Traders & weavers lived near, not necessarily in Spitalfields. Their late 17th and C18th domestic buildings were well appointed terraced houses, perfect for housing the French weaver families once they became successful; fine city mansions were built around the newly created Spital Square.
substantial houses, built since 1700
59 Brick Lane, corner Fournier St, was a plain but quite elegant, rectangular dark brick building with tall arched windows. Even in a heavily built up street like Brick Lane, natural light could flood into the spaces inside. The building was described as having 2 storeys with a plain band between floors, 6 windows with red brick gauged arches and stone keys, recessed windows, a central Palladian window with semi-circular headed windows at sides (1st floor) and 4 segmental headed windows on the ground floor.
How was this building used over the centuries?
How was this building used over the centuries?
today 59 Brick Lane is an elegant mosque
Interior of 59 Brick Lane, when used as a Jewish synagogue (below)
John Wesley himself had lived not far away on City Road and preached his first covenant sermon at a chapel, just off Brick Lane. The simplicity and plainness of The Methodist Chapel, as the Wesleyans called it in 1819, would no doubt have suited them well.
When the local silk-weaving trades went into decline, the abandoned properties in this suburb were sublet and in the C19th the East End became a cheap place to live. Waves of impoverished and rather desperate immigrants arrived over the decades, slowly prospered and then moved out of Spitalfields as soon as they could. So as Icons Of England has shown, the building changed a number of times as each community established its own place of worship here.
With the huge influx of Yiddish-speaking Jews from Eastern Europe flooding into the East End in the 1880s and 1890s, our Methodist Chapel was converted into The Spitalfields Great Synagogue in 1897. Brick Lane was the heart of London’s Jewish community and this was the principal synagogue of the area. Plus there were schoolrooms under the roof for children of the masses of impoverished, hard working refugees. From the 1960s, the Jewish community in the East End dwindled, many moving into more salubrious north London. The building eventually closed.
Princelet St Synagogue, behind this Huguenot house
Secondly The Spitalfields Trust bought crumbling Regency (1809-15) houses in Whitechapel, selling them on to Londoners who then let the Trust rebuild them observing strict conservation rules. Homes & Property has followed the story of the horseshoe of homes in a run-down part of East London. In this year’s Georgian Awards, presented by the Duke of Gloucester, the restoration work was highly commended. Plus The Spitalfields Trust project won first prize in Country Life’s national restoration competition.
One renovation stands out in particular. Fournier Street was the last street to be laid out on the Wood-Michell Estate and was originally known as Church St. 27 Fournier Street was built by Peter Bourdon of Spitalfields, who was granted a 98 year lease in 1725, the date that appears on the rainwater head on the front of the building. The weaver Mr Bourdon was believed to have been a prominent member of Spitalfields society. I assume from his surname that Mr Bourdon was a Huguenot. He would be delighted with how 27 Fournier St looks today.
Tired of London, Tired of Life recommends visiting London's Museum of Immigration at 19 Princelet Street. The museum's home page says that 19 Princelet Street is a magical unrestored Huguenot master silk weaver's home, whose shabby frontage conceals a rare surviving synagogue built over its garden. The staff are working to save the building and to create a permanent exhibition documenting the history of the Huguenots, Irish, Jews, Bengalis, Somalis and others who shaped this Spitalfields.
As an afterthought, readers might like to examine Philip Davies' book, Panoramas of Lost London: work, wealth, poverty and change 1870-1945. It would be interesting to know which Georgian and earlier terraces, houses and shops in London were photographed, before they were razed to the ground and rebuilt in a more modern style. I would also like to see the bustling street scenes, full of shops, awnings, advertisements, horses and carriages and street lamps. The book was republished by Transatlantic Press in 2011.
Jewish London Walking Tours, led by Stephen Burstin, start at Aldgate tube station and cover the schools, soup kitchens, synagogues, Petticoat Lane markets, Brick Lane restaurants, Yiddish theatres and houses of people who went on to become famous.