The first influx of Huguenots arrived in the small port of Rye in 1562. The first thing they did when they touched land was to fall to their knees and thank God for deliverance. They arrived destitute, having crossed the Channel in open boats. During that summer they came ashore almost daily, until the mayor was finally forced to apply to the Queen (Elizabeth I) for assistance to feed them.
By 1572 the persecution had become more intense. Estimates vary, but altogether maybe 30 000 Huguenots were killed by their Catholic neighbours that summer. Others were tortured until they swore they would take the Catholic faith, and 641 escaped and came to Rye.
The Huguenots continued to come to England over the next forty years. Even when the King of France proclaimed the Edict of Nantes in 1599, allowing all French citizens 'Liberty of conscience and freedom of worship' they continued to come; but when the Edict was revoked in 1685 that trickle became an incredible gushing torrent. The total population of the UK at the time was around five million but during the next two years 100 000 Huguenots migrated to England. A hundred thousand! The government recently flinched at such a potential influx of Gurkhas but these immigrants were welcomed. Parliament and private subscription together generated the huge sum of £200 000 which helped settle into areas such as Spitalfields (Hospital Fields) and Soho. The Huguenots knew 'mysteries' about clock-making and weaving, and the country was anxious to learn them.
Others moved to Treorchy in South Wales and became shopkeepers. Because they kept shop they changed their names from names such as 'de Wilde' to 'Wilde' to fit in with the rest of the population - which was where my ancestors came in. But for most people at that time a French Huguenot label was a sign of quality so that according to one commentator 'hardly anything now vends without Gallic name'.
It is strange how things turn out. My son's girlfriend's relatives all come from Lyon - which was one of the Huguenot heartlands, and sometimes I look at the two of them and it seems to me they have similar faces. I think maybe you are related, I told them recently. Maybe, 500 years ago, your ancestors were cousins in the same street. They were not impressed.