Museum of Immigration, Spitlafields, 2008, Ravish London

Museum of Immigration, Spitalfields

The Museum of Immigration stands at 19 Princelet Street in Spitalfields East London but doesn't seem to do much because its website hasn't been updated for ages.

According to the website 19 Princelet Street is an unrestored Huguenot master silk weaver's home, whose shabby frontage conceals a rare surviving synagogue built over its garden. The Huguenots were French protestants who fled Catholic France, under threat of torture. Many Huguenots ended up in London, in Spitalfields and Soho. Those who ended up in Spitalfields built large houses. They still stand and you can point them out because they have shutters, are tall, with attic rooms where they would do their weaving, which have large windows for maximising the amount of sunlight coming through into their working environment.

Gradually the French Protestants began to move out of Spitalfields, to be replaced by a new wave of Jewish immigrants escaping the European pogroms which took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. According to the Museum of Immigration a small group of Jewish people came from Poland, and decided to establish 'the Loyal United Friends Friendly Society' to help newcomers. They took a lease on 19 Princelet Street. In 1869 they erected a synagogue.

Visits to 19 Princelet Street must be booked in at least one month in advance. Email the museum at for more information.

Princelet Street

Princelet Street in Spitalfields East London has some of the most beautifully coloured houses you are likely to see, old rustic weathered houses, faded colours, peeling paint.

The colours covering the houses are like some kind of abstract art exhibition, sheltered from the sun. The houses are both sheltered from the sun, because of their tall nature, and sheltered from the noise of the surrounding city.


Spitalfields is a small neighbourhood in the east end of London with a rich historical part including waves of immigration which stretch back to the sixteenth century. For the last five hundred years the story of the people who lived there has been one of struggling to make ends meet, industry and from time to time deprivation, poverty and slums. A new era seems to be dawning on the area, as its proximity to London's every growing financial centre, has seen chunks of it redeveloped for trading floors, officers, leisure complexes and trendy flats. Today, with it social history clearly impregnated into the surrounding buildings, communities and architecture, and with the new developments, Spitalfields is a dynamic, fascinating part of London's old east end that is a must for anyone seeking a deeper perspective on London.

From Roman Times Onward

Spitalfields began life as a Roman cemetery, outside the ancient walls of the City of London. On its Southwest border, Houndsditch, which is today a busy thoroughfare, takes its name from a ditch which used to run adjacent to the ancient wall, and into which people were reputed to have dumped dead dogs as well as old bric-a-brac.

By the 12th century the fields were being used for archery and were later used for shooting practice. In the twelfth century a hospital was established in the area, from which Spitalfields took its name. Most of Spitalfields was built up following the Great Fire of London in 1666.

French Protestant Spitalfields: The Huguenots

In 1666 the Great Fire of London devastated the city and prompted the first development of Spitalfields. Twenty years later a wave of refugees began to arrive from France. In 1685, the Catholic King Louis XIV of France outlawed the practise of Protestantism. French Protestants, adherents of the Calvinist church fled from fear of persecution.

The 'Huguenots' as they were nicknamed by their Catholic pursuants arrived in London in large numbers, between fifty and eighty thousand, settling in Soho and Spitalfields. Their presence in Spitalfields caused consternation amongst the locals when new housing on north Spitalfields was built especially for them. The Queen was particularly interested in accommodating the Huguenots, aware that many had come from Lyon, a silk weaving centre in France. She knew their silk weaving skills would bring a welcomed improvement to the garments industry in London. Despite local protestations England's traditional anti-Catholicism meant that the Huguenot's were generally well received into the country.

The houses built for the Huguenots were tall and thin, similar although not exactly the same as the types of house you might find in Amsterdam. Each house has French shutter, and an attic with a window, and was usually the place a weaver would have his loom. The idea was that the attic room was ideally located to let in as much light as possible. The weavers' houses still stand today, and looking at a roadmap of Spitalfields it's not hard to tell where they are located. Names like Fournier Street, Nantes Passage, Princelet Street and Fleur-de-Lys Street give the game away. The houses are located in a network of peaceful backstreets, connecting the busy Commercial Road to the vibrant Brick Lane.

Dennis Severs' house on Folgate Street is a weaver's house open to the public. However before you plan on visiting the house, beware, for it was not the intention of Severs that the house would be as a museum. Instead the visitor is asked to use his or her imagination to become a part of the world that Severs creates for you. Check the website for opening times and prices.

Whilst the Huguenots dominated the weaving industry for a century or two by the mid eighteenth century their industry began to fall into decline as mechanised weaving began to dominate the trade.

Date Article Written: 2008

Contact Details and References

Museum of Immigration, 19 Princelet Street, London E1 6QH

44 (0)20 72475352


Opening Hours



  • Information about the Museum of Immigration on
  • The Museum of Immigration
  • Interactive plan of the house.