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Step back into the Spitalfields of Huguenots

James Pallister on the influence of the Huguenots on east London

This month is the 415th anniversary of the Edict of Nantes, a decree in which Henry IV of France guaranteed the rights of Huguenots to worship in the Roman Catholic country. The freedom for the Protestant sect was short-lived. Henry’s grandson, the ‘Sun King’, Louis XIV reinstated a reign of persecution toward the sect culminating in the Act’s repeal in 1685. In response to this, many fled, with 20,000 settling in Spitalfields, an area in London already known for weaving, a specialism of many Huguenots.

France’s dissenting was a gain for England’s townscape. The relatively wealthy master builders commissioned and built particularly fine townhouses in the Spitalfields area, using the upper storey lofts as well-lit areas suitable for silk weaving and downstairs spaces for showrooms. ‘The Big Weave’ at Spitalfields Market celebrates this anniversary.

If you are making a trip to Spitalfields to parade its small streets, admire its Hawksmoor church or mark the anniversary you could pop into Eleven Spitalfields. The gallery in the house which fronts Chris Dyson Architects’ studio is hosting a show of Adam Dant’s drawings. In some of his work, Dant channels 18th-century satire – the rich seam of Rowlandson, Hogarth and Gillray – to illustrate modern mores, be they humorous maps of the city (pictured); the topography of a human soul; or the eccentricities of conceptual art. Another attraction is the candlelit curiosity of Dennis Severs House, where Severs lived in the 20th century as if it was the 18th: the house is extending its opening hours for the duration of the festival.

The lineup includes walks about ‘Historic Spitalfields’ and ‘The Immigrant’s Story’, as well as talks at the Bishopsgate Institute and a fundraising soirée on Fournier Street with V&A curator Claire Browne and Dan Cruickshank.

Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival takes place 8-21 April

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