Spitalfields

I have been reading Dan Cruickshank’s fat new book on Spitalfields, which is stuffed full of recondite information about the area and his fascination for its changing social and architectural character.   It is advertised as ‘TWO THOUSAND YEARS OF ENGLISH HISTORY IN ONE NEIGHBOURHOOD’, but zips through the first millennium and a half at speed until we get to the development of William Wheler’s estate south of the ‘Spittle Field’ by speculative builders in the 1670s, followed not long afterwards by Nicholas Barbon’s development of the nearly adjacent Old Artillery Garden, which produced an area of small houses, already occupied by ‘Weavers and Throsters’.   Alongside the development of cheap housing came the fruit market, which opened in 1684, and Truman’s Brewery, which took over an existing small brewhouse on Brick Lane in 1679 and was already flourishing by the end of the seventeenth century.   He writes particularly well of the huge influx of Huguenots in the late seventeenth century, who came in force as a result of the dragonnades, and brought with them craft skills in the silk industry, a determination to enjoy freedom of worship and to succeed in trade.   It was the prosperity of the small group of master weavers in the next generation which led to the construction of the grand houses in the group of streets immediately behind the church on land owned by two sharp Somerset lawyers, Charles Wood and Simon Michell.   But what is good about Cruickshank’s account is that he is not just interested in the Huguenot grandees in their double-fronted houses in Fournier Street, but also in the artisans and workers who lived in small brick houses in Cock Lane (now Redchurch Street) and Club Row.

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