Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Salon: The Huguenots by Samuel Smiles

Today I've been reading this book: The Huguenots by Samuel Smiles which was first published in 1867 by John Murray. I'm not sure who has republished it now: I suspect it might be POD since there is no indication anywhere except 'printed by Lightning Source'. It must be out of copyright. Up until 1905 it was reprinted eight times. I bought it from Amazon, and even though it is old it is still very interesting.

As I mentioned yesterday some of my ancestors were Huguenots and until recently I knew very little about them. Today I have been reading about how the Huguenots began to settle in Spitalfields, London, after initially settling in Canterbury.

At this time Spitalfields was just outside the east gate of the city walls (also called Bishops Gate), close to open countryside. It was a fashionable place to live and gentlemen like Sir Walter Raleigh lived there in substantial houses. The Huguenot dwellings were smaller and spread out in a series of small lanes to the east. It was a garden suburb, as the names of their roads suggest: Fleur de Lyse Street, French Street, White Rose Court, Greenwood Alley, Fashion Street, Green Apple Court, Blossom Street, Flower and Dean Street, Rose Alley, Mermaid Alley and Pearly Street. The Huguenots liked to grow flowers, vegetables, and were fond of song birds which they kept in cages where they worked.

Just now I have been looking at these places on google maps, then looking at the 'street view' to see the buildings. Unsurprisingly few of the Huguenot houses remain, but there were a few along the west end of 'Fashion Street' that I spotted, which I think looked old enough and seemed to be of the correct style. The Huguenot's houses were three storied, the upper floor with wide windows to let in a lot of light because this is where they had their looms. Between the top floor and the rest of the house was a double-layered floor - an attempt to cut out a little of the noise of the loom from the domestic part, and the top floor usually accessed via a trap door up a ladder. Each master weaver served an apprenticeship of seven years. He was then entitled to employ two or three 'journeymen weavers' on contracts of a year. He was also allowed apprentices and they all lived together with the weaver's family in the house below.

It was a design of house that must have lasted for a long time, because I spotted cottages like these when I went to Macclesfield (a town nearby to where I live). If you click on the photo you can see the wide windows on the second floor.

Here a drawing published just after Samuel Smiles's book showing how it would have looked inside.

And here, in 1928, the last of the cottage weavers

Shortly after this the loom seen in the background was sent to a nearby mill, and I find it fascinating to think of this continuous history of weaving stretching from Elizabethan times until today. There are still small firms of weavers of Huguenot descent in England - and until recently there used to be large ones too. The multinational textile and chemical company Courtaulds was one of them.

Samuel Smiles seems to be an interesting author. His most famous book, apparently, was something called 'Self Help' which extolled the virtue of hard work. He was a big fan of the Huguenots and 'heroic' engineers of the English industrial revolution; but he doesn't sound like he'd have been the ideal dinner guest.


Blogger Kay Cooke said...

I think I would have liked to have been a Huguenot. I love that the history can still be seen. England! I love it.

Mon May 25, 08:10:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, Kay - England is rich in history, but I think your place wins hands down in the category 'spectacular scenery'.

Mon May 25, 11:26:00 pm  
Anonymous marly said...

Huguenots settled plantations near Charleston, South Carolina and would go to town on the tidal rivers, setting out and returning according to the movement of the tides. That's a great portion of my knowledge about Huguenots in this country. Still, I used it in a story once.

Tue May 26, 03:01:00 pm  

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