This month, visitors to the Spitalfields area of east London have had the opportunity to learn all about the fascinating history of the place, thanks to the Huguenots of Spitalfields festival – a one-off event to celebrate the huge impact of the French immigrants who settled there in the 17th century.
After fleeing Catholic France to avoid religious persecution, the Huguenots found sanctuary in Protestant countries around Europe – including Britain, where around 25,000 are thought to have settled in London’s East End.
They arrived just as the silk trade was booming, and subsequently the Huguenots of Spitalfields became the master weavers of their day.
Partly, their reputation rested on the astonishing work of Anna Maria Garthwaite – a name barely known to 21st century Londoners, but whom festival organisers laud as “an outstanding English textile designer who played an important part in the story of the Spitalfields silk weavers”.
Garthwaite was born in 1690 and her innovative floral designs became a hallmark of the Huguenot weavers’ inimitable style.
The Huguenots of Spitalfields festival commemorates the 250th anniversary of Garthwaite’s death, and organisers hope to raise sufficient funds to erect a permanent monument to her advancements in the textile industry – and to the legacy of the London Huguenots in general.
Now entering its final few days, the festival concludes this Sunday (April 21st). Visitors to Spitalfields should still find plenty to enjoy in the meantime, though.
Each day of the festival sees three guided walks starting from Christ Church, each following a different route and based around a distinct theme – The Immigrant’s Story, Historic Spitalfields and The Silk Weavers of Spitalfields. These tours last for 75 minutes, cost £10 per person and require advance booking – places are still available throughout the weekend.
Visitors can also enjoy an exhibition of paintings by Nicholas Borden at the Town House on Fournier Street, and extended opening hours at Dennis Severs’ House – a recreation of the living conditions that Huguenot weavers experienced.