PETER NOUAILLE – A SPITALFIELDS’ WEAVER WHO MOVED TO KENT
Peter Nouaille was the son of a Huguenot refugee who came to Spitalfields after 1785.
He was born in 1723 and in 1763 married Elizabeth De La Mare whose Huguenot father lived at and owned property called Greatness, near Sevenoaks, Kent, 23 miles from London.
It included a water-powered corn mill which Peter inherited and in 1760 he turned this into a silk mill.
In 1733, the Spitalfields’ weavers got Parliament to give them a monopoly of all weaving within 20 miles of London. The mill at Greatness was just outside the statutory limits so Peter escaped the monopoly. He specialised in silk crepe which was becoming a fashionable product.
In 1816 the mill was 140 feet long and 40 feet wide with at least two storeys – one of the biggest in Kent. It used an improved undershot water-wheel which he patented in 1812 and new methods of spinning (‘throwing’) silk.
Here he employed over 100 people, mainly women and children for whom he ran evening classes, and hired a local doctor to provide health care. He also built a row of cottages for senior staff.
In 1793, he briefly joined forces with another Huguenot friend, George Courtauld, but they did not get on and Peter later said that ‘he would not continue such a man in business for 500 a year’.
He also had much wider interests. ‘His house was constantly frequented by the most distinguished literary characters of the time’ wrote a friend later.
When the first Peter died, his son took over but after the end of the Napoleonic War in 1815, and the removal of protective tarrifs in 1823, the silk industry ran into problems, so the second Peter decided to close the business and sell the mill which was demolished not long after.