Thursday, 5 January 2017

In the Shadow of the Prince Edward Theatre.

The Prince Edward Theatre has been a familiar Soho landmark for generations of people to enjoy since opening its doors on the 3 April 1930. Its own illustrious history has seen the theatre go through many transformations over the past 86 years. In 1929 the buildings which stood on the corner of Old Compton Street and Greek Street were demolished to make way for the new theatre completely eliminating any trace of the people and business which occupied the address of 41 Greek Street and 53 Old Compton Street.

While the buildings were home to a diverse mix of inhabitants and occupations the silk and linen drapery business was the main trade which eventually spanned several buildings as the business grew from small shops to a wholesale warehouse business.
Here are just a few of the businesses which occupied the space along with Auctioneers, Candle makers and residents living in the rooms above the offices and shops.
1796, 41 Greek Street, Thomas Clarke, Silk Dyer
1807, 41 Greek Street, Stephen Callahan, Silk Dyer
1808, 53 Old Compton Street, William and Joseph Bryan, Linen Drapers

In April 1824 Andrews, Stobbs and Maggs opens at 41 Greek Street 1826, 41 Greek Street, John Jenner and Ambrose Boodle, Linen Drapers and Mercers
1826, The Examiner, 12 November reports

The Evening Standard, 16 October 1828 reports, new proprietors of the “Emporium” Messrs Wagner and Chapman, Greek Street Soho, The business closed in 1830 when William Chapman and George Wagner were declared bankrupt.

In 1862, the final chapter of the address at the corner of Greek Street and Old Compton Street commenced when William Taylor Reddan a butcher’s son from Parson Drove in Cambridgeshire opened his drapers business, William Reddan & Sons Ltd.
William’s empire spanned several buildings 51 to 54 Old Compton Street and 41 & 42 Greek Street with around 14 drapers’ assistants and staff living above the business. Reddan’s was renowned for its Victorian charm and its most discerning cliental on its books which included Winston Churchill and members of the Royal family.

Image of William Reddan & Sons Ltd Drapers shop in 1926, 3 years before the buildings were demolished to make way for the Prince Edward Theatre. In 1899 the building numbers changed to 22, 24 & 28 Old Compton Street.

Members of William’s own family worked within the business, his brother Charles set up his own drapers business in North London. William died in 1920 year after his Wife Emma and was survived by his four children; in 1928 his children Minnie and Charles wound up their fathers 66 year old business and sold the premises to the Hay Hill Syndicate to make way for the Prince Edward Theatre. Reddan’s loyal staff moved on and his trusted store managers were remembered in Williams will.
On Monday 3 September 1928 The Evening Telegraph reports on the close of Reddan’s, One landmark falls into the shadow of another.
Further reading at  Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History Website

The Prince Edward Theatre research by mosoho volunteer Sarah Buttery.
Sarah’s own family has a long history in Soho with Italian restaurants; Sarah worked for Kettner’s before its closure last January to make way for the next phase of its life and has researched the history of Kettner’s, the families and people involved in running the business and holds a private archive of information and artefacts which she has collected over the past few years. I hope Sarah will share this untold story with us in 2017.

We offer a bespoke research service to business and individuals. If you'd like to find out more please email:

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Not Fade Away – The Rolling Stones in Soho.

“The streets of Soho were reserved for characters, cappuccino action, nerve, real verve and chat, most of it about music. The streets reeked of chutzpah and skiffle was dead – long live pop.” Andrew Loog Oldham, Stoned.

Although legend has it that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger hooked up on a station platform in Dartford, the Rolling Stones as we know them were born above a pub in Soho. 

The Bricklayers Arms in Edward Street (since renamed Broadwick Street) was where Brian Jones held auditions to form a rhythm and blues group in 1962. Some of the hopefuls replied to his ad in Jazz News, while others - including Mick and Keith - came from Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated sessions at the Marquee in Oxford Street. 

The Rollin’ Stones played their first gig at the Marquee in July ’62, and rehearsed different line-ups until Brian, Mick and Keith were joined by Bill Wyman on bass and Ian Stewart on piano. Drummer Charlie Watts climbed aboard last in January 1963. Another regular gig for the Stones in this period was at Studio 51 in Great Newport Street, where Ken Colyer ran his jazz nights.

De Hems.
Meanwhile, down the road apiece, journalists from the music papers in Denmark Street and Shaftesbury Avenue did their quaffing in De Hems bar in Macclesfield Street. It was here, in April ’63, that New Record Mirror editor Peter Jones tipped off pop publicist Andrew Loog Oldham about a certain group playing sensational R&B at the Crawdaddy club in Richmond. Over a vodka & tonic, the suave Mr Jones told Oldham that his paper was running a big piece on the Rollin’ Stones in the forthcoming issue, predicting they will “soon be the leading performers of R&B in the country” – incredible for a group that didn’t yet have a record out.

Those heady early days are captured in the photographs of Terry O’Neill and Gered Mankowitz in the book Breaking Stones, 1963-1965, A Band on the Brink of Superstardom.  O’Neill, who was then Fleet Street’s youngest photographer, walked the Rolling Stones around Soho carrying their brand new bags. They look every inch the travelling troubadours on their way to a recording session in Regent Sound studio (where the group cut their debut album and 1964 single Not Fade Away). 

Breaking Stones, 1963-1965, A Band on the Brink of Superstardom 
The black-coated Stones lined up in front of Tin Pan Alley’s red and yellow Members’ Club is a quintessential snapshot of Soho in the early 60s, with the band already exuding locked-out cool. 

O’Neill’s half of the book is a reportage-style account showing the life of a typical pop group – where the boys had to thank their lucky stars for plates of egg and chips in the BBC canteen, and the makeshift dressing rooms where Keith ran his shaver from a light fitting, while Mick wears a hair net with a fag on the go. The fateful New Record Mirror article, written by Norman Jopling and titled Genuine R&B, is also reprinted inside.

The second half of Breaking Stones features the work of Gered Mankowitz, the son of writer Wolf Mankowitz (author of Expresso Bongo, based on the 2i’s coffee bar scene in Old Compton Street). Gered’s portraits have a strong sense of creative direction and image building – from the band looking through a cage in Ormond Yard (they were dubbed ‘animals’ by the Daily Mirror) to the cover of 1965 album Out Of Our Heads. By the closing frames of the book, when Gered joins the band on their ’65 US tour, the Rolling Stones can no longer walk the streets unmolested. 

The 2i's Coffee Bar. Now Poppie's Fish 'n' Chips.

Their view of the world is from the back of limousines, with cops struggling to control thousands of screaming teenagers causing pandemonium everywhere they go. One heart-stopping moment shows Keith out cold on stage, electrocuted by a microphone stand. We see the band taking control of their own destiny as Mick and Keith become songwriters. The irony is that, by writing their own hits, the Beatles and the Stones started a trend that took the shine off Tin Pan Alley’s song merchants and hastened the end of an era. But, when midnight comes around, the streets of Soho will always echo with the sound of pointy-booted footsteps. Claudia Elliott.

Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist who has written for BBC's Sounds of the 60s, The Blues magazine and Classic Rock.

Twitter: @Claudia_Elliott

Blogger for BBC Radio 2 Sounds Of The 60s

Terry O’Neill’s photograph of the Stones walking in Soho can be seen at Exhibitionism, a retrospective show of the band’s history. Other Soho-related pieces include guitars and amps bought from Ivor Arbiter’s Sound City shops and gear from John Stephen boutique in Carnaby Street. Exhibitionism runs until 4 September at the Saatchi Gallery.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Ghosts of Soho Restaurants.

Soho Restaurants.

Restaurants. Do we regret the loss of Tomato when it turned into Barrafino? No.  L’Epicure when it turned into Waikkiki? Yes. Waikkiki when it turned into Bar Shu? An emphatic no!  In Soho we see them come and we see them go. Very few are mourned to tell the truth. It’s a hard place both physically and financially to run a restaurant.

We lived in Old Compton Street for ten years and could never quite get away from the smell of cooking.  We opened the window onto the street, and it was Opuz and Amalfi.  We opened the bedroom window one story up and it was Margot Henderson making trotters at the French House.  All of our household objects were covered in a very thin film of cooking oil.

A slice of Soho_Sunday Times Magazine 1968.
Below us then was Duke’s Bar, which changed hands several times before becoming Opuz Kitchen (now Pepe’s).  I was then a film critic on The Independent.  One evening I happened to see a Michael Winterbottom film called Wonderland (1999), and thought the location looked familiar. A large part of the film had been made twenty feet below us, without our ever noticing.  Such is Soho.

By 2008 I had become a restaurant critic for the Zagat Guides, the US equivalent of the Michelin Guides, now owned by Google.  Since then Soho has been reviving its foodie credentials, but there’s been a corresponding haemorrhage of good, cheap places to eat.   The area may have gained two or three Michelin stars and won restaurant of the year two years running in the Tatler, but where to the waifs and strays eat these days? Especially now that Stockpot is destined for the stockpot?

Soho dining originally was quite grand. Casanova’s mistress Teresa Cornelys first brought Venetian small plates to 18th century Soho (revived again by Polpo in St James bailiwick centuries later).  At the super exclusive and fashionable Carlisle House in Soho Square the food wasn’t just Venetian.  She had Brunswick pastry-cook Louis Weltje working in the kitchens; he later went to feed up the Prince Regent.  But cheap restaurants? The impoverished poets Rimbaud and Verlaine were able to dine cheaply on food that smelt of home in Old Compton St in the 1870’s.

This golden period of cheap dining was to last about 50 years. Here’s Thomas Burke in 1917 talking about Soho, bewailing to loss of bargain eateries. ‘Gone are the shilling tables-d’hote and their ravishing dishes…not in 1917 do you see Old Compton St as a line of warm and fragrant café-windows…gone are those exotic food which brought such zest to a jaded palate’.

Passport to Soho.

I rather miss L’Epicure with its fantastic gas-filled flaming torches, and its doddery waiters seemingly auditioning for a Victoria Wood sketch.  But there again Bar Shu with its Sichuan Fuschia Dunlop menu, in the same site, is one of my favourite restaurants. I remember that old-school 1950’s Italian family restaurant in Green Court, but it’s now replaced by Yalla Yalla, which is better.

A succession of awful restaurants on the site of Arbutus have been replaced by Arbutus (whose future is now sadly in doubt). One of the best new restaurants in London – Sri Lankan slice of happiness known as Hoppers – is on the site of the little-missed Alastair Little eaterie at 49 Frith St.  Bao offers brilliant cheap food but you have to queue for 40 minutes to get it.

One of the Italian restaurants I remember with particular fondness was Presto on Old Compton St, which was beloved by Derek Jarman, who lived nearby, and Sebastian Horsley.  You only ordered the ravioli, because that’s what Derek did.

Recently Young Cheung’s on Shaftesbury Avenue has closed, a particular sadness to me, not because it was the best restaurant in the world but because it was good and cheap and had the air of old Soho to it.  But it did help that I have a Chinese partner who could read all the special menus only in Chinese.

Also vanished, ECapital was a superb Shanghainese mid-priced restaurant at 8 Gerrard St, where the overpraised Haozhan is now.  Its chef David Tam is now at China Tang at the Dorchester – that’s how good it was.  Delicacies included pressed pig's ears, filleted duck's feet with celery, Lion's Head meatballs, Beggar's Chicken.  The actor Johnny Rhys Meyers was a regular after I took him there.
And we also loved China Experience on 118-120 Shaftesbury Avenue, and I remember the Swindon-based owner telling me he was spending £5,000 week in rent.  They had paper-lantern shadow beef and golden fried prawns.  The subsequent restaurant used the Zagat listed stickers for years afterwards, quite illegally.  Royal Dragon is still in Gerard St, but was ruined like Kettners by a revamp, and we followed our friend who manages it next door to Golden Dragon (her name is Jackie and we’ve known her 25 years).

Soho is full of ghosts, most especially, the ghosts of restaurants.

©Roger Clarke 2016 Twitter
Roger Clarke@Skionar

The Soho Food Feast, Sat/Sun 2-3 July 2016

Supporting Soho Parish a small primary school situated in the heart of London on Great Windmill St.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

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 or as a result of later re-interpretation.

Such is the story of Dr John Snow who persuaded the Board of Guardians to remove the handle of the water pump in Soho’s Broadwick Street at the height of the 1854 cholera epidemic.  Memorialised by the John Snow pub and the replica water pump, which used to stand nearby on the corner of Poland Street, many today are of the mistaken belief that the Victorian doctor was the only scientist to discover cholera is a water-borne disease. 

Water pump in Broadwick St. removed whilst building works carried out.
Snow’s work did not make national headlines and newspapers in the 1850s were not brimming over with reports of Snow’s discovery, or that the handle removal had saved lives. 

Over 480 people died of cholera in and around Broadwick Street between late July and the middle of October 1854, but at the time the role played by Snow was not seen as particularly significant. Contrary to popular belief, the removal of the pump handle did not improve London’s sanitation overnight, and whilst Snow correctly concluded that cholera is contracted by ingesting tainted water, his work was overshadowed by others working in the tight-knit medical establishment and the widespread conviction that cholera was spread by foul-smelling air.

It is not all that surprising, therefore, that following his untimely death in 1858, Snow’s contribution to science was largely forgotten. In Bloomsbury when the new building to house the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was opened in 1929, it incorporated a frieze around the top of its exterior into which was carved the names of those considered to be of outstanding importance in the field of hygiene. Snow’s name was not included.

Yet today the story of the removal of the pump handle is seen as a symbol for scientists working in the field who fight - as Snow did - for effective and swift action to prevent the spread of epidemic disease.

Snow’s story is remembered because it was re-told in the early twentieth century by the American public health expert, William T. Sedgwick who, in his 1902 textbook, Principles of Sanitary Science and the Public Health, called Snow’s work ‘a monument of sanitary research.’  

Since 1902 science students in the United States have been taught the story of Snow and the pump handle removal and as a result many Americans who come to London are keen to visit Broadwick Street to see the replica pump.  Until recently the replica was situated on the corner of Poland Street, unfortunately some distance from its original position, potentially contributing to a re-interpretation of historical events. 
The John Snow Public House (1973).
Few realise the site of the original pump is to be found closer to the entrance of the John Snow pub. Its position is marked by a single red granite kerbstone and a discreet sign which incorrectly implies that Snow alone discovered cholera is a waterborne disease. Sadly little is known about Snow’s groundbreaking work on chloroform or his conviction that alcohol was a danger to health.

History has re-interpreted Snow’s story so that today the one lasting memorial to this visionary scientist - and one of the Victorian era’s greatest advocates of temperance - is a Soho pub.

Join us on Thursday, 6 Oct 2016, when author, linguist and historian, Amanda J Thomas, will be our guide on an historical journey through Soho in the time of cholera at Blacks Club, 67 Dean St. W1D 4QH.
Doors open at 7pm, talk begins 7.30pm. This is a Free event exclusive to mosoho followers and Blacks members.

Space is limited so please book early to reserve a

Amanda Thomas is the author of ‘Cholera: The Victorian Plague’ (Pen and Sword Books, ; ISBN 978-1783463503), and ‘The Lambeth Cholera Outbreak of 1848-1849’ (McFarland; ISBN 978-0786439898). Further information can be found at and on Amanda’s Amazon Author’s Page:

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Remembering The First Gay Pride.

West End

Wednesday 23rd June 1971, age 35

My first attempt at Gay Pride.
I’m at a Gay Liberation Front meeting at All Saints Church Hall in Notting Hill listening to Micky Burbidge of the counter-psychiatry group describe ‘aversion therapy’ to several hundred outraged gay people. ‘In this so-called “treat­ment,”’ he says, ‘gay victims are restrained and stimulated with erotic photos while electric shocks are administered to their genitals.’ After the cries of shock and outrage have died down, he asks for volunteers to march down Harley Street and paint black crosses on the doors of the guilty psychiatrists. I’m one of the many volunteers who raise their hands.

Two days later, I enter Cavendish Square to see a tiny group with a banner: ‘NO TO AVERSION THERAPY’ but am ashamed to admit I don’t dare join them because they look so few and so vulner­able! I will myself to do it but fail. Nor can I walk away but instead pathetically follow them along a parallel street listening to them chanting:
‘Give us a G! … give us an A! … give us a Y!
What does that spell? – Gay!
What is gay? – Good!
 What else is gay? – Angry!
I silently mouth the replies but still can’t join them which, unfortunately, confirms another thing Micky said: ‘Self-oppression is the ultimate subjugation which only succeeds when gay people believe straight definitions of what is good and bad.’ Chastened but thoughtful, I stumble home alone.

Next morning I realise that yesterday was a watershed for me all the same because acknowledging my own self-oppression is the first step to over­coming it.

West End

Saturday 28th August 1971, age 35

Taking Pride

The GLF Youth Group have organised a protest march against the male age of consent and this time I’ve eliminated any chance of copping out by wearing my jumpsuit embroidered with ‘Alan’ and ‘Gay Love’ on the epaulets and a rainbow on the breast pocket, plus all my gay badges and a peaked cap also embroidered with ‘Gay Love’ and my name. So I already feel ‘Out and Proud’ as I set off for Marble Arch tube where I find more happy gay people than I’ve seen in my entire life – and also discover that just ‘being in the majority’ is a liberating experience in itself.

Now we’re ambling down Oxford Street past crowds of Saturday shop­pers ‘protected’ by the police. It’s true that yesterday I thought people might throw stones at us but today I observe that most simply aren’t interested; a few look scared but many are cheering us on – so, by the time we reach Bond Street I’m so elated I go up to a gorgeous, curly-haired bearded onlooker and say: ‘You’re lovely! Can I kiss you?’

 The Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised ‘homosexual acts between two men over 21 years of age in private’ in England and Wales only’ excluding the police, the army, the air force and the navy.

‘Yes, if you want to,’ he says. So I do! Then I do it again with another! And again, for the rest of the day – till I’ve kissed more divine men than I knew existed! I spot two elderly women huffing and puffing at a bus stop, clearly outraged, but today we’re the majority and they’re the psychologically disturbed.
Photograph, Nigel Robinson.

Every now and again I step out to watch my fellow marchers go by and am struck by what a complete cross-section of humanity we represent. We could be a crowd from any railway station in the rush-hour, from ordinary to amazing – especially the dozen drag queens sashaying at the front – and from my onlooker’s vantage point I carefully note how many protesters pass each minute and so, once arrived in Trafalgar Square, am able to calculate that there are about 900 of us altogether.

At one point I spot a young policeman wistfully shaking his head as he hears us chanting: ‘Two, four six eight, is that copper really straight?’ and when he sees me looking he gives me a secret smile.

Next day every national newspaper has front page photos of our dozen drag queens but not one of our 888 ordinary gay women and men. Thus stereotypes are maintained and our struggle continues.

"Fragments of Joy and Sorrow - Memoir of a reluctant revolutionary" by the late Alan Wakeman.

Gemini Press June 2015 - an Imprint of Fantastic Books Company © ALAN WAKEMAN 2015


In 2017 the BBC is marking 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. The BBC is crowdsourcing photos, memories, film footage, historic documents, club flyers, outfits, protest banners, posters, music, diary entries and much more to help tell the story of LGBT+ life in Britain from 1967 - 2016. Do you have photos of Soho of yesteryear? Footage of past Prides?
Memorabilia from past Soho clubs, pubs or cabarets? We will be making an interactive crowd sourced archive of LGBT+ life and a BBC television series based around some of the stories, objects and memories contributed. Is there something that has defined your life as an LGBT+ person over the last 50 years? Get in touch and let us know what you have at:

Tweet: The BBC is crowdsourcing photos, posters & more to explore #LGBT+ life in Britain 1967-2016. Share what you have:

Monday, 14 March 2016

Cinema and the West End. 1906-1930

Soho’s Silent Cinemas.

Because of his family’s health problems, the diarist George Thomas, whose tenement rooms overlooked Berwick Street Market, didn’t leave the house much. But, still, he managed to keep up with the latest film news from magazines and conversations with friends. Finally, in May 1930, he recorded a personal ‘high-spot’: a trip to see his first ‘talkie’, The Broadway Melody, probably at the nearby Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, which had recently been converted into MGM’s flagship London cinema. George was hooked. ‘From now on’, he wrote, ‘I am an ardent “talkie-fan,” in the sense that I will never refuse the chance of going again.’

The legacy of the West End’s gigantic movie palaces, most of them opened in the 1920s and 1930s, is still around us. As well as the Empire, the nearby Odeon Leicester Square and the recently closed Odeon West End have provided a link to a time when cinema was a large part of the glamour of a trip ‘Up West’. Less visible are the traces of the West End’s earlier film venues: the places that first introduced George Thomas’s fellow Soho-ites to the movies, and that helped make room for cinema in the busy West End entertainment scene.
Cinema and the West End, 1906-1930.

The National Bioscope.
The West End hosted film shows from the earliest days. In February 1896, a few months after the initial screenings in Paris, the Lumière brothers’ new Cinématographe device was given its first commercial demonstration anywhere in the UK at the Polytechnic Institute on Regent Street. Very quickly, the Cinématographe and other rival moving-picture technologies made their way onto the bills of the West End’s variety theatres, where they stayed (in some form or other) for the next two decades. Dedicated film venues took longer to emerge, although there were early experiments. In May 1896, the film pioneer Birt Acres chose ‘a pleasant little hall in Piccadilly Circus’ (at 2 Piccadilly Mansions) to open his short-lived Kineoptikon, arguably the West End’s first full-time cinema. More lasting was the venue opened in 1906 by Hale’s Tours of the World at 165 Oxford Street, which used films and special sound effects to give its visitors virtual trips to far-off locations inside a replica train carriage.

By the time Hale’s Tours closed in 1910, there were already several other cinemas in the West End. Soho proper got its first recorded cinema in 1908, when the French-born chemist Felix Haté opened the ElectricCinema Theatre at 6 Ingestre Place (later re-named the Jardin de Paris). Like many early cinemas, the Electric was a conversion, in this case from a ground-floor residence and an adjoining stable, which backed onto the narrow William and Mary Yard. This small cinema was popular with locals, especially working-class English, French and Jewish youngsters, who were charged rock-bottom prices to watch short programmes of films, accompanied by an electric piano. Also popular with Soho’s children was the National Bioscope at 20 Frith Street (a building best known for once being occupied by Mozart), which was opened by an Italian family in 1910.

Both these side-street cinemas closed before the end of World War I, unable to deal with the increasingly strict safety regulations imposed by the London Council Council, and also struggling in the face of competition from a new breed of purpose-built ‘picture palaces’. An early example was the Piccadilly Circus Cinematograph Theatre, at 43-44 Great Windmill Street, built on the site of a former motor garage. Backed by the cinema magnate Montagu Pyke, it boasted such genteel amenities as a ‘vestibule lounge’, decorated (according to one trade paper) to suggest ‘a drawing-room at a royal palace or ducal mansion’. Even more luxurious was the 700-seat West EndCinema (later the Rialto, and now the Grosvenor Casino), which opened in March 1913 at 3-4 Coventry Street, and soon became a favourite spot for film premieres and other gala events.

Palais de Luxe, Great Windmill St. Courtesy of  Media History Digital Library.

The wartime ban on luxury building meant that no new cinemas were constructed in the West End until well into the 1920s. When building re-started, the trend was for even larger ‘super cinemas’, like the Astoria on CharingCross Road, opened in 1927. But small, more specialist film venues also found a home in the neighbourhood. At the very end of the 1920s, the Avenue Pavilion on Shaftesbury Avenue (on the spot of what is now the Curzon Soho) and the Palaisde Luxe at 17-18 Great Windmill Street (before it was the Windmill Theatre) were pioneers of the repertory cinema movement in London. Their eclectic programmes of ‘classic’ and rare films from Hollywood, Britain and around Europe brought people into Soho from across the city, and allowed the era of silent films in the West End to last a little longer.

With thanks to Dr Chris O'Rourke and Media History Digital Library.

About the author: Dr Chris O’Rourke teaches Film Studies at University College London. More of his research into the West End’s early cinema history can be found on the website London’s Silent Cinemas (

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.

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 ...