but with a decade a torrent

In 1681 persecution of French Protestants in France was renewed in earnest when Louis XIV authorised the quartering of dragoons in Protestant communities.

The aim of these dragonnades was to suppress the Protestant faith through torment, terror and intimidation and induce conversion to Catholicism.

Initially –and most understandably – many French Protestants preferred to remain in their homeland, in the hope that the persecution would pass.

But it became clear to most that persecution would only cease if they renounced their faith.

This was something very few Huguenots would do.

So increasingly, risking their freedom and even their lives because flight abroad was illegal, tens of thousands fled to Protestant nations.

Between about 1670 and 1710 it is estimated that around 50,000 to 80,000 Huguenots fled France with more than half of these coming to England – and this could have been up to 50,000 if the high estimate of immigration is accepted.

More settled in London than in all other British locations combined so by 1700, it has been estimated that Huguenot’s formed 5% of London’s total population of around 575,000. (Robin Gwynn, The Number of Huguenot Immigrants in the late 17th c, Journal of Historical Geography, vol. 9. No. 4, 1983, pp. 384-398.)

The arrival en masse of French fleeing France could only have been a great embarrassment for Charles II.

At the time he was embroiled in a complex political relationship with France veering from belligerence to securing financial-aid to free him from dependence on Parliament for funds and was reaching a personal reconciliation with Catholicism.

But although it could only hinder - and certainly not help - his maturing policies and private plans Charles II offered the arriving Huguenots a warm and public welcome.

It must be assumed that the king, despite the obvious personal advantages in not offending Louis XIV, felt empathy for refugees having himself spent nearly ten years in exile.

Also, given his tolerant nature and intelligence, it is probable that Charles simply didn’t like the notion of brutish persecution for reasons of religion and wanted to do all in his power to help.

As Robin Gwynne explains:

‘…the warmth and speed of [Charles’s] responses may indicate a genuine generosity of heart. In 1666, even as he was declaring war on France, Charles chose to welcome French Protestants into his country. And when the dragonnades began in 1681, he acted with speed and decisiveness in offering the Huguenots both a home and significant privileges, so that those who came to British shores were well treated for the four years before his death in 1685.’ (Robin Gwynne, Huguenot Heritage: The history and contribution of Huguenots in Britain, Sussex Academic Press, Brighton, 2001 edition p.166).

When history demanded that the self-indulgent Charles take action he was not – to the surprise of many – found wanting.

He retained the bravery and character that he had shown in his youth in 1651 in the second Civil War – fighting for a lost cause, a dead father and an inheritance that seemed beyond recovery.

As Gwynne observes, ‘Charles may have been lazy, Francophile and ultimately Catholic, but he obviously disliked persecution.’ (Gwynne, p. 167).

The king also, perhaps, perceived that the arrival of the Huguenots offered economic benefits outweighing possible political disadvantages.

What Charles had in his power was not only the offer of an official welcome, but also to help create an atmosphere of acceptance for the refugees by publicising the sacrifices they endured for their religious beliefs, and by launching a fund-raising campaign to relieve the more distressed of the newly arrived Huguenots.

All this Charles II did in the simplest and most direct manner by issuing a Brief in 1681 that was to be read in churches around the land.

In this the king made reference to the Huguenot’s persecution for their religious beliefs, to their ‘being forced to abandon their native abodes’ and called them ‘not only distressed strangers, but chiefly persecuted Protestants.’ (Robin Gwynne, Huguenot Heritage: The history and contribution of Huguenots in Britain. Sussex Academic Press, Brighton, 2001 edition, p. 170).

This was emotive stuff calculated to create sympathy within the native Protestant population and encouragement to individual acts of charity.

The poor and persecuted Huguenots were - by Royal approval - evidently worthy, indeed admirable - objects of charity and of national support.

The Huguenots who started to arrive in large numbers in London after 1681 were united by their devotion to their religion and, it would seem, by energy, determination and a dedication to what they perceived as the divine attribute of hard and honest work and to the God-ordained obligation to create a clean, comfortable secure family home.

For them the reasonable display of wealth amassed through honest labour was viewed ‘not as ostentation.’ (See Anne J. Kershen, Strangers, Aliens and Asians: Huguenots, Jews and Bangladeshis in Spitalfields 1660-2000. Routledge, London, 2005, p. 171; and M. Weber, The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, London, Unwin, 1938).

Their years of experience as a hard pressed and finally a persecuted minority had also forged strong ties within the Huguenot communities and established powerful traditions of mutual support.

Family was all-important and survival mechanisms were clearly well honed. They were people with great natural intelligence and shrewdness and in London in the 1680s they soon discovered the means to survive, even flourish.

For the Huguenots, their arrival in London in large numbers in 1681 had its problems but, generally had been successful. But soon things were to become extremely difficult  - both for those Huguenots still planning to flee to England and for those who had already arrived.
The French Protestant Church, Soho Square. photographed in 1973.mosoho
In October 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes that had tolerated the practice of the Protestant religion in France.

Now, at the stroke of a pen, Louis outlawed the Protestant faith in France and initiated the closure and destruction of Protestant churches and the prosecution and punishment of all professing Protestants.

This, of course, increased the exodus of Protestants from France. But not to England in such numbers as before. The reason is straightforward. In February 1685 Charles II died and James II came to the throne and he for Huguenots, was to prove a deeply unsympathetic and untrustworthy monarch.

James II – who was soon to prove himself a stupid individual  - was little more than a servile creature of France and a practicing Roman Catholic with a morbid obsession to reinstate Roman Catholics in Britain to power and to restore Roman Catholicism as the official faith of the country.

These, and other ill-considered aims, were to lead to James II’s dramatic downfall in 1688 and to the Glorious Revolution and the rise to power of the Protestant William III and his queen - and James’s daughter - Queen Mary.

So in early 1685 - with the accession of the pro-French and pro-Catholic James II to the throne - things looked bleak for the Huguenots in Britain and for those planning to arrive.

In addition, James saw the Huguenots as a threat - not only to him but also to the principle of monarchy since he was convinced that their Puritanical Christianity made them Republicans at heart

But James realised that to openly ignore the Huguenots plight would be to court trouble.

Despite some initial popular alarm at their arrival in large numbers, the Huguenots were, in the end, persecuted Protestants and Britain was an overwhelmingly Protestant nation.

And what was more, the Huguenots were the victims of an autocratic Catholic monarchy that many in Britain found particularly threatening, arrogant and repugnant.

So James II resolved to follow a two-faced policy, calculated to appease the Protestant sensibilities of the majority of his subjects who increasingly supported the Huguenot immigration while also satisfying his French masters.

To this end James, at the time of the Revocation of Nantes in October 1685, ‘prohibited the captains and officers of English ships from taking French subjects on board unless they had passports - which they could not obtain - and punished at least one captain for disobeying this injunction..’ (Gwynne, p. 169).

On coming to the throne James II promised foreign churches in London the same protection and support they had enjoyed during reign of Charles II. But for the Huguenots there were potential complications – indeed James intended that there should be.

In 1685 a Bill was put forward for the ‘general naturalization of French Protestants currently residing in England … and such others as shall come over within a limited time’, but the Court opposition to the Bill ensured that a clause was added that ordered all French churches and congregations to use only the Anglican liturgy translated into French.

This was obviously unacceptable to Calvinist Huguenots - and was evidently intended to be so. They had given up all in their native land for the freedom to worship in their own manner and would scarcely agree to a course of action that compromised this freedom.

The Anglican liturgy was not their liturgy and all knew they would not - could not - use it.

This Bill, if it became law un-amended, would have destroyed all foreign non-conformist churches in England and - perhaps more to the point - have stifled the flow of persecuted French into England.

But, due to the emergency of the unsuccessful Monmouth Rebellion of June and July 1685 the Bill lapsed and no more was heard of it.

However, as Gwynne points out, this legalistic attempt on their religious freedom ensured that Huguenot ‘elders were kept uneasy for rest of [James’s] reign,’ (Gwynne, p. 168).

Then in 1686 James II issued a Brief to be read in churches throughout the land – and it was much diluted in comparison with that of 1681.

In 1681 vivid reference had been made to the Huguenots persecution for their religious beliefs and to them ‘being forced to abandon their native abodes’ and called them ‘not only distressed strangers, but chiefly persecuted Protestants.’ (Robin Gwynne, Huguenot Heritage: The history and contribution of Huguenots in Britain. Sussex Academic Press, Brighton, 2001 edition, p. 170.)

The Brief of 1686 ‘said nothing about conditions in France, nor about persecutions, merely stating that the destitute French Protestants currently in England needed relief.’ (Gwynne, p. 170)

As with the 1681 Brief, that of 1686 called for a public collection on the Huguenots behalf.

But this promise of charitable money was used by James in an attempt to achieve political and religious aims.

The Brief stated that the money raised through donations was to be used to ‘benefit only those who lived in entire conformity and orderly submission to our government established both in church and state’ (Gwynne, p. 171).

No such phrase had been used in the 1681 Brief. How was it to be interpreted?

Were only those refugees who attended conformist French congregations or Anglican churches were to be offered relief? In effect it was taken to mean that all recipients had to produce a certificate to say they had received Communion according to the usage of the Church of England.

Ultimately this stipulation did not prove a significant stumbling block for the Huguenots and was not comparable to the stipulation in the earlier and abandoned Parliamentary Bill that they were to use Anglican liturgy.

As Gwynne explains, ‘since the continental Reformed churches accepted the Anglican Church as a true Protestant church, most refugees felt able to comply with this condition, but only after considerable heart-searching; they were, after all, refugees for the sake of religion, and had left their native land to be free to worship in their own way.’ (Gwynne, p. 171).

But it should be said, James continued to grant letters of denization, that is the granting of certain rights to foreigners residing in Britain.

Despite these apparent tokens of support the Huguenot community believed James to be ‘shifty and untrustworthy, his actions but a front to placate English public opinion.’ (Gwynne, p.168).

Despite the toned-down nature of the 1686 Brief and the lengthy delay between it being drafted and it actually being read in churches (a delay John Evelyn, the diarist and close observer of the political and social life of James’s court, blamed on ‘the interest of the French ambassador and cruel papists.’, Diary of John Evelyn, IV, pp. 506, 508), it still provoked a most generous response from the public.

By March 1687 over £42,000 had been raised.

On the 16th April 1687 ‘an Order of Council prescribed a new general collection in England, Scotland and Ireland raised £200,000 which formed a fund known as the Royal Bounty.’ (The Victoria County History, The History of Middlesex, vol. 2 (general), edited by William Page, 1911, pp. 132-137).

A lay French committee was entrusted with an annual distribution of £16,000 amongst poor refugees and their descendants, while a second ecclesiastical committee distributed £1,718 annually to ‘distressed’ pastors.

This generosity on the part of the public was, says Gwynne, ‘little short of a slap in the royal face.’ (Gwynne, p. 172.)

The reason for the generous response is hinted at in an extraordinary set of contemporary documents compiled by Roger Morrice.

Morrice kept an Entering Book in which he recorded the word on the street - both gossip and informed opinion - from coffee houses and taverns for the edification of a small group of clients who evidently believed knowledge to be power. (The Entering Book of Roger Morrice: a journal of late seventeenth century London, ed. Mark Goldie, Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2007).

According to Morrice the English in 1685 were appalled by the stories they heard.

As Morrice recorded on Saturday November 21 1685: ‘The persecutions and torments of the Protestants in France is still inexpressible, its wrot over by an eye witnesse that Dragoons are sent even into all Countreys, and that in one part of a Province 18,000 Protestants, when the Dragoons came did generally run to the Churches for feare of the Gallies, Torments or Death, and there offered to renounce the Protestant Religion. The Papists would not take their renounciations till they had made the Protestants solemly to sweare that they did not make that renunciation for feare of torment or for any such selfish reason, but out of the sence of the great dishonour they had done God, and the scandal they had cast upon Holy Church by living in such damnable Heresies so long &c.’

Morrice also documented gossip about cruel mutilations alleged to have been perpetrated by the Catholic authorities on apprehended fleeing Huguenots. True or not, such stories were well calculated to enrage English Protestant opinion.

On the public’s response to the Brief, Morrice recorded on Monday May 3rd 1686: ‘In many Parishes in London and in the Suburbs they have given liberally to the Collection for the French Protestants, but very many persons are confidently reported to have given five or ten times more than they have upon an exact enquiry.’ (The Entering Book of Roger Morrice, vol. III, p. 114).

James’s action did, despite provoking public antipathy, achieve one of his aims -
fewer Huguenots crossed the channel in the early years of his reign than had in the years immediately after 1681.

There was another reason, besides James II pusillanimous behaviour, that reduced Huguenot immigration to England. In October 1685, in response to Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia, passed the extraordinarily enlightened and enterprising Edict of Potsdam. This encouraged Huguenots to emigrate to Prussia by offering safe passage, freedom of worship and tax-free status for ten years. In consequence Prussia – and Potsdam in particular – became a centre of Protestant European immigration, offering an attractive alternative to London for large numbers of Huguenots, but also Dutch, Russians and Bohemians. Prussia benefited – economically and culturally - from the energy and commercial initiative of these migrant communities.

In Britain Huguenot immigration no doubt increased once again after the 4th April 1687 with the Declaration of Indulgence that guaranteed freedom of religious worship in the British Isles. By suspending penal laws enforcing conformity to the Anglican church James made it possible for Roman Catholics to worship openly and, by removing the obligation to swear allegiance to the Anglican church before assuming position in public offices, allowed them to start the move back into public life.

But, by the same token of indulgence, James made life easier all other Christian denominations that did not conform to Anglican doctrine or liturgy - including the Calvinistic Huguenots.

Despite this legislation - which almost by accident and certainly paradoxically improved the position of Calvinists while it paved the way for the return of Roman Catholics to power in Britain - James continued to be viewed by Huguenots as untrustworthy and at time directly aggressive. This perception explains why Huguenots fully supported William of Orange’s Protestant ‘invasion’ of 1688.

It was not just that he was a Protestant but that James had, in many ways, proved himself an enemy to the Huguenots and their interests. This distrust of the unreliable and Catholic-tainted Stuarts echoed through the following years, and helps explain why Britain’s Huguenot community opposed the Jacobites so forcefully in 1715 and 1745.

English attitudes to the arrival of the Huguenots
The Huguenot refugees, when they started to arrive in large numbers in London during 1681, quickly saw the opportunities offered by London and with astonishing speed, ability and success set about turning their unfortunate circumstances to great advantage.

But what did their hosts think?

Initially the attitude was ambivalent and divided by class and occupation.

The Protestant middle-class and aristocracy welcomed the arrival of their fellow Protestant and generally middle or merchant class French, and the Huguenots received a hearty welcome – reflecting the ‘official’ welcome of Charles II.

It was after all politically advantageous to offer refuge (the word refugee was coined at this time) to Protestant Frenchmen fleeing persecution in their own land, and much mileage was made out of a situation that appeared to show autocratic monarchy in Catholic France in such a poor light.

But working people, notably journeymen weavers - and merchants involved in the precious metal trade - saw the Huguenots as a potential or actual threat to their livelihoods.

Consequently, despite official and Royal support for the Huguenots, there was a degree of popular unrest – particularly amongst journeymen weavers in the areas in which many of the French initially settled, notably in the East End of London – in and around Spitalfields - and in Norwich in Norfolk.

Spitalfields and Silk.
The arriving Huguenots chose to settle in Spitalfields for a number of reasons: it was near a French Protestant Church in Threadneedle Street, in the City of London; the area was expanding with new homes and workshops being built, and because – for those Huguenots with silk weaving skill or ambitions – the Spitalfields area was home to London’s indigenous weaving industry, initially wool and then silk.

The transformation of the Artillery Ground into Spitalfields first large scale and coherent urban development was completed in 1684 under the control of the pioneering speculative house-builder Nicholas Barbon. These streets of new buildings made Spitalfields a most attractive area for Huguenot families with means or fair prospects.

Builders needed clients to take on their speculations and the Huguenots – ambitious and increasingly wealthy – were promising occupiers for the area’s new speculatively-built housing stock.

The newly arrived Huguenots spotted the opportunity to establish, with astonishing speed and success, a French-style silk industry in London. The Huguenots, through their religion, culture, their habits of hard work and self-reliance and ‘by their sheer numbers, changed the social and cultural dynamic of the neighbourhoods in which they lived.’ (Catherine Swindlehurst in ‘An unruly and presumptuous rabble’: the reaction of the Spitalfields weaving community to the settlement of the Huguenots, 1660-90, p. 388).

Some of the native discontent about the rapid transformation of newly expanded Spitalfield - like a New Town on the north-east edge of the City – into a French enclave dominated by Huguenot tradesmen and merchants, is catalogued by Catherine Swindlehurst in ‘An unruly and presumptuous rabble’: the reaction of the Spitalfields weaving community to the settlement of the Huguenots, 1660-90.

She notes that as early as 1681 one James Jeffries expressed fear of an uprising in Spitalfields against French refugees because some Spitalfields residents, he observed, had amassed weapons, and ‘…those that have them say that those weapons are to defend themselves against the Papists and a Popish successor…’ (PRO. SP29/417/78; Swindlehurst, p. 370).

The Popish reference is confusing but for many uneducated English working people being French was synonymous with being Catholic and some assumed that the Huguenots - arriving in large and sudden numbers - were nothing more than undercover French invasion force of  ‘Papists’ and spies intent on causing mayhem in England.

It is now hard to overestimate the impact the sudden arrival of the French. Many were skilled workers and eager to thrive in their new homeland and full of initiative.

The native labouring community was clearly confused in its response. Its antiquated trade and manufacturing traditions and ingrained inferiority, when faced with competition from high quality French-made luxury artefacts of fashion, made London artisans fearful.

But some saw that the arrival of the French represented a great opportunity that could be grasped.

As Catherine Swindlehurst points out, ‘France and the French silk industry were both the nemesis and the spur towards development of the English silk weaving trade in the late 17th century. For many London weavers, the French trade was something to be both revered and copied, as well as to be scorned and protected against. France was popularly viewed as a sort of vortex of Popish evil, but at the same time, it was respected as an economic power and a fashion centre. The arrival of the Huguenots in England presented new hope in the competition with France in the quality and design of various luxury goods.’ (Catherine Swindlehurst‘An unruly and presumptuous rabble’: the reaction of the Spitalfields weaving community to the settlement of the Huguenots, 1660-90, p. 368).

So the popular response to the arrival of the Huguenots was, to put is mildly, extremely mixed. Many saw them, and their skills, initiative, ambition and driving work ethic, as a threat to the practices of ‘fair trade’ - a notion that, among other things, promoted and protected established practices of production and scale of wages.

Evidently one of the immediate fears harboured by English weavers was that the French incomers would undercut them by accepting lower wages and charging less for their work.
Huguenots of Spitalfields Silk Dress.
This had been perceived as common practice in immigrant communities in the past as they strove to establish themselves. As one pamphlet poem, published in 1681, observed: ‘..weavers all may curse their fates/Because the French work under rates…’ (The Valient Weaver, London, 1681; Swindlehurst, pp 369-70).

The fear seems to have been felt keenly in the early 1680s in Spitalfields small community of English weavers.

Tensions grew rapidly, so by early August 1683 riots were feared. In the State Papers are preserved eyewitness reports: ‘the factious partt [of the weavers] thereabouts has been very bold and presumptuous this last week: and… they do cabal together oftener than has been usual.’

English weavers, it was observed, gathered in public houses ‘in opposition to the French weavers in their neighbourhood’ and it was feared that if the weavers ‘can get a sufficient number together, they will rise and knock [the French] on the head.’ (PRO, SP 29/431/ 21, Swindlehurst, p. 366).

Weavers gathered at local inns, where they brooded on the alleged trade abuses being practiced by the French and plotted protest. One informant told the authorities that he had ‘…found out the three houses of their meeting viz at the sign of the Poor Robin in Bishopsgate Street, at the sign of the Town of Hackney in the same street, and at the Cock in Whitegate Alley near the Fields’ (probably in what is now Widegate Street).

Some of the weavers attending these meetings were, warned the informant, ‘not sober and rationull.’ (PRO. SP29/431/21-20, Swindlehust, pp. 370-71).

The official response to this information was a controlled display of force. On 9th August Charles II ordered horse guards to be ‘quartered about Islington, Hackney or Mile End to keep the weavers in order,’ (PRO, SP29/430/79, Swindlehurst, p. 371) and the City’s trained-bands were kept in Devonshire Square, just off Bishopsgate, and immediately to the south of Spitalfields.

This tactic seems to have worked, and certainly prevented violence against the Huguenots, but ill feeling simmered not far beneath the surface.

On the 25th August an informant reported that ‘he was desiered by two journeymen weavers…to meet in Swan Fields one Monday morning and he doth conclude is in order to some bad designe, it being the same method they took when they burnt the ingin loombs.’ (PRO. SP29/431/3, Swindlehurst, p. 371).

The reference is to engine-loom riots of 1675 when Spitalfield silk ribbon weavers rioted against the introduction of machinery that heralded automation and consequently was seen as a threat to the local workforce.

But in London all proposed violent protest came to nothing, probably because the presence of armed troops was a sobering prospect and an effective deterrent.

But there were severe riots in Norwich in August and September 1683, where Huguenots had also settled. These were, observes Catherine Swindlehurst, ‘a grim reminder of the scale and intensity of popular disaffection felt for the French weavers.’

One of the ways in which the newly arrived Huguenots weavers (or Huguenots who desired to enter the weaving industry) were integrated with native weavers was through the offices of the long established Weavers’ Company. However in the 1680s its power was limited since it could exercise its jurisdiction only in the City of London and, until the second decade of the 18th century, only with difficulty in ‘suburban’ areas such as Spitalfields, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green. (Swindlehurst, p. 370 ).

However the way in which the company attempted to reconcile Huguenot and English weavers is revealed in contemporary documents. For example, John Larguier of Nîmes was granted the status of master by the Weavers’ Company in 1684 when he not only proved that he was ‘fully inabled to weave and perfect lutestrings, alamodes and other fine silks as well as service and beauty in all respects as they are perfected in France’, but also agreed to the ‘condition that he imply himself, and others of the English nation, in making the said alamode and lutestring silks for one year from this day.’ (Guildhall Library, MS 4655/9, fos. 12, pp. 37-8, and Catherine Swindlehurst, 368-9).

This condition was obviously a response to the established fear that the newly arrived French weavers would keep their skills, new technologies and trade ‘secrets’ exclusively within their own community and employ only French apprentices and journeymen.

A powerful physical reminder of the issues and anxieties raised among English Protestants and the authorities is the monumental and majestic Anglican parish church of Christ Church Spitalfields – construction of which started in 1714 to the designs of Nicholas Hawksmoor.

In a key way the church is a direct response to the settlement of Huguenots in Spitalfields and its environs.

Being Calvinists the Huguenots desired to establish and worship in their own churches in their own way, and not attend Anglican parish churches.

In response the church authorities felt obliged to promote the interest - and presence - of the established state religion in areas of urban expansion with large dissenting populations.

The obvious - if expensive - way to do this was through the construction of new, architecturally impressive and strategically placed, Anglican churches in newly created and administratively important parishes.

Although the idea for new churches was discussed as early as the 1680s money was in short supply, with the revenue from the coal tax going towards the reconstruction of new parish churches and St. Paul’s cathedral in the fire ravaged City.

But after 1710, when this major construction project was nearly complete, coal tax money became available for new churches and in 1711 the Act for Building Fifty new Anglican parish churches in London was passed.

One of the target area of this Act was Spitalfields, where Christ Church was built and a new parish created in 1729 when the church was complete.

By the time the construction Christ Church started the Huguenots had been established in large numbers in Spitalfields for around thirty years and by the time the church was completed in 1729 the Huguenots were – essentially – Spitalfields.

Huguenot families were the families that mattered – they were the significant merchants and entrepreneurs, they ran the area, occupied many of its largest and grandest houses, were a respected part of London society with many rising high in the professions and the Weavers’ Company and had command of Spitalfields wealth and most of its wealth-generating industries. 

The Huguenots also, even if they did not worship in the church, acted as parish officers and through the churches dual role as town hall were deeply involved in the government of Spitalfields Parish, as well as the adjoining Liberties of the Artillery Ground and Norton Folgate.

The respect with which the Huguenots were held in the early eighteenth century – and the reasons for this respect – is captured by John Strype in his 1720 edition of the Survey of London and Westminster:

‘The North west Parts of this Parish (Spittle Fields and Parts adjacent), of later Times became a great Harbour for Poor Protestant Strangers, Waloons and French; who as in former Days, so of late, have been forced to become Exiles from their own Country for their Religion, and for the avoiding cruel Persecution. Here they have found quiet and security, and settled themselves in their several Trades and Occupations; Weavers especially. Whereby God’s Blessing surely is not only brought upon the Parish, by receiving poor Strangers (Come ye Blessed of my Father, Etc, For I was a Stranger and ye took me in) but also a great Advantage hath accrued to the whole Nation, by the rich Manufactures of weaving Silks and Stuffs and Camlets: which Art they brought along with them. And this Benefit also to the Neighbourhood; that these Strangers may serve for Patterns of Thrift, Honesty, Industry, and Sobriety, as well.’ (Volume II. 1 Book Four, p. 48 - includes a map of Spittlefields and places Adjacent.)

Strype’s extremely positive view of the benefits of the Huguenot arrival and settlement in Spitalfields is fascinating since it records an opinion that was, presumably, commonly held in 1720.

But there were dissenting views, and one is offered by an extraordinary fellow called Jean Baptiste Denis.

He who was not only a French immigrant but also a Calvinist. Earlier in life he had been a Roman Catholic priest but he converted, gave up a respectable and secure life in France and in 1705 took refuge in London.

For reason unknown, although perhaps not without reason, this former Catholic loathed his fellow Frenchmen and Calvinists

He poured out his spleen in a book, with a long title that says it all: A Plot Discovered: wherein is set forth the insolence and ingratitude, of the greatest part of the French refugees, towards the English, their benefactors.

The faults Denis perceived, and to which he chose to draw attention, included the ‘general corruption that reigns among the refugees,’ their pride, ingratitude, and their injustice and ungenerosity towards proselytes. The Huguenot ‘Master-Weavers in Spittle-Fields’ were, he wrote, ‘a people stiff-neck’d and uncircumcis’d of heart …. Whose pride and ambition have tower’d to such a height, as to make their condition not only envy’d by the greatest merchants in the City, but have also made themselves formidable to the most antient and most powerful Companies of the nation.’

In sardonic vein Denis observed what ‘a glorious set of people indeed are these French master weavers … that ruin the body, of which they denominate themselves members, purely to enrich themselves by the ruin, the spoils of the unfortunate, not sparing their own countrymen…the greatest part of the refuges are a cast-out people, without honour or principle … a ridiculous concourse of vagabonds.’ (Information courtesty of Robin Gwynne)

These are presumably the exaggerated ravings of a disappointed man. But, they could offer a clue to a prevailing undercurrent of opinion. It Strype reflects the commonly held positive attitude to the Huguenots does Denis capture with accuracy the negative attitudes, prejudices and assumptions held by more xenophobic Londoners?

But even if widely held in the early years of the 18th century, the views expressed by Denis did not prevail.

No doubt one of the main reasons for the eventual and fulsome acceptance of the Huguenots – by even journeymen weavers who once felt themselves threated – was the fact that the Huguenots had virtually invented a new and valuable industry in London.

The high quality silk they produced was unprecedented in Britain.

Huguenot weavers and masters, and the trade they created, clearly had not directly supplanted a native workforce or local trade but – on the contrary – had created new markets, employment, skills and wealth.

Soho and silver.
The precious metals industry became the most interesting and important of Soho’s trades.

From the late seventeenth century Huguenots established themselves, mostly in south Soho around Gerrard Street, Great Windmill Street and the Newport Market area and created a highly valuable trade.

Some of the Huguenot immigrants who settled in Soho brought their skills with them while others - as with many of the Huguenot silk weavers - identified and exploited the fact that in England there was a demand for high quality wares with a French sense of style and elegance.

The leading members of the Soho precious metals trade included Peter Archambo, Paul de Lamerie and Paul Crespin.

Archambo became an apprentice in 1710 to a fellow Huguenot silversmith named Jacob Margas who had a workshop in St. Martin’s Lane, which was then the south-east boundary of Soho.
Dan Cruickshank at Black's members club giving his talk ‘Silver and Silk’, which explored the fascinating life and trade of Huguenot London from c1681 to the mid-18th century.
The problems that Archambo faced were typical of those that beset Huguenot silver and goldsmiths in late seventeenth century London and were among the key reasons for the establishment of their silver trade in Soho.

The early experiences of Huguenot silk weavers and silver smiths were very different – indeed in stark contrast.

The Huguenots had from a early time succeeded in entering and rising high in the Weavers’ Company.

But initially Huguenot silver and gold smiths who tried to enter the English precious metal industry through the established means of the Goldsmith Company found their path blocked and their futures blighted

When Huguenots seeking to work with precious metals arrived in London in the late seventeenth century they settled near Goldsmiths’ Hall, in the City of London, which was the capital’s traditional centre for the silver and gold trade and -most conveniently - near a French Protestant church in Threadneedle Street.

But problems soon arose. Silver and gold smiths needed to gain the Freedom of the City of London through a livery company in order to trade in the city – and in London generally.

The obvious livery company to join was the Goldsmiths’ but this was controlled by London-born tradesmen who were suspicious of the talented Huguenot arrivals - jealous of their skills, daunted by their industrious nature and work-ethic, and so fearful that they would win many commissions.

So the London tradesmen closed ranks and kept the Huguenots out of the Goldsmiths’ Company and so deny them the chance to become Freemen of the City.

And this was a serious threat because quite simply, no Freedom of the City meant no work!

But the Huguenots were nothing if not canny and determined and would not to be stopped.

Their solution was to make jealousy their friend.

They played on traditional City rivalries and found that other livery companies were happy to accept them, even if only upset the arrogant Goldsmiths.

So in 1720 Archambo became free of the Butchers’ Company and Paul Crespin became free of the Longe Bowe String makers, and through these companies gained freedom of the City.

But establishing themselves amongst their London rivals near Goldsmiths’ Hall presented another problem so the Huguenots founded their own centre of trade in south Soho, and  near the French Protestant church located in the Savoy, just south of the Strand.

One Huguenot tradesman who did manage to join the Goldsmiths’ Company was Paul de Lamerie. He became one of the most able and successful of the Huguenot tradesmen and has been called by the Victoria and Albert Museum ‘the greatest silversmith working in England in the eighteenth century.’ 

De Lamerie was born in April 1688 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the United Provinces (now The Netherlands) and came to London with his immigrant family - of minor aristocratic ancestry - when just one year old.

At the age of fourteen de Lamerie was apprenticed to a Huguenot goldsmith named Pierre Platel and in 1713 opened his own workshop, probably in Great Windmill Street, Soho, where his established his own mark. 

But not, it seems, until after some difficulties with the Goldsmith’s Company.

In 1714 he was called before the court of the Company for failing to have his work hallmarked.

This was a serious charge. By the early eighteenth century silver ware possessed various hallmarks to establish the date and location of its manufacture and the quality of the silver from which it was made.

These marks could also include an emblem or initials to reveal the manufacturer of the piece - and only makers who traded under their own names and whose association with a piece could enhance its value were in the habit of signing their work.

But hallmarks that included a makers identifying mark could prove a problem. If a maker put his mark on a piece it was difficult for him to dodge paying duty, as they were obliged to do by law.

It would seem that the avoidance of duty was the main reason de Lamerie sought anonymity. Certainly the company took a stern view of his actions and fined him a hefty £20.

De Lamerie’s response seems to have been to mock the company and attempt to undermine its authority. He purchased a stock of second rate unmarked silver objects made by anonymous London smiths and had it hallmarked as his own. The company got wind of what was going on and accused de Lamerie of having bought ‘Foreigners work and got ye same toucht at ye Hall.’

The contest between de Lamerie and the Goldsmith Company was prolonged – but does not seem to have damaged him professionally - for example in 1716 he was appointed as gold and silversmith to George I

However in 1717 he was once again accused by the Company of with selling large quantities of plate that he had not brought to the Company to be marked ‘according to law.’

The eventual solution to the long-running dispute was to the company to admit de Lamerie as a Liveryman and to control him by making him part of the precious metal establishment. (Lucy Inglis, Georgian London: into the streets, 2013, p. 171).

From around this time – 1719 or so - de Lamerie seems to have regularly marked his products, with his initial mark being a capital LA with a crown and small star above and a fleur de lis below.

By the 1730s he was dominant in his field, supplying the rich, powerful and titled in Britain and abroad with artefacts of consummate beauty - characteristically reflecting the favoured rococo manner of the time - and of extraordinary expense.

In 1738 de Lamerie moved his home and probably his workshop to 40 Gerrard Street - then the best address in the heart of south Soho’s silver and gold district. Current number 40 Gerrard Street bears a plaque marking de Lamerie’s occupation – but the existing house is not his and dates only from the late eighteenth century.

When de Lamerie died in 1751 he was buried in St. Anne’s church, Soho. This was typical Huguenot practice. Although de Lamerie probably did not worship in St. Anne’s but in a Huguenot ‘temple’ he was happy to be buried in an Anglican church. This was partly because Huguenot temples - always built as cheaply as possible - tended not to have expensive or extensive burial grounds or vaults, but also because in Calvinist belief the final resting place of the earthly and mortal remains were relatively of little importance in comparison with the fate and value of the immortal soul.

And as far as Huguenots were concerned the value of the soul was enhanced by the pursuit of a vigorous work ethic. Honest trade and toil were seen as godly, and success and the massing of legitimate wealth and worldly goods as admirable.
But of course the desire to achieve material success and amass wealth was perhaps not only in potential conflict with the building of spiritual grace but could also be one of Satan’s most successful snares. The desire for fame, glory and riches has always been one of man’s great temptations and so it was, in a most revealing way, for de Lamerie.

In 1722 - when still consolidating his position as one of Britain’s leading gold and silver smiths - de Lamerie became embroiled in an ultimately most embarrassing, if not utterly disastrous, court case which suggests his early misbehaviour with the Goldsmiths was the typical expression of a calculating and greedy character.

A chimney-sweep’s boy named Armory, who had found a jewel, took it to de Lamerie’s shop to have it valued. De Lamerie’s apprentice took the jewel and offered to pay only three halfpence for its setting. When the boy asked for the return of the jewel along with the setting the apprentice refused, presumably on the grounds that the jewel had been found and did not belong to the boy.

Friends of the boy advised a court action and the verdict of the King’s Bench set a legal benchmark. It ruled that although the boy did not have absolute title to the jewel he had the right to keep it until its true owner was established. In consequence de Lamerie was ordered to return the jewel or give the boy its value in money. To his credit de Lamerie did not pretend he had no jewel from the boy and even agreed to it be being valued by others, who declared it to be of the highest quality. (Armory v Delamirie EWHC KB J 94, 31 July 1722).

This action of de Lamerie and his apprentice – which was in effect an attempt at ‘legal’ robbery and exploitation of a humble youth - offers an insight, perhaps, into the ruthless practices employed by the Huguenot business community.

It also established a legal ruling that helped to establish personal property law and the notion of  ‘finders, keepers’.

The Huguenots Of Soho | Spitalfields Life.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Featured post

Soho and the Cholera outbreak of 1854.

The Modern Myth of Soho’s Dr John Snow. History often gets things wrong either because of the way in which events are initially reported ...