After writing an article on Dennis Severs' house for the current edition of Selvedge Magazine, we were inspired to create a new walk for anyone who wants to explore the real eighteenth century heart of Spitalfields and its history - plus the best places to shop and eat. We thought we'd put it online for all to enjoy! Let us know your thoughts or put photos on our facebook page if you have been on any of our walks.
Aldgate East Tube (Hammersmith and City Line, District Line)
End: Shoreditch High Street (Overground)
Leave Aldgate East station via Exit 3 Northside emerging just outside the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1). Founded in 1901 to bring great art to the people of the East End of London', its first exhibition, which included the Pre Raphaelites, Constable, Hogarth and Rubens, attracted 206,000 local people.
Walk along Whitechapel Road to Brick Lane, named after the brick and tile industry that was here in the 15th century. It has since become the centre of London’s rag trade with its successive waves of immigrants settled around Brick Lane from the 17th century beginning with the Huguenot silk weaver. The Irish weavers followed them and in the 19th century the Ashkenazi Jews fleeing persecution in Russia worked as tailors. In the 20th century
Bangladeshi immigrants continued in the tradition of the textile trade and brought with them their culture. Brick Lane is lined with tempting Indian sweet and cake shops, shimmering sari shops, Bangladeshi signs boasting best curry in London, all to the strains of Bangla music.
On the corner of Fournier Street is the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid Mosque (2). This little building captures the history of the East End and is one of its oldest buildings. It began life in 1742 as La Neuve Eglise, a Huguenot Chapel but by 1809 it was known as the Jew’s chapel with the purpose of promoting Christianity to Jews. By 1898 it had become the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. In 1976 it became a mosque.
Turn left at Princelet Street (3) to see some of the best-preserved eighteenth century houses in London distinctive wooden shutters painted in reds, aubergines and greys. Many are still forlorn and neglected with peeling paint and faded colours, others have been rescued and painstakingly restored. These houses were originally built for the Huguenot master weavers who had made a success of their trade in London after arriving with nothing, having fled religious persecution in France in 1685. The Huguenots adorned their houses with window boxes and caged singing birds, French style and nearby streets acquired French names: Fleur de Lys Street, Fournier Street and French Place. Look out for the wooden spindles that still hang outside some of the houses demonstrating their history.
Wander down this atmospheric street and turn left into Wilkes Street. Turn right onto Fournier Street. Step into Townhouse (4) at no 5, with its 18th style painted wood panelled walls and roaring fires, crammed with curiosities and antiques. Take the creaky stairs down to the originally basement kitchen and its cafe.
At the top of Fournier Street is the impressive Christ Church (5) built by Hawksmoor in 1729 for the East End’s ‘godless thousands’ who were settling here, the first of 50 that Queen Anne had commissioned. The church is worth stopping in for a few moments if only to admire its grandeur. Virtually derelict in the 1960s it has recently been beautifully restored.
Leave the church down the steps, cross the road and walk down the side of Spitalfields Market (6) on Brushfield Street. Pass a row of tempting cafes, buy some sweets from a the old fashioned sweet shop A Gold and nip into writer Jeanette Winterston’s cafe, Verde & Co (7) crammed with delicious jams, elderflower wines, fresh bread and seven-day marmalade.
Cross the square and explore the market, leaving via Spital Square on the far side. Turn into Folgate Street. At number 18 is the atmospheric Dennis Severs’ House (8), described as a ‘still-life drama’, an intriguing recreation of a Huguenot weavers house through the life of a fictional family.
Walk down to Elder Street to see some of the finest surviving Master Weavers’ houses. The tiny doors to the side of the front door, found on some of the houses, were trade entrances leading into a courtyard and showroom. Look out for no 32 the charming Spitalfields Atelier of bespoke tailor, Timothy Everest (9).
Cross Commercial Street into Quaker Street and turn left towards the railway arches and Shoreditch High Street Overground (10). Extend the walk to explore some of London’s best independent shopping on Redchurch Street (11), just across the Bethnal Green Road where you will find such gems as Labour and Wait at no 85, Maison Trois Garcon at 45 and the Story Deli at no 3.
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