The overlays that highlight 17th century London features are approximate and derived from Wenceslaus Hollar’s maps:

Open location in Google Maps: 51.520680, -0.077498


I haven’t been able to find a map showing exactly what the borders of “Spitalfields” might have been in the 1660s, so the map here shows the rough position of the area’s centre.


This text was copied from Wikipedia on 22 March 2023 at 6:10AM.

Brushfield Street, Spitalfields - - 221029.jpg
Brushfield Street, looking towards Christ Church, Spitalfields
Brick Lane London.JPG
Brick Lane with the Black Eagle Brewery in the distance, looking north
Spitalfields is located in Greater London
Location within Greater London
Population10,286 (2011 Census. Spitalfields and Banglatown Ward)[1]
OS grid referenceTQ335815
London borough
Ceremonial countyGreater London
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townLONDON
Postcode districtE1, E2
Dialling code020
UK Parliament
London Assembly

Spitalfields /ˈspɪtəlfldz/ is a district in the East End of London and within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The area is formed around Commercial Street and includes the locale around Brick Lane, Christ Church, Toynbee Hall and Commercial Tavern. It has several markets, including Spitalfields Market, the historic Old Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane Market and Petticoat Lane Market. It was part of the ancient parish of Stepney in the county of Middlesex and was split off as a separate parish in 1729. Just outside the City of London, the parish became part of the Metropolitan Board of Works area in 1855 as part of the Whitechapel District. It formed part of the County of London from 1889 and was part of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney from 1900. It was abolished as a civil parish in 1921.

Origin and administration


The name Spitalfields appears in the form Spittellond in 1399; as The spitel Fyeld on the "Woodcut" map of London of c.1561; and as Spyttlefeildes, also in 1561.[2] The land belonged to St Mary Spital, a priory or hospital (a lodging for travellers run by a religious order) erected on the east side of the Bishopsgate thoroughfare in 1197, from which its name is thought to derive ("spital" being a corruption of the word "hospital".)[3][4] An alternative, and possibly earlier, name for the area was Lolsworth.[2]

Administrative history

The area was a part of the Manor and Ancient Parish of Stepney before the Domesday Book of 1086.

Parish areas originally had only ecclesiastical (church) functions; but the monasteries which had provided extensive charitable work on a voluntary basis, were dissolved by Henry VIII, creating increased hardship. The government responded by making parish areas take on civil functions, primarily a new Poor Law intended to fill the gap left by monasteries.

Stepney was a very large and populous parish, so by the late 17th century had devolved it civil parish functions to autonomous areas called Hamlets (in this context meaning territorial sub-divisions, rather than small villages), of which Spitalfields was one.

In 1729, the Hamlet of Spitalfields became an independent parish. The area's parish church was Christ Church, Spitalfields, with St Stephen Spitalfields (demolished in 1930) added later.

In 1855, the parish became part of the Whitechapel District of the Metropolitan Board of Works for certain infrastructure purposes. Spitalfields retained its civil parish functions.

Spitalfields became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney in 1900 and was abolished as a civil parish in 1921. It became part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in 1965.[5]


Nearly all (except a tiny area north of the railway, in Weaver's Ward) of the district is part of the Spitalfields & Banglatown ward, which elects two councillors to Tower Hamlets Borough Council.[6] Spitalfields is in the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency, represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since 2010 by Rushanara Ali of the Labour Party.[7]

The Spitalfields Neighbourhood Planning Forum, which is constitituted of Spitalfields residents, business operators, community organisations and other local interests, is intended to help local people influence neighbourhood planning policies.[8][9]



The Romans had a cemetery to the east of the Bishopsgate thoroughfare, which roughly follows the line of Ermine Street: the main highway to the north from Londinium.[10] The cemetery was noticed by the antiquarian John Stow in 1576 and was the focus of a major archaeological excavation in the 1990s, following the redevelopment of Spitalfields Market.[10][11]

In 2013, lead isotope analysis of tooth enamel, by Dr Janet Montgomery of Durham University, led to the identification of the first person from Rome known to have been buried in Britain. She was a 25-year-old woman who was buried in a lead-lined stone sarcophagus, with unique jet and intricate glass grave goods, around the middle of the 4th century A.D.[12][13]

Coat of arms attributed to Walter Brunus (or Brown), the founder of the priory in 1197
The parish of Spitalfields formed two of the wards, in the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney, which was formed in 1900..

St Mary Spital

In 1197, a priory, "The New Hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate", latterly known as St Mary Spital, founded by Walter Brunus and his wife Roisia, was built on the site of the cemetery.[14] It was one of the biggest hospitals in medieval England and had a large medieval cemetery with a stone charnel house and mortuary chapel. The chapel has been uncovered by archaeologists and preserved for public viewing. The priory and hospital were dissolved in 1539 under Henry VIII. Although the chapel and monastic buildings were mostly demolished, the area of the inner precinct of the priory maintained an autonomous administrative status as the Liberty of Norton Folgate. The adjacent outer precincts, to the south, were re-used for artillery practice by the gunners of the Tower of London. The area, known as the Old Artillery Ground was placed under the special jurisdiction of the Tower of London as one of its Tower Liberties.[15]

Other parts of the priory area were used for residential purposes by London dwellers seeking a rural retreat and by the mid-17th century further development extended eastward into the erstwhile open farmland of the Spital Field.[16]


A map showing the bounds of the Parish of Spitalfields, c.1885

Spitalfields consisted mainly of fields and nursery gardens until its development in the late 17th century.[17] The main local industry at that time was weaving, and many of the weavers were Huguenot refugees from France. Spitalfields' historic association with the silk industry was established by French Protestant (Huguenot) refugees who settled in the area after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. By settling outside the bounds of the City of London, they hoped to avoid the restrictive legislation of the City guilds. The Huguenots brought with them little, apart from their skills, and an Order in Council of 16 April 1687 raised £200,000 to relieve their poverty. In December 1687, the first report of the committee set up to administer the funds reported that 13,050 French refugees were settled in London, primarily around Spitalfields, but also in the nearby settlements of Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, Whitechapel and Mile End New Town.[18]

The late 17th and 18th centuries saw an estate of well-appointed terraced houses, built to accommodate the master weavers controlling the silk industry, and grand urban mansions built around the newly created Bishops Square which adjoins the short section of the main east–west street known as Spital Square. Christ Church, Spitalfields on Fournier Street, designed by the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, was built during the reign of Queen Anne to demonstrate the power of the established church to the dissenting Huguenots, who had built ten chapels in the area.[19] More humble weavers dwellings were congregated in the Tenterground.[20] The Spitalfields Mathematical Society was established in 1717. In 1846, it merged with the Royal Astronomical Society.[21]

Spitalfields Market was established in 1638 when Charles I gave a licence for flesh, fowl and roots to be sold in what was then known as Spittle Fields.[22] The market currently receives around 25,000 visitors every week.[22]

Huguenots of Spitalfields is a registered charity promoting public understanding of the Huguenot heritage and culture in Spitalfields, the City of London and beyond. They arrange tours, talks, events and schools programmes to raise the Huguenot profile in Spitalfields and to raise funds for a permanent memorial to the Huguenots.[23]

From the 1730s Irish weavers came, after a decline in the Irish linen industry, to take up work in the silk trade. The 18th century saw periodic crises in the silk industry, brought on by imports of French silk – in a lull between the wars between the two rivals; and imports of printed calicos. The depression in the trade and the prices paid to weavers led to protests. In 1769, the Spitalfield riots occurred when attempts were made to disperse protest meetings by weavers during the downturn in the market for silk. The riots ended in an Irish and a Huguenot weaver being hanged in front of the Salmon and Ball public house at Bethnal Green.[18]

Price controls on amounts master weavers could pay journeymen for each piece were established, removing incentives to pay higher wages during good times. During bad times workers had no work. As the price was per piece, there was no incentive for using machinery, as the master would have to pay for the machine and still pay the same price per piece to journeymen. By 1822 labour rates were so above market labour rates, that much of the employment in silk manufacture had moved away. Remaining manufacture focussed on expensive fashion items, which required proximity to court and had higher margins.[24]

In 1729, Spitalfields was detached from the parish of Stepney, and became an independent parish; by this time parish areas had both civil and ecclesiastical (church) functions. The area's parish church was Christ Church, Spitalfields, with St Stephen Spitalfields added later. The church of St Stephen Spitalfields was built in 1860 by public subscription but was demolished in 1930. The adjacent vicarage is all that remains.

Victorian era

Ordnance Survey map of Spitalfields rookery, 1894

By the Victorian era, the silk industry had entered a long decline and the old merchant dwellings had degenerated into multi-occupied slums. Spitalfields became a by-word for urban deprivation, and, by 1832, concern about a London cholera epidemic led The Poor Man's Guardian (18 February 1832) to write of Spitalfields:

The low houses are all huddled together in close and dark lanes and alleys, presenting at first sight an appearance of non-habitation, so dilapidated are the doors and windows:- in every room of the houses, whole families, parents, children and aged grandfathers swarm together.

In 1860, a treaty with France allowed the import of cheaper French silks. This left the many weavers in Spitalfields, as well as neighbouring Bethnal Green and Shoreditch, unemployed and indigent. New trades such as furniture and boot making came to the area, and the large windowed Huguenot houses were found suitable for tailoring, attracting a new population of Jewish refugees drawn to live and work in the textile industry.[18]

Petticoat Lane Market, Spitalfields, c. 1890.

By the later 19th century, inner Spitalfields became known as the worst criminal rookery in London and common lodging-houses in the Flower and Dean Street area were a focus for the activities of robbers and pimps. In 1881 Flower and Dean Street was described as being "perhaps the foulest and most dangerous street in the metropolis".[25] Another claimant to the distinction of being the worst street in London was Dorset Street, which was highlighted by the brutal killing and mutilation of a young woman, Mary Jane Kelly, in her lodgings here by the serial killer, Jack the Ripper in the autumn of 1888.[26] The murder was the climax of a series of murders that became known as the Whitechapel Murders. The renewed focus on the area's poverty helped prompt the decision to demolish some local slums in 1891–94.[27] Deprivation continued and was brought to notice by social commentators such as Jack London in his The People of the Abyss (1903). He highlighted 'Itchy Park', next to Christ Church, Spitalfields, as a notorious rendezvous for homeless people.

Modern Spitalfields

View of Christ Church and the fruit and wool exchange.

In the late 20th century the Jewish presence diminished and was replaced by an influx of Bangladeshi immigrants, who also worked in the local textile industry and made Brick Lane the curry capital of London. By 1981, at least 60% of households were of minority ethnic origin.[28]

Another development, from the 1960s onwards, has been a campaign to save the housing stock of old merchant terraces west of Brick Lane from demolition. Many have been conserved by the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust which has led to gentrification and a large increase in property prices.[29] In the 21st century, large office blocks were built between Bishopsgate and Spitalfields Market, effecting the character of the area. Conservationists secured the preservation of Old Spitalfields Market and the provision of shopping, leisure amenities and a plaza (urban square) beside the blocks,[29] but permission was granted to developers, to demolish the Fruit and Wool exchange on the edge of old Spitalfields market, in order to erect office buildings.

Since 1998 the area has formed part of the Spitalfields and Banglatown electoral ward. The name reflecting the areas strong links with Bangladesh. In September 2015, a demonstration against gentrification in London took the form of a protest at Cereal Killer Cafe, a hipster café on Brick Lane which serves cereal.[30]


Spitalfields has a very strong sense of local community,[31] with the Spitalfields Community Group aiming to represent the people who both live and work, this is to build a better sense of community as well as improve the quality of life of its members and their neighbours in Spitalfields.[32] and the Spitalfields Music who strengthen the local community through musical events.[33] The Spitalfields Housing Association also works closely with residents by providing good quality community services.[34] A community garden, Nomadic Community Gardens, is a social project based in an area once an area fenced off and overgrown and is popular among a diverse range of people such as locals without gardens,[35] and is made up of found materials, street art, sculpture and allotments.[36] Nomadic Community Gardens is a temporary project or "meanwhile use" run by a private limited company[37] on behalf of the property developer Londonewcastle, which leases the site to the garden operator for a peppercorn rent and provided start-up funding.[38] Londonewcastle gained planning consent for a development of "affordable housing, townhouses and apartments"[39] on the site in November 2015.[40] Construction on the Fleet Street Hill Project was intended to commence in 2016[38] but, as of June 2019, no work has begun on the site.


Dennis Severs' House

Dennis Severs' House in Folgate Street is a "still-life drama" created by the Severs as an "historical imagination" of what life would have been like inside for a family of Huguenot silk weavers.[41][42] In 2009, Raven Row, a non-profit contemporary art centre, opened to the public at 56 Artillery Lane. Constructed in a pair of 18th-century silk merchants' houses, onto which London practice 6a Architects added two contemporary galleries, it stands on the part of the street known until 1895 as Raven Row. Whitechapel Art Gallery is at the bottom of Brick Lane.

Amongst the many well known artists living in Spitalfields are Gilbert and George, Ricardo Cinalli, Tracey Emin[43] and Stuart Brisley. TV presenter, architecture expert and Georgian fanatic Dan Cruickshank was an active campaigner for Spitalfields, and continues to live in the area. Writer Jeanette Winterson turned a derelict Georgian house into an organic food shop, Verde's, as part of the Slow Food movement.

Spitalfields figures in a number of works of literature, including A New Wonder, a Woman Never Vexed (performed 1610–14; printed 1632) by William Rowley, a dramatisation of the foundation of St Mary Spital; The People of the Abyss (1903), the journalistic memoir by Jack London; Hawksmoor (1985) by Peter Ackroyd; Rodinsky's Room (1999) by Iain Sinclair and Rachel Lichtenstein; Brick Lane (2003) by Monica Ali; and The Quincunx (1991) by Charles Palliser.

19th-century Spitalfields is the setting for the film From Hell, a fictional retelling of the story of Jack the Ripper.

In December 2009 an anonymous Spitalfields resident started a blog called Spitalfields Life, writing under the pseudonym "The Gentle Author",[44][45][46] and promising to post 10,000 daily essays. As of June 2020, the writer had posted over 4,000 articles about life in Spitalfields, and the surrounding areas within walking distance.


The economic makeup of Spitalfields is primarily centred around its four marketplaces. Old Spitalfields Market is the main one where traders sell antiques, food and fashion items, while Petticoat Lane Market mainly sells general clothing.[47]

Notable people



Spitalfields has no connection to the London Underground. Historically it had a station on the Great Eastern Main Line called Bishopsgate (Low Level) that opened on the 4 November 1872, but closed on 22 May 1916.[64] Shoreditch tube station, the northern terminus of the East London Line, technically lay within the boundaries of Spitalfields, but principally served Shoreditch: it closed in 2006.[65] Liverpool Street station (mainline and underground), Aldgate East (underground) and Shoreditch High Street (London Overground) are all in close proximity to Spitalfields.


The area is formed around Commercial Street (on the A1202 London Inner Ring Road).

See also


  1. ^ "Tower Hamlets Ward population 2011". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  2. ^ a b Gover, J. E. B.; Mawer, Allen; Stenton, F. M. (1942). The Place-Names of Middlesex. English Place-Name Society. Vol. 18. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 151–2.
  3. ^ B. Lambert (1806). The history and survey of London and its environs. T. Hughes. p. 79. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  4. ^ F. H. W. Sheppard (1957). The Priory of St Mary Spital | Survey of London: volume 27 (pp. 21–23). Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  5. ^ Youngs, Frederic A, Jr. (1979). Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol.I: Southern England. London: Royal Historical Society. ISBN 0-901050-67-9.
  6. ^ "Your Councillors". 12 July 2020.
  7. ^ "Rushanara Ali MP". UK Parliament.
  8. ^ "Spitalfields & banglatown neighbourhood Plan". Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  9. ^ Brooke, Mike (6 April 2016). "Spitalfields planning forum gets legal recognition in bid to halt City encroachment". Docklands and East London Advertiser. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  10. ^ a b Thomas Christopher (2004). Life and Death in London's East End: 2000 years at Spitalfields. Museum of London Archaeology Service. pp. 7–29. ISBN 1-901992-49-7.
  11. ^ "Discovering peopleat Spitalfields market". 12 March 2007. Archived from the original on 12 March 2007. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  12. ^ "Pagans of Roman Britain". 7 January 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  13. ^ "The story of the silk and gold clad woman buried in London's Spitalfields". 16 December 2020. Archived from the original on 24 May 2022. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  14. ^ Thomas, Sloane and Phillpotts (1997) Excavations at the Priory and Hospital of St Mary Spital, London. Museum of London: London: 19–20
  15. ^ Thomas: pp. 30–75
  16. ^ Fiona Rule (2008) The Worst Street in London, pp. 18-26, Hersham, Ian Allan.
  17. ^ F. H. W. Sheppard (1957). General introduction | Survey of London: volume 27 (pp. 1–13). Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  18. ^ a b c Industries: Silk-weaving, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2: General; Ashford, East Bedfont with Hatton, Feltham, Hampton with Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton (1911), pp. 132–137. Date accessed: 4 March 2009
  19. ^ Fiona Rule (2008) The Worst Street in London. Hersham, Ian Allan: 28
  20. ^ Thomas: pp. 76–95
  21. ^ Dreyer, Joseph (1920). History of the Royal Astronomical Society. p. 99.
  22. ^ a b Old Spitalfields Market Published 2008. Retrieved 17 June 2009.
  23. ^ "Huguenots of Spitalfields heritage tours & events in Spitalfields - Huguenot Public Art Trust".
  24. ^ Observations on the ruinous tendency of the Spitalfields Act to the silk manufacture,
  25. ^ White, Jerry (4 January 2007). London in the Nineteenth Century: A Human Awful Wonder of God. Jonathan Cape. p. 323. ISBN 978-0-224-06272-5.
  26. ^ The Worst Street in London Fiona Rule (Ian Allan Ltd, 2008) ISBN 978-0-7110-3345-0
  27. ^ White: p. 331
  28. ^ Anwar, Muhammad (15 April 2013). Race and Politics. ISBN 9781135026172.
  29. ^ a b Taylor, Wi (24 May 2001). This Bright Field: A Travel Book in One Place. Methuen Publishing. ISBN 978-0-413-74690-0.
  30. ^ Feargus O'Sullivan (30 September 2015). "Breakfast of Gentrifiers How a London café that specializes in cereal became the latest flashpoint in the city's ongoing gentrification debate". CityLab. Retrieved 30 September 2015. When Londoners talk about regeneration, gentrification and the supposed cascade of bars, beards and real estate bubbles they bring in their wake, they typically talk about the café's home neighborhood of Shoreditch.
  31. ^ "Community - Spitalfields Society".
  32. ^ "Spitalfields Community Group".
  33. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 July 2011. Retrieved 10 July 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  34. ^ "SHA".
  35. ^ "WHERE: The Nomadic Community Gardens of Brick Lane". Underground Retail Limited. 15 September 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  36. ^ "The Nomadic Community Garden in London and where to find it – Inspiring City". 15 April 2017.
  37. ^ "NOMADIC COMMUNITY GARDENS LTD - Overview (free company information from Companies House)". Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  38. ^ a b "Meet the Londoners who are setting up new pop-up villages in London's empty building sites". Homes and Property. 20 October 2015. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  39. ^ "Fleet Street Hill | Londonewcastle". Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  40. ^ Waite, Richard (25 November 2015). "Appeal victory for Partington and Barber in Shoreditch". Architects Journal. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  41. ^ Dennis Severs. "The Tour". p. 3. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  42. ^ Gavin Stamp (10 January 2000). "Dennis Severs | News | The Guardian". The Guardian. London: GMG. ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  43. ^ Acharya, Dipal (20 April 2018). "My London: Tracey Emin". Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  44. ^ "Spitalfields Life". Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  45. ^ Saumarez Smith, Charles (17 March 2012). "Last of the swagmen". The Spectator. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  46. ^ Barkham, Patrick (20 March 2012). "Tales of the city: the rise of the local blog". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  47. ^ "Shops & Markets". Spitalfields Forum.
  48. ^ Gray, Alistair (20 December 2013). "Inga Beale, the steely trailblazer shaking up a masculine bastion". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2022.
  49. ^ Susannah Butter (2016). "Lloyd's CEO Inga Beale on coming out as bisexual in a job interview". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  50. ^ Gould, Mark (10 December 2013). "Dan Cruikshank: London's East End is threatened by 'creeping and ghastly greed'". The Guardian.
  51. ^ Fiona Rule (2008) The Worst Street in London. Hersham, Ian Allan: 20-1
  52. ^ "One day Gilbert & George walked into the bar, and my life changed" Published 17 December 2006. Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  53. ^ "Well, that's Gilbert and George for you". 26 August 1995. Archived from the original on 24 May 2022.
  54. ^ Swierenga, Robert P. (2000). Faith and Family. New York: Holmes & Meier. pp. 197. ISBN 0-8419-1319-6.
  55. ^ a b Sheppard, F. H. W., ed. (1957). "The Wood-Michell estate: Hanbury Street west of Brick Lane". Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. Survey of London. Vol. 27. London: Athlone Press. pp. 189–193. Retrieved 2 June 2008.
  56. ^ Stewart Evans and Donald Rumbelow (2006) Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard Investigates: 51–55
  57. ^ Stewart Evans and Donald Rumbelow (2006) Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard Investigates: 56–62
  58. ^ Paul Begg (2006) Jack the Ripper: The Facts: 42
  59. ^ Stewart Evans and Donald Rumbelow (2006) Jack the Ripper: Scotland Yard Investigates: 114-40
  60. ^ "Joe Loss - Biography & History - AllMusic". AllMusic.
  61. ^ Today, Realty (17 September 2013). "Pirates of the Caribbean Actress Keira Knightly Lists London Townhouse for $4.7 Million".
  62. ^ Fiona Rule (2008) The Worst Street in London. Hersham, Ian Allan: 30
  63. ^ Winterson, Jeanette (12 June 2010). "Once upon a life: Jeanette Winterson". The Guardian.
  64. ^ "Disused Stations: Bishopsgate Low Level Station".
  65. ^ Baker, Thomas, ed. (1998). "Stepney: Communications". A History of the County of Middlesex. Vol. 11. London: Victoria County History. pp. 7–13. Archived from the original on 12 January 2015. Retrieved 11 January 2015.

Further reading

  • John Timbs (1867), "Spitalfields", Curiosities of London (2nd ed.), London: J.C. Hotten, OCLC 12878129
  • The Gentle Author (2012), Spitalfields Life, Great Britain: Saltyard Books, OCLC 761381006
  • Sheppard, F. H. W., ed. (1957). "The Priory of St. Mary Spital". Survey of London: Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. London: London County Council. 27: 21–23. Retrieved 2 June 2022 – via British History Online.

External links

7 Annotations

First Reading

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Only a pencil sketch of the tower records the Priory of St. Mary which stood for 400 years on the site of Spital Square until Henry VIII ‘dissolved’ it and turned the land into his artillery ground. The area was full of grass meadows and gardens until the first roads came in the 17th Century.

Henry VIII is referred to in Kingsland Road where he had stables for hunting when there was still forest, recalled today in Forest Road.

"Modern" Spitalfields comes from those refugees who, in defiance of Elizabethan building regs., and to escape the City Guilds regs., settled in Bishopsgate Without and the Liberty of Norton Folgate. It lies at a junction between the settled, indigenous English, and waves of immigrants. By the 18th century it was called ‘The Weavers’ Parish,’ but it was still hospitable to others.

In John Stow’s ‘Survey of London’ (1601) Spitalfields appears as a trading point “for fruit, fowl and root.”

"A New Wonder, a Woman Never Vexed" (performed 1610–14; printed 1632) by William Rowley, was a dramatization of the foundation of St. Mary Spital;

Nicholas Culpeper (1616–1654), botanist, herbalist, physician, and astrologer was born at the Red Lion Inn, when Spitalfields was still semi-rural. Culpeper found love in 1640 when he married Alice Field who had inherited a fortune. Using her dowry, Culpeper built a house on Red Lion Street and set himself up as an astrologer and herbalist, not charging the poor for his help. In 1651 he completed "A Directory for Midwives", an unusual subject for a man, never mind an herbalist and astrologer, but tragedy had focused him: by his 14th year of marriage they had had 7 children, but only one outlived him. In 1652, Culpeper published his master work “The English Physician” AKA “Culpeper’s Herbal” which became the standard work for 300 years and is still in print. Ten years after his death, Culpeper’s name was so respected that Lord Mayor of London, John Lawrence, used it in a pamphlet about ways to avoid the plague.

Thomas Helwys (1575 – 1616), a religious reformer who fled to Amsterdam in 1607/8, but returned in 1611 to found the first Baptist congregation in Britain -- in Spitalfields. He died in prison for advocating religious liberty, regardless of creed, including Jews, Muslims and atheists.

A market sign was incorporated in the coat of arms for the Liberty of Norton Folgate in 1660, and Spitalfield's market’s Royal Charter dates from 1682. The market claims to be Spitalfields’ original core. The market continued as a collection of ramshackle sheds and stalls until it was rebuilt in the 1870s.

By 1700 there were 9 Huguenot churches in Spitalfields.

The Huguenots brought the silk industry to London, making Spitalfields arguably the oldest industrial suburb in London. It was already “almost entirely built over” in 1701 when Lambeth was still a marsh, Fulham a market garden, and Tottenham Court Rd. a green.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

When the rain falls on Spitalfields, dripping off the roofs and splashing onto the pavements, filling the gutters and coursing down the pipes, it overflows the culverts and drains to restore the flow of the Black Ditch, the notorious lost river of Spitalfields that once flowed from here to Limehouse Dock.

This was the watercourse that transmitted the cholera in 1832. An open sewer piped off in the 19th century, the Black Ditch has been co-opted into the drainage system today, but it is still running unrecognized beneath Spitalfields – an underground river with a very bad reputation.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Spitalfields provided most of the bricks used to rebuild the City of London after the Great Fire. They used the cheapest available bricks ... which fortunately turned out to be excellent bricks, and are still standing.

For more about the traditional way to manufacture bricks, still being practiced at the brickworks that supplies the Tower and Hampton Court and other architecturally sensative sites, see…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Spitalfields was originally part of Bishopsgate, and according to…

There are some artefacts that, in their detail and evidence of wear, can evoke an entire world. Although no larger than a thumbnail, these modest 17th century tavern tokens in the collection at the Bishopsgate Institute bring alive that calamitous era after the English Revolution when London was struck by the Great Plague in 1665 and then the Great Fire in 1666.

Bishopsgate was one of the few parts of the City spared by the Fire. It was lined with ancient taverns, used as points of departure and arrival for those travelling up and down the old Roman road north from the City of London. The part inside the City wall was known as Bishopsgate Within and the part outside the wall was Bishopsgate Without, and beyond, where the muddy road widened, was known as Bishopsgate St.

Taverns served as hotels, drinking and dining houses, breweries and stables, couriers and coach offices, places of business and of entertainment, and were such significant centers of commerce that they issued their own currency for use as change.

After the Great Fire, rubble was spread upon the marshy land of Spitalfields, preparing it for the construction of the streets we know today, and, occasionally, charcoal is still uncovered when foundations are excavated in Spitalfields, recalling this distant event.

In 1632, King Charles gave a license for flesh, fowl and roots to be sold in Spitalfields and the market was re-established in 1682 by Charles II, defining the territory with a culture of small-scale trading that persists to this day.

Once, tavern tokens were unremarkable items of small monetary value, passed hand to hand without a second thought, but now these rare specimens are precious evidence of another life in another time, long ago in this place.

This Spittalfield inn issued tokens, examples of which can be seen at the Bishopsgate Institute:

King’s Head, Spittlegate, Charles I

King’s Head, Spittlegate, issued by Vintner Thomas Avis in 1658

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

In Tudor times, Spitalfields were fields beyond the City wall, although by the late Elizabethan days a sprinkle of individual wealthy gentlemen’s houses began to dot the roadside up to Shoreditch.

By the reign of King Charles’ reign, there were more of them – typical ribbon developments.

Building ceased during the Civil Wars, but once peace was established, even before the Cromwells were seen off or Charles II was restored, builders got busy again in this desirable – almost rural - setting.

In 1655 two brothers named Fossan (one of whom was a goldsmith) acquired an odd-shaped chunk of land not far from an ancient, muddy track to brick fields, now known as Brick Lane. Much of the ground was used for tenter fields, where woolen cloth woven locally was hung up to dry. The City clothing industry had started to impinge on the rural land.

The Fossans leased the land for 99 years to two builders, John Flower and Gowan Dean. Such was the system under which most of Greater London was created over the next 200 years. There Flower & Dean built Fossan Street, whose name a generation later came to be misunderstood as ‘Fashion Street,’ and gave their own surnames to the street just south of it.

Fashion Street still exists with the handsome early 18th century Christ Church, Spitalfields, and its graveyard just to the north, but its present buildings are of a later date.

It must have been a pretty street and a respectable one for much of the next century, when it was mainly occupied by Huguenot silk-spinners. These were Protestants who had come to England to find a more welcoming society than the Catholic France of Louis XIV. They arrived in far greater numbers in the 1680s when Louis tore up the legal agreement tolerating Protestantism and real persecution set in.

Some refugees crossed the Channel in dangerously small boats, making their way into the Thames estuary and up the river by night. Nothing in the life of nations really changes.

These hard-working spinners and weavers flourished, and by the mid-18th century many had established themselves in other businesses, entering prosperous British society.

Those who remained in Spitalfields began to do less well, imports of silk and cotton from India damaged the home trade. There were also questions about their stability: the brickies employer by Flower & Dean were said to have used inadequate mortar.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.