The Huguenots - French Protestants - were this country’s first refugees, escaping religious persecution in Catholic France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685. Many settled in London: in Soho, the City, Clerkenwell, Greenwich, Spitalfields and Wandsworth; but others went further afield, to Canterbury, Colchester, Faversham, Norwich and Sudbury, where they could practise their faith in peace. 

Nobody knows where the word Huguenot comes from but from the mid-16th century it was in common parlance as an abusive word by the French Catholics against the French Protestants. Louis XIV forbade them to leave France on pain of imprisonment, torture and death, an extraordinary motivation to emigrate, leaving behind family, friends and possession, and yet around 50,000 came to this country. The majority arrived with nothing, just their enterprise, industry and talent.

The Huguenots transformed the skills-base of the cities and towns to which they moved, establishing new businesses. Academics say that it is the textile industries where the Huguenots greatest contribution was made, but there are countless traces of Huguenot heritage around the country: there are memorials to the Huguenots in Westminster Abbey and Winchester Cathedral; paintings in Hampton Court; silks and ceramics at the V&A Museum; weavers homes in Canterbury, Norwich and Sudbury; gunpowder works in Faversham; the Guildhall Clock in Winchester, made by Huguenot clockmaker David Compigné; and Dyrham Park, part – designed by a Huguenot architect, Samuel Hauduroy. 

But there is so much more in Cathedral Treasuries, display cases in Museums, and in our architectural landscape – from street names to former workshops and homes. Can you help us to identify the traces of the Huguenots who once lived and worked in your part of the country? We would love to hear from you!