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!

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