huguenots of spitalfields
huguenots of spitalfields
huguenots of spitalfields
huguenots of spitalfields
huguenots of spitalfields
huguenots of spitalfields

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There is hardly a skill-set where you can not find the impressive talents of a Huguenot: whether it is gun-making, engraving, jewellery, pharmacy, painting, ceramics, textiles, ivory, clock-making, portrait painting, printing, bookbinding, glassblowing, cartography, acting, medicine, science, papermakers, architecture, furniture, sculpture, goldsmiths, miniaturists, city commerce: the list is endless.

Our aim is to encourage cultural organisations to include the word  ‘Huguenot’ in their descriptions across all interpretative materials and displays (printed and digital) – often, the provenance is solely identified as ‘French’. Why? Because we are determined to see the Huguenots gain credit for their achievements and effects on the history of this country. Furthermore, it is thought that one in six of us has Huguenot ancestry – many of the surnames we presume to be English are indeed from our French ancestors – and, so, many visitors will connect with this shared heritage.

The Huguenot legacy is diverse: Paul de Lamarie is considered to be the finest silversmith this country has ever known and the Courtaulds’, Pantin, Harache and Willaume, were incredibly talented. Think of elaborate gentlemen’s pistols and the name Pierre Monlong and Pierre Gruche spring to mind; think of clockmakers and Blachett, Collo and the outstanding Nicholas Ourseau, who constructed Hampton Court’s great astronomical clock – they were Huguenots too; glassmaking was the talent of Jean Carre of Arras and the founder of the Derby Porcelain factory was the ceramicist Andre Planche. Huguenots are everywhere you look! It was Vautrollier who settled in London to establish new print works and Le Blon introduced new methods of colour printing; Issac Basire was the first of four Huguenot generations of engravers; Fourdrinier specialized in the formation of architectural plans; Gribelin specialized in publishing pattern books; and Jean Rocque, cartographer, created the very first A-Z of London. 

The Huguenots were also present in the worlds of theatre and music  - the playwright Thomas D’Urfrey and actor-manager, David Garrick. Peter Prelleur published the guide for musicians entitled The Modern Musick - Master, that for 300 years was considered the most important singing manual.

The Huguenot legacy in science and medicine is quite extraordinary too: the Chamberlen family are notable for their invention of the obstetric forceps; Gideon de Laune, the appointed Royal Apothecary to the Anne of Demark, (wife of James I), was instrumental in the founding of the Society of Apothecaries and we have to thank de Mayerne for coming up with the idea of recording patients’ medical notes.

The first Commander in Chief of the British Army was a Huguenot fighting the French and historians say that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 would have been a bloody revolution had it not been for the Huguenots, while the first Governor of the Bank of England, Sir John Houblon, was also a Huguenot.

Most notably, the Huguenots revitalised the textile industry and in particular, silk weaving. Many of the refugees from France had been merchants, master weavers or journeymen but being Protestants they were forbidden entry into the Grande Fabrique in Lyons. They settled in Spitalfields where there was already a fledgling narrow silks industry. Talented individuals such as James Leman, Peter Lekeux, Simon Julian and the Ogier family designed and created beautiful silk patterns that can now be found in museums round the world.

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!

Friday 29th September - Tour of the Huguenot Museum and the French Hospital

If you have ever wondered what The French Hospital is come along for a tour of the Museum and Hospital on 29 September. These are regular tours as the Hospital is in fact residential almshouses primarily for people of Huguenot descent, and therefore closed to the public except on special occasions like Heritage Open Days. The French Hospital was established in 1718 in London to care for Huguenot refugees who needed support & is now on Rochester High Street. Several of the trustees of the Museum have links to the Hospital going back several generations and the core of the Museum’s collection comes from the collections of the French Hospital. You can hear these personal stories as well as find out about both organisations on these tours. Fri 29 September 2-4pm £12 including refreshments.

Saturday 30th September - Talk by Author Liz Trenow on her book The Silk Weaver

This autumn The Huguenot Museum launches a new venture, a historical novel book club. We will read historical novels that have a link to the history of the Huguenots and we are delighted to welcome the author of our first book, Liz Trenow to give a talk on Saturday 30th September about her novel ‘The Silk Weaver’. In her talk, For the Love of Silk, Liz will talk about how she came to write The Silk Weaver. The novel is based on the story of Anna Maria Garthwaite, one of the most important designers of patterned silks, an industry which centred on Spitalfields in the 18th century that was transformed by Huguenot craftspeople. Liz’s own family's unique silk weaving history also inspired this novel. Stephen Walters & Sons of Sudbury is the oldest silk weaving company in Britain, which has been continuously family-owned since its beginnings three hundred years ago.  The museum shop stocks copies of The Silk Weaver, so do buy a copy and read it before the talk, and Liz will be happy to sign them on the day.

The first meeting of the book club, when we will discuss the novel, will take place on Thursday 19 October 2pm. The first meeting will be free and refreshments will be provided. We will be a friendly, informal group and no prior knowledge of the Huguenots is necessary, just an enthusiasm for history and a good story!


Saturday 28th October - Talk on the significance of Huguenot refugees and their descendants in the Industrial Revolution

Amanda Thomas, from Friends of Medway Archives (FOMA) will give a talk on the significance of Huguenot refugees & their descendants in the Industrial Revolution. By the eighteenth century innovators like the papermaker Henry Fourdrinier and silk weaver George Courtauld were among many making their own unique contribution to British industry. Huguenot involvement in science, technology and engineering is perhaps less well known than the decorative arts, but just as important. Huguenots were involved in the design and manufacture of high quality consumer goods, including watches and clocks.  Without these Britain’s factories would not have operated so efficiently and the new steam-powered locomotives transporting goods to Britain’s ports and cities would not have run on time. Sat 28 October, 2-3.30 £10 including museum admission.

For more details on all the Huguenot Museum's programmes including booking information see their website


For more information please contact Dinah Winch This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01634 789347

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