Huguenot Summer

This is from an article by Boyd Tonkin on events to honour the 330th anniversary of the arrival of 50,000 Protestants who fled the terror of France:

@In the handsome 1720s house on Fournier Street where she runs an antique business and cafe, Fiona Atkins unrolls a large and beautifully detailed hand-drawn map. Created by the artist Adam Dant, it records the addresses of around 300 Huguenot families who lived in Spitalfields in east London.

They were part of the great wave of French Protestant migration that transformed London, and England, after Louis XIV in 1685 cancelled the civil rights granted to them by the Edict of Nantes. The map  is just one of 100 or so events in this year’s “Huguenot Summer” season. It remembers and celebrates their contribution, not only to London but to 20 towns where the French settled from Canterbury to Norwich, Plymouth to Rochester.

Organiser and Spitalfield resident Charlie de Wet, who staged her first festival in 2013, has just returned from a talk in Plymouth. There, after the diaspora took root, “a third of the population were Huguenots, and nobody knows about it@. when she started to arrange Huguenot themed event,s she began to realise that people didn’t now the value of the Huguenots or what their contribution was. ”

“All we want to do,” she says, is to give them credit for what they have done.” …On Brick Lane, walkers will pass the elegant temple that serves as the ultimate monument to London’s diversity. Built in 1743 as the Nouvelle Eglise for Huguenots, in 1809 i became a Wesleyan chapel; in 1898 the Great Synagogue of Spitalfields, and in 1976 the Jamme Masjid for the district’s more recent Bangadeshi incomers.

Still a lightning-rod for collective anxieties, the word “refugee” entered the English language when the Huguenots landed. About 50,000 French Protestants came to England.. Another 10,000 fled to Ireland, part of an exodus of perhaps 200,000. Other large contingents went to Holland Sweden and Prussia. That still left the bulk of a hard-pressed robust population of 750,000 or so to weather hardship in France and wait for more tolerant times.

The Revocation capped an escalating assault on Huguenot liberties as the Sun King began to believe his own absolutist propaganda. {Particularly oppressive were the “dragonnades”: the domestic terror whereby soldiers with a licence to bully, plunder and abuse were forcibly billeted onProtestant homes. With the Fontainebleau edict, Protestant ministers were given a fortnight to convert or leave. But it confirmed a strict ban on emigration for the laity, with harsh penalties: the galleys for men; the convent for women. So, pastors apart, the Huguenots were never “expelled”. the legions who fled broke the law of the land that had rejected them. Hundreds of thousands left in haste and at risk…

For 270 years after 1724, the Hampshire paper firm of Portal had a licence to print money;only in 1995 did the security printing giant De La Rue take over the family business. Its founder Henry Portal opened his mill at Whitchurch in 1712. Within a decade he had found his fortune through he banknote-paper contract.Yet in 1685, Henri de Portal and his brother, Pierre Guillaume, were terrified refugee children smuggled out of France in wine asks and sent on a perilous sea voyage – from Bordeaux to Southampton. According to one estimate, 1 in 6 Britons had Huguenot ancestry. It’s easy enough to spot a Laurence Olivier, a Simon le Bon, a Walter de la Mare, even … Nigel Farage. Yet, just like Jewish incomers 200 years later, Huguenots often changed their name or had them changed by impatient clerks.

From the famous forte of silk-weaving to hatmakers (a specialty of Wandsworth), goldsmiths, printers bookbinder, watchmakers, jewellers, paper-makers, gunsmiths, and cabinet-makers, French expertise either kick-started or revitalised the gamut of high-skilled trades in England. Scientists and intellectuals also boosted innovation. Denis Papin from Blois invented the pressure cooker and designed an early piston-driven steam engine.

But the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9 brought William III from Holland to the English throne, Charles II and the Catholic James II – secret clients of Louis XIV – had hesitated to antagonise their patron. Inevitably the French migrants also ran into complaints from home-grown tradesmen about unfair competition. As early as 1631 theWorshipful Company of Clockmakers had objected that its members were “exceedingly oppressed by the intrusion of French clockmakers.” In England, beyond the windfall boom in arts and crafts, a long-lasting narrative took hold. It cast the nation as a safe haven; a welcoming refuge for peaceable and hardworking exiles from tyranny.

Huguenot Summer till September: huguenotsofspitalfields.org

The Huguenots of Spitalfield map can be viewed at the the town ouse, 5 Fournier St, London E1 6QE

In my own research, I know of a fine example of the Huguenot importance:that of J T Desagulliers, who was smuggled into this country by his father. He became the founder of modern freemasonry, an advocate of Newtonian physics, translating Newton’s work into French and spreading his teachings on the continent. He became the Royal Society’s first public demonstrator, so furthered the spread of scientific research, he gave the first public lecture on astronomy for the eclipse of the sun in Bath in early 1730s, he wrote widely on an incredibly wide field of subjects from landscape gardening to clearing chimneys. Though little known, it is hard to imagine modern science without his pioneering work. HIs son became an engineer and an expert on gunpowder and weapons; it is thanks to him the United states national anthem mentions ‘the rockets red flare’. Those rockets were his.

2 thoughts on “Huguenot Summer

  1. Pingback: Huguenot Summer | texthistory | First Night History

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