‘Captain’ Peter LeKeux 1649-1723
Captain Peter Lekeux was one of most prominent master weavers in the English silk industry and one of the ten most wealthy Huguenots in Britain.
The Lekeux family were Walloons who had been living in Sandwich and Canterbury from the 1560s, but some members moved to the capital including Peter who became a citizen and weaver of London. At one time, he served as a Justice of the Peace for the Tower Liberty as well as serving at various times as a Commissioner of the Sewers, a Deputy-Lieutenant of the Royal Hamlets and a Commissioner of the Land Tax for Middlesex. He was Founder of the Royal ‘Lustring’ Company (black silk) and helped to formulate policy in the Weavers’ Company.
Captain Peter LeKeux lived at 3 Fournier Street – the last street to be built on the Wood-Michell estate in Spitalfields, London. It was developed in response to the settlement of a significant community of wealthy French Huguenots and although initially intended as domestic dwellings, many were immediately occupied by the silk industry. The houses mainly date from the 1720s and together they form one of the most important and best-preserved collections of early Georgian domestic town-houses in Britain.
Fournier Street was designed to be both well-appointed and of a higher standard than previous residential developments in the local area and consequently the houses were purchased and leased by the ‘master’ silk-weavers and silk mercers.
Peter’s title of ‘Captain’ refers to his rank in the local militia. The militia (sometimes called Trained Bands) were an important part of defence and served as a reserve force. They were made up of small groups of local men, usually of moderate wealth, who purchased their own weapons and trained together for the purpose of providing local defence. In the early stages of the 1642 to 1646 First English Civil War, the Trained Bands provided the bulk of the forces used by both Royalists and Parliamentarians but were often unwilling to serve outside their home areas. They were rapidly replaced by more professional bodies, the most important being the New Model Army set up by Oliver Cromwell.
In 1681 Captain Peter married Mary Marescaux, a fellow Huguenot and they had more than 10 children, including his son Peter junior who became his apprentice in 1730. After the death of Captain Peter, the younger Peter became a master in the Flowered Silks branch of the Worshipful Company of Weavers and rose to the Company’s highest office, Upper Bailiff, in July 1764.
He bought floral designs from Anna Maria Garthwaite, acknowledged as one of the premiere English silk designers of her day. A waistcoat made by them and now in the V&A, is made from a silk brocade woven with three types of silver gilt thread and multi-coloured silks. He also, like his father, became very prosperous and owned a large house in the new quarter of Spitalfields, the Old Artillery Ground. He left £7,400 in his will which would be over £1 million today.