Thousands pack Huguenots of Spitalfields festival’s family day out

Stan Rondeau, an 11th generation Huguenot

Stan Rondeau, an 11th generation Huguenot - Credit: Archant

Thousands packed the Huguenots of Spitalfields’ festival family day marking the incredible influence these silk weaving refugees had on east London 400 years ago that’s still felt today.

Working at plate weaving... Erin Wimsbury, 4

Working at plate weaving... Erin Wimsbury, 4 - Credit: Archant

For some, like 80-year-old Stan Rondeau, it was a chance to retrace family roots, with so may descended from the 20,000 settling here in the 16th and 17th centuries to escape the religious wars of Catholic France.

Pandemonium Drummers

Pandemonium Drummers - Credit: Archant

“I never knew there were so many Huguenot descendants,” said the retired printer, an 11th generation Huguenot.

Margaret Bidmead... working a Huguenot weaving machine

Margaret Bidmead... working a Huguenot weaving machine - Credit: Archant

“There were so many people milling round—we were rushed off our feet.”

Stan traces his ancestors back 11 generations to the Principality of Sedan in 1556. It was his silk-weaving ancestor Jean Rondeau who came to Spitalfields nine generations ago and settled in Brick Lane in 1685.

He has written a book about his family, the ‘Rondeaus of Spitalfields’, as a legacy for his two grandsons who are the 13th generation to bare the proud family name.

The festival marks the 250th anniversary of the death of Anna Garthwaite in 1763, the outstanding textile designer living in Princelet Street who worked with Huguenot silk weavers.

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Now, three centuries on, the silk-weaving and plate-making skills returned with festival workshops run by the Stitch in Time heritage charity.

Saturday’s family day at Spitalfields Market included live entertainment such as the Pandemonium Drummers, an ad hoc group of volunteers for last summer’s Olympics opening ceremony who have stayed together since.

They performed their Olympics ‘industrial revolution’ routine on upturned buckets and dustbins, then toured Brushfield Street drawing the crowds.

Later in the week, TV historian Dan Cruickshank gives a presentation on ‘Disappearing Spitalfields’, discussing whether this is the end of Spitalfields after 900 years, highlighting the physical losses and social and economic changes the district is going through. The presentation is at the Bishopsgate Institute on Wednesday, April 17, at 7.30pm. Tickets £10 (£8 concesions).

Friday sees Hawksmoor’s iconic Christ Church holding an open day, 10am-4pm, which includes a recital of Huguenot-related works performed by soprano Carola Darwin, 1.10-2pm, free.

Guided walks of the once-thriving Huguenot quarter are also held daily up to April 21, at 11am, 12noon, 2pm and 3pm, from Christ Church in Commercial Street.

There are already strong signs, meanwhile, of a French revival emerging in Spitalfields, with London now the sixth biggest French city in Europe.

The new wave is even finding its way along the original Brick Lane thoroughfare with the recent opening of Chez Elles Bistroquet, nestling among the Bangladesh curry houses.

The Gallic little bistro, or bistroquet, is the creation of Nadia Brahim and Lili L’Hôte, two friends who came to London working on Eurostar.

“The French are now returning to Spitalfields,” Nadia believes. “They have rediscovered this district in recent years.”

Lili was one of those rediscovering Spitalfields when she rented a flat above a restaurant that would become their bistroquet when the premises became vacant.

The menu is as Gallic as Spitalfields once was, when the most common street language was French.

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