Once the weaving trade dominated the East End of London. It was a diverse trade. Huguenots – French Protestants fleeing persecution at home – joined Irish and local weavers to produce silk cloth. It was a cottage industry, and weavers’ cottages survive to this day in Bethnal Green. Just look for the large weavers’ windows.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were thousands of weavers operating hand looms in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green. Weaving spread out to Whitechapel and Shoreditch.
But despite the quality of their produce, local silk weavers faced competition from imports, and later from industrially-produced cloth. And so, despite legislation to protect the trade, poverty spread throughout the weaving community.
While many craftsmen took direct action in the eighteenth century against poor pay and conditions, the silk weavers were the most active. This was to lead in the 1760s to the notorious Cutters’ Riots, as armed bands of weavers roamed the streets at night.
This tour moves from Bethnal Green to Spitalfields, tracing the story of weaving from weavers’ cottages to Georgian townhouses and two of the oldest shopfronts in London.
Along the way we see signs of the Huguenots who settled in the area in the seventeenth century. Some were honest traders, but some were villains – especially the Boss of Bethnal Green!
If you like this …
You’ll find other East End Charnowalks by clicking HERE
My book ‘The Dark Side of East London’ devotes a whole chapter to the Cutters’ Riots – details HERE
Details – Huguenots and Other Weavers
Please go to Whats On? to see whether this tour is currently on offer, and for booking details
REMEMBER that these details are NOT for the virtual version of this tour!
MEET: In front of Shoreditch High Street Overground Station (one stop north of Whitechapel)
Duration: Two hours (approximately)
Finish: close to Spitalfields Market, near Liverpool Street Station
If you have any questions about this tour, please contact me
Pictures sourced from Wikimedia Commons (silk moths) and © 2021 David Charnick (cottages)