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norwich CanariesNorwich in East England was most affected by the first wave of Protestant refugees from the Spanish Netherlands during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, with 30 households (about 300 people) of master weavers being invited to settle in Norwich (24 Dutch/Flemish and 6 French-speaking Walloon); all were from the Flemish and French-speaking area, now Belgium. Norwich merchants, aware of their skills in textile production as well as having sympathy with their religious views, initially accommodated the incomers in their own premises, and Strangers’ Hall, now a museum, was named for them.

They felt largely welcomed by the local people and were delighted to be in a Protestant environment. With their hard-working ethos they flourished, which encouraged more of their fellow Protestants to immigrate. Within 4 years their numbers had swollen to well over 4,500 so that they soon made up about a third of Norwich’s population.

The Strangers helped the cloth trade grow and moved into all areas of commerce and eventually the professions; they also introduced new crops such as flax and roots, and canaries from the Dutch West Indies as household pets. The Norwich City Football Team has a canary as their emblem and the team is still known as The Canaries.

The second wave of immigration in the seventeenth century brought only three specifically Huguenot families to Norwich – Martineau, Columbine and le Monnier. In the west of the region Dutch engineers were brought over by William of Orange in the late seventeenth century for his programme of Fen drainage.

The Church of St Mary the Less, Queen Street, was a French-speaking Walloon church, with Huguenots later joining the congregation.

The legacy of the Walloons is widely visible, in buildings with Dutch gables and intricate brickwork, in local dialect and in family names. The weavers’ windows, long and high up below the eaves, are a reminder of the importance and supremacy of the cloth industry until well into the nineteenth century.