Welcome to East London’s French Quarter; an area of genteel 18th Century houses sitting rather primly amongst the pubs, the markets and the hipsters.
Spitalfields was the favoured spot in East London where thousands of French Huguenot silk weavers settled from 1685. They were attracted here by its weaving heritage and liberal attitude to religious immigrants. These Huguenots, also known as French Calvinists, emigrated in their thousands to London and to other parts of the world after the 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Edict was a piece of legislation that dated back to 1598 to protect the Protestants and inspire tolerance. However, Louis XIV had other ideas. He didn’t think this liberal stance sat with his desire for autocracy and so in 1685 dispensed with it.
Saracen heads, a man with a turban and a few ladies in bonnets quietly observe life in the East End. If only they could talk, they would have a lot to say as this area has been through many changes since they were installed in about 1725. From the middle of the 19th Century, The Huguenots moved on for economic reasons as changes in technology, fashion and European trade agreements affected them. These little faces would have noticed the influx of new migrants from Poland, Russia, Ireland and other parts of Europe and the houses that held one wealthy family were now housing at least two large Jewish families who slept alongside the looms in the roof and took over the kitchens as living quarters. The streets were filled with the sound of Yiddish, the noise of children playing and they may have even caught a glimpse of Jack The Ripper as he ran away after a local murder. After WWII, the view changed again as the Jews left for other parts of London and the world and the East End became an area for Bangladeshi and later Somalian immigrants and although you can still smell their spices from the restaurants on Brick Lane, the little heads must have noticed the recent gentrification of the area returning the houses once more to wealthy individuals and families living within these extraordinary walls.
As a tour guide and a lover of London, I will be writing a series of interesting stories about London; tales I have heard, places I have visited, tasty food I have eaten and delicious drinks I have enjoyed. Watch out for this every week or so.