Fournier Street, Spitalfields

Discover the Huguenots of Spitalfields during October 2018

October is Huguenot Month and we’re delighted to promote this with Huguenots of Spitalfields who are holding a month of events to celebrate Huguenot history and enable people to discover more about these unique and talented people.

Town House, Fournier Street, Spitalfields

Huguenots were French Protestant refugees who fled persecution during the 16th to 18th centuries, many of whom settled in London. They contributed their skills to many fields, including silk weaving, furniture design,  spinning and dyeing, silversmithing, clock making and jewellery.

The Hanbury Plaque at Hanbury Hall. Twenty Delft tiles decorated with scenes and symbols important in Huguenot history, such as early church buildings in the area and some Huguenot occupations: silversmiths, horticulture, clockmaking and silk dealing.

Highlights include:

A Georgian-style ‘Back in time for Dinner’. This talk will take a tour of a Georgian kitchen and dining table to describe the food on the table and explore the complex network of trade, commerce and cultural influences behind it.

Visit a rare and beautiful 18th Century silk weaver’s house.

Explore a Georgian home  ‘from garret to kitchen’; learn about those who lived and worked in the kitchen, parlour, bedchamber and garret.

Take a step back in time to the 1700s. Visit the unique and atmospheric ‘still-life drama’ of  Dennis Severs’ House at 18 Folgate Street.

A talk about Queen Anne’s dazzling candlelit birthday ball at St James’s Palace, when the Queen’s Maids of Honour danced with courtiers in the fashionable dances imported from France. This talk looks at what they wore and how they learned the dances – many of which have survived from the 18th century to today.

Listen to Georgian organ music in the stunningly beautiful Christ Church Spitalfields, designed by Hawksmoor.

Hear Dan Cruickshank talk about Queen Mary II’s cultural patronage of the arts.

Spitalfields silk: inside a silk weaver's house in Spitalfields. © Marenka Gabeler

Huguenots of Spitalfields is a registered charity promoting public understanding of the Huguenot heritage and culture in Spitalfields, the City of London and beyond.

We arrange tours, talks, events and schools programmes to raise the Huguenot profile in Spitalfields.

Fournier Street, Spitalfields

Great Tom the Christ Church Belle: Valentine’s Day 1816

Great Tom is the name of the bell which hangs in Tom Tower at Christ Church, one of the colleges at Oxford University. The following print was produced for Valentine’s Day in 1816, playing on the names, with two Oxford men fleeing underneath Great Tom away from a Christ Church Belle.

A View of great Tom the Christ Church Belle, from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Ohio State University.
A View of great Tom the Christ Church Belle, from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Ohio State University.

We were drawn to this print as it relates, in a loose way, to our book, A Right Royal Scandal. Valentine’s Day 1816 found Lord Charles Bentinck, a younger brother of the Duke of Portland, embroiled in a highly scandalous Criminal Conversation trial following his elopement the previous year with the wife of Sir William Abdy. The lady was the niece of the famed Duke of Wellington and the amorous couple had eloped just weeks after his triumph at the Battle of Waterloo. Tongues had not stopped wagging since!

A divorce and a swift remarriage followed and for a while, the Bentincks lived quietly and tried to let the scandal die down.

But it was the eldest son of Lord and Lady Charles Bentinck who we think of when we see the print above. Charley Cavendish Bentinck did not attend Christ Church, instead he studied at Merton from 1837, and he did not flee from his Belle: instead, he ran directly into her arms! In the village of Summertown, just outside Oxford and nestled against the Cumnor Hills, lived the Lambournes, a humble working-class family.

Winter view of Great Tom via Wikimedia
Winter view of Great Tom via Wikimedia

James Lambourne was a horse dealer known to settle disputes with his fists and his wife Sinnetta was a full-blooded gipsy who had left her family and peripatetic way of life upon her marriage. The couple had a daughter, named Sinnetta like her mother, who was a dark-haired beauty, and she captivated not only the aristocratic Charley but a rival too. Charley won her heart but it was a romance which had to be kept secret and one which had devastating consequences for the two star-crossed lovers.

Not a few Oxford men, of nine or ten years’ standing, could tell a tale of frantic passion for a Gipsy girl entertained by two young men at one time, one of them with ducal blood in his veins, who ultimately wooed and wedded his Gipsy love. So that it is no way impossible (the heirs to the dukedom being all unmarried, and unlikely to marry) that the ducal coronet of ____ may come to be worn by the son of a Gipsy mother

And why was it a right royal scandal? Because Charley Cavendish Bentinck is the great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II. Our book looks at the Cavendish Bentinck and Wellesley families, at their ‘scandalous marriages’ and shows how our modern history, as it concerns the British royal family, could look very different indeed, if not for a young gipsy girl.

A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden.
Available  from Amazon and other leading booksellers

Reviews of A Right Royal Scandal

…Major and Murden keep their text entertaining and light throughout, making for an easy read of a subject that keeps you engrossed from start to finish. This book is brilliant for those who enjoy the scandals of historical television, with the added authenticity of historical fact. History of Royals, February 2017

Awesome real life biography that could be a scandalous historical romance novel. Loved it. NetGalley, reviewed by Nikkia Neil

The biography reads like a saucy Regency/Georgian novel with love affairs, mistresses, illegitimate offspring, elopements and unsuitable (and unhappy) marriages galore. A golden thread weaves through this colourful tapestry of indiscretions leading us from the Battle of Waterloo to the present day, from the Duke of Wellington’s niece to our very own Prince William… Buy it, read it, you won’t be disappointed – a true 5* gem of a book! Amazon, reviewed by Lally Brown

This really is a case of ‘You couldn’t make it up’. The plots may seem to come straight out of the world of Regency Romance but they are all true, and carefully annotated and verified by Major and Murden. Amazon review – reviewed by Nomester

The Royal Dockyard at Chatham. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Thunder and Lightning: the storm of 18th June 1764

On Monday the 18th of June 1764 much of southern and eastern England was struck by a prolonged and violent thunderstorm together with torrential rain and hail with catastrophic results. It struck in the afternoon, described as a ‘Tempest of thunder and lightning . . . the claps succeeded each other incessantly for near an hour, and seemed to run into one another like the ignited flashes of the Aurora Borealis’.

Many people were killed and injured, animals in fields struck down and the crops in farmers fields flattened and destroyed, buildings caught alight and church steeples tumbled to the ground.  The heavy rain caused rivers to overflow their banks and flood properties and villages; there was untold misery.

St. Bride’s Church in London’s Fleet Street was one of those affected when the storm raged between two and three o’clock in the afternoon; the steeple of the church was shattered and the falling masonry damaged several nearby houses. The total damage was estimated at 2000l. The steeple, measuring 234ft had been a later addition to the church designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the original had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London, the steeple being added between 1701-1703. The lightning strike destroyed the top 8ft of the steeple. Rayleigh parish church in Essex was similarly affected.

A perspective view of the north-west front of ye parish church of St Bride’s with the beautiful spire, the height from the cross above the vain to the ground is 242 feet.
A perspective view of the north-west front of ye parish church of St Bride’s with the beautiful spire, the height from the cross above the vain to the ground is 242 feet. Yale Centre for British Art

The Powder Mills on Hounslow Heath had a lucky escape when a tree within a few yards of one of the mills was ‘cleft asunder’ by lightning, another bolt striking one of the gibbets on the heath. At Chatham docks the Ramillies man of war was another casualty, being hit with a ‘ball of fire,’ splintering the deck and masts, only the ferocity of the rain preventing the ship from further damage by fire.

The damage caused by this June thunderstorm brought about a more widespread acceptance for the installation of lightning rods on the top of tall buildings and church steeples in imitation of the practice already widely adopted in America. Benjamin Franklin famously first experimented with lightning rods, fixing one to the roof of his house and attaching to it a wire that ran to another rod in the ground. His belief, that the lightning would strike the rod on his roof and that the electricity would pass to the rod in the ground, was correct, but the practice had not received much popularity in Britain until the June 1764 storms after which the British began to look for preventative measures. However, King George III decreed that lightning rods used in Britain should be blunt-ended not pointed.

Christ Church, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, from the West, Showing the Spire Struck by Lightning by John Hepworth; (c) Doncaster Museum Service
Christ Church, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, from the West, Showing the Spire Struck by Lightning by John Hepworth (c) Doncaster Museum Service

Part of the problem was that people believed that a pointed lightning rod did not merely conduct the electricity away, but attracted the strike in the first place; one ending in a knob or blunt end being safer although Christ Church in Doncaster would disagree as in 1836 their steeple was destroyed by lightning shortly after a blunt-ended rod had been placed on the top of it!