Huguenots of Spitalfields

September 2016 Newsletter - Issue 12

It was good to meet so many old friends, and make new ones, at the three day Immigrants of Spitalfields Festival in June. For 2016 we joined with the Swandhinata Trust and Sandys Row synagogue celebrating the links between the Bengalis and Jews, as well as the Irish and Germans who came to live and practise their faith in the sanctuary of Spitalfields.  Mary Schoeser captivated us with her heart warming talk on the Huguenot trail from Spitalfields to Sudbury bringing to life the history of the Huguenot silk weavers as did Dr Katy Chater, who explained the complexities of tracing Huguenot ancestors.


The V&A Lecture Theatre was packed for Dr Tessa Murdoch's talk on Huguenot silver and the Refugee Week events ended with a brilliant conversation between Dr Philip Mansel and Robert Winder.


Thank you for supporting our efforts – particularly the walkers who persevered in spite of the torrential rain. We gratefully acknowledge the support we received from the City of London Corporation, King's College and the East End Community Foundation.

You are invited to a Book Launch and lecture by Julian Woodford on 3rd November at 7-9pm, Hanbury Hall, Hanbury Street E1


Not every Huguenot was pious or saintly. Julian Woodford uncovers the truly appalling life of a notorious Huguenot, Joseph Merceron (1764 -1839), gangster and corrupt magistrate, who accumulated enormous wealth while presiding over the creation of the poorest slums in Georgian London.

Julian Woodford

From his house in Brick Lane, for half a century Merceron gave the East End the reputation for criminality that still lingers today. It is fitting that this collaboration between the Huguenots of Spitalfields and Spitalfields Life will be held in Hanbury Hall, where Merceron was baptised in 1764. Tickets are free. If you are interested in attending, contact


Huguenots in South Carolina

We have recently read a most moving account of a Huguenot émigrée to America, Judith Gilton. Writing a letter to her brother she describes her harrowing flight from France, the letter ending, "We have seen ourselves, since our departure from France, in every sort of affliction, in sickness, pestilence, famine, poverty, very hard work. I was in this country a full six months without tasting bread whilst I worked the ground like a slave. […] God surely gave us good grace to have been able to withstand all sorts of trials."  Judith and her family fled their home, which was billeted by the infamous Dragonnades soldiers, at night and hid themselves for ten days whilst a search was made for them. They continued by travelling to Langres where their host threatened them with denouncement should they make any demands on him. Their plan was to seek out Judith’s brother in Luneburg, but another of her brothers insisted they find passage to America, which was achieved only by travelling through Holland and being stranded for three months in London whilst they waited for a ship. During the arduous nine-month passage, beset by stoppages to repair the vessel, their mother sadly died of Spotted Fever. The original copy of Judith’s letter is at the South Carolina Historical Society, and is in French. Read Judith Gilton’s letter in full– included here by kind permission of Cheves Leland, of the Huguenot Society of South Carolina. Another letter was brought to our attention written by Louis Thibou and can be found at If you are aware of any other letters to, or from, Carolina, please contact Cheves Leland at


Huguenots in Canada

Huguenots traders and merchants first settled in Canada in 1577 and in 1603 Huguenot Pierre de Monts was given a Royal Commission to settle in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In subsequent years Huguenot rights to settle in New France varied depending on whether Catholics or Protestants were in power. From 1633 Canada was closed to Huguenots under Catholic rule but 1,450 Huguenots managed to settle. Following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 Huguenots were barred completely. However when the British came to power in 1763 numbers began to emigrate again from New England, Germany, Switzerland and France. The Huguenot Society of Canada no longer exists but ancestry can be traced through the Ontario Genealogical Society, e-mail:

Isaac Barre

An Irish Huguenot: Isaac Barré

It was Isaac Barré, the Irish solider and politician, who came up with the sobriquet, Sons of Liberty, to describe the American revolutionists. He had fought with distinction for the British Army in North America during the Seven Years War, and in a 1765 Parliamentary debate over the Stamp Act, he defended the American colonists, referring to them as ‘these Sons of Liberty’. This was in response to Charles Townshend, a supporter of the Stamp Act, who had previously made a disapproving statement about the American colonists.

Johannes a Lasco

It was fitting that The Rt. Rev. & Rt. Hon. Richard Chartres, KCVO FSA, the Bishop of London (a Huguenot and our patron), joined the minister, Rev. Joost Roselaers of the Dutch Church in Austin Friars, at the 466th Foundation Day Service where an inscription to Johannes a Lasco was unveiled. Johannes a Lasco was the first superintendent  of the church (1550-1560).

Click here to see pictures of the unveiling


A Distinguished Huguenot

We were saddened to hear of the death of Randolph Vigne, past President of the Huguenot Society and an enthusiastic supporter of our charity. Randolph was wonderfully encouraging and always so helpful and empathetic to our efforts. He was generous with information and quick to pick up on any of our inaccuracies - which he would always do with wit and charm. He was pleased that the East India Company would feature in the Immigrants of Spitalfields Festival and wrote: I've published the letters of my great great grandmother, wife of Revd William Fraser, 1820-06. He was sent to India as a chaplain to the East Indian Company by his (and her) uncle, Charles Grant, who brought Christianity and much of great human value to India from Leadenhall Street, where he reigned supreme for many years. Charles Grant was a pillar of the evangelical Clapham Sect with William Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay. We thank God for the life of Randolph Vigne.


Dublin and La Rochelle

Thank you for sharing your holiday memories. We have received some fascinating emails from you, notably highlighting the Huguenot link with Dublin and La Rochelle.


The Huguenot Cemetery in the centre of Dublin, dates from 1693 and is located between Merrion Square and St Stephen's Green. This small cemetery is a joy to visit, particularly in the Spring, when it is covered in a mass of bluebells. In 1693 the area was designated the "French Burial Ground" for Dublin's small community of 5,000 Huguenot refugees who came to the country. It closed in 1901 but is fairly well preserved and is one of just several Huguenot burial grounds in Ireland. The names of the Huguenots buried here can be found on the Huguenot Society of Ireland's website


Other Huguenot traces can be found in St Patrick’s Cathedral where the Huguenots once held services.  From the mid-17th to early 19th century, it was known as the French Chapel. Following the defeat of the exiled King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, King William travelled to Dublin and restored St Patrick’s Cathedral once more to Anglicanism and it was here that one of the King’s most important generals, the Duke of Shomberg, was buried.


There is a memorial bell inscribed ‘To the glory of God and in memory of the coming of the Huguenots to Dublin 1685’.


Another distinguished Huguenot buried here, Dr. Elie Bouhereau, became the first librarian of Marsh’s Library in 1707. Today the library is one of the Dublin’s finest gems –unchanged over three centuries - an original and perfectly preserved 18th century library still used for its original purpose. It houses more than 25,000 rare and fascinating books and is known as the Library of Early Enlightenment.


We have also been told that D’Olier Street, near O’Connell Bridge, was named after Jeremiah D’Olier who was one of the founders and Governor of the Bank of Ireland in 1801. His grandfather, Isaac, followed the Prince of Orange to England and Ireland, and his father was a successful goldsmith.


Another touching memory came from La Rochelle. The museum in the Protestant Temple in La Rochelle (2, rue du Brave Rondeau) is open to the public every afternoon during August and by appointment the rest of the year. (They conduct tours in English by prior appointment.) This surprisingly compact museum is located at the rear of the church and charges four Euros entry. It contains portraits, bibles, old documents, a portable pulpit and many other artefacts – all evidence that La Rochelle was one of the Protestant strongholds.

Mulberry Tree courtesy of The Conservation Foundation for Morus Londinium.


The Conservation Foundation has announced a new mulberry project called Morus Londinium. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, it has the aim to uncover the tale of London’s mulberry tree heritage and record the capital’s mulberry tree population, including its links to Huguenots.  It was Henry IV of France who first planted the white mulberry in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, but despite many attempts by British monarchs to grow the plant this side of the Channel, the white mulberry did not flourish in the colder climate of England. James I imported thousands of black mulberries and today there are over 200 mulberry tree sites in London. For more details visit

Plans are in hand for our patron Rt. Rev. & Rt. Hon. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, to plant a mulberry tree in the garden of Christ Church Spitalfields. This is part of the Conservation Foundation’s initiative to get more mulberry trees planted.


Thank you

The primary school educational website “Meet the Huguenots” is now ready to launch and we are immensely grateful to the Worshipful Company of Weavers for a generous donation, which ensured its completion.

Bishop of London

Dates for your Diary

If you haven’t yet experienced the sound of the newly renovated superb Richard Bridges organ, built in 1735, at Christ Church Spitalfields, we have news of three concerts:


26th September, with international concert organist Margaret Phillips

24th October, with David Titterington, who is Head of Organ, Royal Academy of Music

28th November with Gerard Brooks, Curator Organist who will be launching the first double CD recording of this remarkable organ.  All concerts begin at 7.30pm and cost £10.  Check our website for details

Restored Organ at Christ Church, Spitalfields

The first organist who played Mr Bridge’s magnificent instrument was Huguenot Peter Prelleur, who led an extraordinary double life. He lived in Rose Lane and, as well as playing the organ at Christ Church and composing religious music, he often played in pubs including the Angel & Crown Tavern in Whitechapel. Prelleur’s major legacy is a guide for musicians entitled The Modern Musick-Master published in 1731 and described as “an introduction to singing, after so easy a method that persons of the meanest capacities may (in a short time) learn to sing (in tune) any song that is set to musick”. For three hundred years this was considered the most important singing manual.

New Book on Spitalfields

Our trustee, Dan Cruickshank, has now confirmed the launch date of his new book entitled "Spitalfields: a history of London in a handful of streets" which will be published by Random House in late October. Dan will also tell the story of Spitalfields a 7pm on Saturday 12 November at the Ideas Stores in Whitechapel where he will tell of the transformation he witnessed, from when he first arrived in the 1970s and encountered a war-damaged collection of semi-derelict houses. The talk is free but to guarantee a place you really need to book. All details on


We were asked...

Who were the individuals who were prominent in bringing William of Orange to this country?


William’s key supporters were the Earls of Danby, Devonshire, and Shrewsbury, Edward Russell, Henry Sydney, the Viscount Lumley and the hugely supportive Henry Compton, then Bishop of London. They invited him to come to England with a small army and promised he would be met with support. This invitation encouraged William to land at Torbay, Devon, in November 1688, and resulted in the Glorious Revolution, during which James II was deposed and William & Mary came to power as joint rulers.


We were told...

…that one of the unexpected pleasures of joining a walk in Spitalfields is seeing the houses where such notable Master silk weavers, designers and merchants lived - Anna Marie Garthwaite, Captain Peter Le Keux, the Duthoits, Ouvrys, Peter Bourdain and the remarkable Mr Peter Ogier who once lived in the only remaining Georgian house in Spital Square dating from around 1740. The Spitalfields Trust rescued it from dereliction before being sold to the SPAB (The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) in the early 1980s. SPAB hosts a number of courses, talks, workshops and other events - for details ….click here

Paul de Lamerie

In an earlier newsletter Gillian Jolly, Keeper of the Lincoln Cathedral Treasury, told us about a piece of Paul de Lamerie’s fine work, made in 1750, which is considered to be the last piece of silverware made by him – a chalice and paten (a paten is a plate usually made in silver or gold for holding bread during Communion).

Chalice & Paten. Photo courtesy of Mrs Jolly.

The Financial Genius of the Huguenots

The Broadway hit Hamilton, the American musical, which has already won 11 Tony Awards is coming to Victoria Palace, London, in October 2017. Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, a Huguenot and one of America's lesser-known founding fathers, who became George Washington's right-hand man. After plans were announced to remove his image from the US 10 dollar bill, the decision was reversed after an outcry, including many scholars who well knew Hamilton’s importance.


With Sir John Hublon as the first governor the Bank of England, Jeremiah D’Olier as first governor of the Bank of Ireland and Alexander Hamilton as First Secretary of the US Treasury, the Huguenot talent for finance is outstanding. Do you know of any other Huguenot financial luminaries?


On this day…

It was at the vast Chateau de Fontainebleau, with its 1500 rooms set in 130 acres of land 55 kilometers outside Paris, where on 18th October 1685 Louis XIV signed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. It was a signature that changed history - from the lives of the Huguenots to the transformation of the skills-base of England - a date well worth highlighting. Can there ever before have been such a small number of people who have had such an enormous impact on a country? We plan to bring this date to the attention of the media and ask for your help in doing so. Do you know a journalist or contact details of specific media that you think might be interested in running a feature or talking to a spokesperson? If so, please contact us at


Huguenot Footsteps: Spitalfields

Only two more walks in Spitalfields are planned this year on Tuesday 6th September and Tuesday 4th October, with Guide/Lecturer Paul Baker. Meet outside Christ Church Spitalfields at 2pm. Donation £10 please to the educational fund.


We will shortly be planning our 2017 programme, which will include tours in Greenwich, the City of London, Wandsworth, Soho, and Clerkenwell, as well as day visits to both Canterbury and Norwich. Please email if you are interested.

Paul Baker

City of London Walking Tours

To raise funds we conduct walks across the City of London: New Architecture, Wren Churches, City Gardens, Embankment to Middle Temple, Along the Thames and many more themes to choose from. We require a minimum of 5 and maximum of 30 people - so if you belong or know of a group who may be interested, please let us know at

Pictured are members of the Family History group of Chess U3A, a stout-hearted and good humoured group who must have been soaked to the skin when they visited Spitalfields on what had to be one of the wettest days of the summer. Despite this, the group, many with Huguenot ancestry, remained keen to know how the Huguenots lived, worked and worshipped - many of whom would have walked these historic streets.

Useful Addresses:

The Huguenot Society

The Huguenot Museum, Rochester 

Dennis Severs’ House

Spitalfields Life

The French Protestant Church in London 

Friends of Christ Church

Christ Church Spitalfields


Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB)

Thank you.

We warmly appreciate all the support and help that you give to the Huguenots of Spitalfields Charity.

The views and opinions expressed in these article are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Huguenots of Spitalfields charity.

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