Monday, October 1, 2012

October 01, 2012

The Huguenots and London's Threadneedle Street

With so many French Protestants being persecuted in their own homeland between the 1500s and 1700s, it is sometimes difficult to remember that there were also many places to where they fled. City centers such as London were an obvious choice, as England’s strong Protestant populace felt intense pity over the suffering of their French Protestant brethren. The area of “Threadneedle Street” became very well-known for industrious Huguenot immigrants. One particular gem, which sadly no longer exists, was the French Protestant Church.

A drawing (contemporary?) shows the church as rather unassuming. Though a church had existed for French Protestants supposedly from the 1550s, the church in the sketch seems to date from a later time. It is a lengthy and non-presumptuous structure with arched doorways, a set of five round windows on the second story, and a very English-style steeple on top. Of all the churches the Huguenot community utilized, the one on Threadneedle Street was most eminent. Yet it was not without its share of troubles. During the English Civil War of the 1640s, French worshipers began to side with fellow Calvinist Oliver Cromwell, an independent Puritan. Perhaps this steeled English fears that the French would always be “foreign” and “set apart.”

Samuel Pepys, a noted diarist whose entries cover the time period when the Threadneedle Street church was most popular, often discusses attending services at this particular church. He describes sermons that stretched on seemingly without end (much like Puritan sermons of the day) and in some cases he details his visits. It is quite sad that nearly all the world’s Huguenot churches, testaments to the endurance, steadfastness, and faith of the French Protestants so violently persecuted, have disappeared, including the Threadneedle Street church. Yet there is a great amount of research to be had if one knows where to look.

So what exactly was “Threadneedle Street”? Used as a description for a wider area, it was a section of London where French culture and that unique French brand of Protestantism thrived between the 16th and 19th centuries. Silk-weaving was a favorite occupation. Many Englishmen admired the “Protestant work ethic” their industrious Huguenot neighbors set forth in such occupations, and I just imagine my naturally-artistic French ancestors, who came not to England but to Switzerland and America, delighting in the fruits of their labors.

Commonly, French-speakers who had a poor grasp of the English language made themselves known through translators. As far as I know, there was never a large push to force Huguenot immigrants to cease speaking French, thus the language took a firm hold on Threadneedle Street over the centuries. Another area of expertise which the French championed was that of the watch-making industry.
Silversmithing was also practiced. I found it interesting that Paul Revere, son of a Huguenot, was known not only for his “midnight ride” but also for the silversmith trade. Apparently this was an area in which many Frenchmen excelled.

Put briefly, London’s Threadneedle Street provides some fascinating research and might just help Huguenot descendants learn more about their families.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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