"the master silk-weaver"
A silk dress
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA silk dress - Credit: Jorge Barrios

The Huguenots were French Protestants who fled France in the late seventeenth century in the face of persecution by their Catholic homeland. Charles II offered them refuge, and between 1670 and 1710 around 40,000-50,000 settled in England, mostly in London. Spitalfields in particular, where housing and living was cheap, became the main point of immigration for the Huguenots. Working in the fledgling silk industry which already existed in Spitalfields, the Huguenots put the area on the map for the quality of the silk which it produced. Many became wealthy and the ‘master silk-weavers’ built large houses for their families and workers which still exist today, such as the one restored at 19 Princelet Street. In the late eighteenth century fabrics began to be imported more cheaply from the Far East and, although still patronised by some of the upper classes, the Spitalfields silk industry went into a sharp decline and the East End saw the rapid increase of poverty and slum dwellings. Around the beginning of the nineteenth century the Huguenots, who were becoming more assimilated in British society, began to move out of the city and the bustling weavers’ attics and warehouses became a memory of the past.