Fournier Street is one of my favourite streets in London and I am a huge fan of the Spitalfields area, which is in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and a short walk from the ‘city’ area. It is located between Commercial Street and Brick Lane and is named after George Fournier who was of Huguenot descent (it was formerly called Church Street).
I feel like I am entering another world when I cross the threshold of Folgate Street as it is hard to distinguish the past from the present, which to me is magical. I love the brown, red, mustard and plum coloured brick townhouses, elaborate doorways, window shutters, curved sash windows, roof tops, attics, cobbles, lampposts and my favourite - the unique door knockers that remind me of Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’.
The 18th century houses were part of the Wood-Michell estate which was developed between 1718 and 1728 by Charles Wood of Lincoln’s Inn, esquire and Simon Michell of Lincoln’s Inn and the Middle Temple, esquire. The estate was built in response to a large community of French Huguenots settling in the area after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.
A vast number of Huguenots (who were Protestants) fled France in the 16th and 17th centuries. France was a Catholic country and the Huguenots were persecuted for their beliefs. Throughout the years 1670 – 1710 King Charles II of England offered the Huguenots sanctuary and approximately 40,000 – 50,000 of them sought refuge in England. Historians believe that around half of them moved to London and many settled in Spitalfields.
The silk industry in Spitalfields flourished under the Huguenots and Spitalfields became known as a ‘weaver town’. They built large houses for their families to live in and for the weavers to work in. The weavers worked in the attics as they had large windows to let in as much light as possible which enabled them to see their looms more clearly. The ground floor rooms were more elaborate and were used as showrooms. Silk was readily available and it was used to make high class fashions.
The Huguenots relocated to the suburbs when the silk industry declined, however there are still traces of them living in Spitalfields today. A lot of streets in the area have French sounding names and the Georgian townhouses are exceptionally well preserved.
During the mid-1700s the Irish linen industry declined and from the 1730s Irish weavers moved to the area and took up work in the silk trade, however many of them also worked on the construction of the London docks.
London’s silk weaving industry declined at the end of the Georgian period and many Jews moved to Spitalfields from Russia and Eastern Europe. Living conditions in Russia were harsh and there had been massacres in Poland. Fournier Street and Brick Lane became known as the heart of the Jewish East End and there were over 40 Synagogues in the Spitalfields area.
Most of the Jewish community had moved on by the mid-20th century and the Bangladeshi community then flourished in the area. They brought new cultures, trades and businesses to the area which includes the now famous Brick Lane restaurant area.
The area has a unique appeal and evidence of previous communities who shaped its character can still be seen today - there is a Huguenot church, a Jewish synagogue, a Methodist chapel and a Muslim mosque.
My favourite buildings in Fournier Street
Hawksmoor’s Christ Church is a wondrous sight to behold! It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (a former assistant to Christopher Wren) who was an English architect specialising in the English Baroque style of design during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Christ Church was built between 1714 and 1729 which is when Spitalfields became a parish in it is own right and the church was consecrated.
The church is situated on Commercial Street where it meets the corner of Fournier Street. An Act of Parliament in 1711 established a commission to build 50 new churches to serve London’s new settlements and Christ Church was one of them. Whenever I see this church I always feel that it is the heart of Spitalfields and its tall, slim rectangular design always makes me look up to the heavens.
I think of it as Gothic in design and am captivated by its porch area. I have painted this church as part of other paintings I have done – one of Brushfield Street (looking towards the church) and one of Wilkes Street (on the corner of Fournier Street).
The Ten Bells public house
The Ten Bells public house is on the left hand corner of Fournier Street (opposite Spitalfields market). This pub is infamous for its connection with Jack the Ripper as during the 1880s two of his victims were seen in close proximity to the pub before they were killed, in fact, all five of his victims lived in the area.
When walking down the street I always stop to look at the doorway of this pub, it is very ornate with dull gold columns either side of the entrance with what I would describe as mini ship’s figure heads on the top of them. I also love the elaborate filigree wrought iron work above the door. On a summer’s day the pavement outside the pub is often busy and I wonder if any of the customers ever notice how beautiful the entrance is when they walk in to buy their drinks! I love the entrance so much I painted it!
Number 5 Fournier Street is an 18th century antiques shop and café called Town House which is owned by Fiona Atkins. It used to be the Market Café which served breakfast and lunch to the drivers and traders at Spitalfields vegetable market. If you look above the shop window today you can just about see the words ‘Market Café’ on the worn wood of the original shop sign. Town House also has rooms to rent upstairs so you can experience 18th century living for yourself!
Fiona has researched the history of her building back to the 1760s and she believes it was owned by a partnership of Irish and Huguenot weavers.
I have painted this shop three times – twice as a picture of the house on its own and once as part of a section of Fournier Street.
Number 11 and 11 and half
I always smile when I walk past the blue door of number 11 because the door next door is numbered 11 and a half! I wonder if that is where J K Rowling got her idea for platform 9¾?! I have done one, small painting of the front doors in winter but in time I would like to do a large painting of the house.
The artists Gilbert & George, who practice as a single artist, live at number 12 Fournier Street. I love the reddish brown brick work that surrounds each window and the top of the front door, the internal shutters and the dark brown front door with a beautiful half-moon window on the top.
I have painted several of the houses in Fournier Street but there are many more that I still wish to do! I have featured some of my paintings in this blog and I hope you get as much pleasure viewing them as I had researching and painting them.
Signing off my fellow London lovers,