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Yesterday’s post discussed the rancour that English merchants and London Companies (guilds) had towards the Huguenots.

However, the Huguenots’ refugee-asylum status often had local or city ordinances attached with regard to work. Geni‘s article on their settlement points out that, in Canterbury, they (emphases mine):

practised the variety of occupations necessary to sustain the community distinct from the indigenous population, as such separation was the condition of the refugees’ initial acceptance in the City.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that they were highly successful in employing skills they already had, that these skills were different to those of the indigenous population and that, eventually, these conditions were going to cause problems in terms of competitiveness.

Huguenots were kept apart from English trade, at least initially. They worked amongst themselves. Their talents and workmanship attracted the attention of the great and the good, as their products were elaborate and techniques new. It is understandable that the established London Companies and specialist manufacturers were going to resent their success and seek to rein it in.

Exodus (“Movement of the People”) tells us:

By 1710, between 40,000 and 50,000 refugees had made their way to the safety of England. Historians estimate that around half that number settled in Spitalfields [in London’s East End] where housing was cheap and the trade guilds held less economic power.

In general:

The Huguenots came from all walks of life, though many were intellectuals and highly skilled tradesmen with backgrounds in weaving, clock making, and financial services. Textile manufacturing, in fact, was the prevalent occupation amongst the refugees, and they found their services in high demand among the British upper class.

Their general demeanour also intrigued the British:

Their high fashion and language set them apart from the general population, and over time they achieved a level of respectability — particularly in contrast to the squalor and immorality of many Londoners.

No doubt that was a source of irritation to their detractors.

Another Geni page on British migration says that the Huguenots arrived when the silk industry in Spitalfields was small and employed mostly Irish weavers. The French were able to expand it greatly and add the manufacture of velvet.

Elsewhere in London:

Some were expert in making clocks and scientific instruments. Others were goldsmiths, silversmiths, merchants and artists.


Because of their hard work and skills the Huguenots were known as ‘the profitable strangers’. During the 18th century members of the Huguenot and Jewish communities gave major financial support to both state and army.

Outside of London, I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the Huguenots favoured towns along the southern coast of England. Geni tells us that in Kent, besides Canterbury, they also settled in:

Sandwich, Faversham and Maidstone—towns in which there used to be refugee churches.

Canterbury Cathedral still holds a service in the French Reformed rite every Sunday at 3 p.m. in the chantry chapel of the Black Prince.

Elsewhere in England, Bedfordshire and Norwich were popular destinations. Bedfordshire:

was (at the time) the main centre of England’s lace industry. Huguenots greatly contributed to the development of lace-making in Bedfordshire, with many families settling in Cranfield, Bedford and Luton. Some of these immigrants moved to Norwich, which had accommodated an earlier settlement of Walloon weavers; they added to the existing immigrant population, which comprised about a third of the population of the city.

Weavers who settled in Ireland often went to Dublin and the Liberties district of the city. There:

they became part of the existing weaving fraternity. Many of them were experienced silk weavers and their expertise contributed to the establishment of a thriving silk and poplin industry.

The Irish weavers seem to have been more integrated than their English counterparts. When Dublin’s weavers needed a new guildhall in 1745, a Huguenot, David Digges La Touche, advanced the necessary sum of £200.

Ensign Message‘s article says that many Huguenots who settled in England came from northern France, particularly Picardy (John Calvin’s home region), Normandy and Brittany. Brittany has a centuries-old tradition of lace making. A significant number of — though not all — silk weavers came from Lyon, which is still the centre of France’s textile industry.

The footnotes to Ensign Message‘s essay are illuminating. One neatly summarises the advances British industry was able to make thanks to the Huguenots:

These skilled workmen brought in new methods of work, and in many cases new trades. Take the silk trade as an example. Before these French refugees came into the country, the silk trade in England was a very small affair. But among the newcomers was a large body of silk-weavers from Lyons, the headquarters of the French silk industry.They settled chiefly in Spitalfields, and with their aid the English trade advanced by leaps and bounds.

Among other trades introduced by these refugees were the making of sailcloth, of paper, of hats, of velvets and damasks, while other trades much benefited were those of watchmaking, clock-making, lock-making, cutlery, glass and pottery.

One industry, that of hat-making, seemed to come over bodily to England. The art of dealing with the beaverskin was brought to such perfection among the Huguenot refugees that from the factory in London even the Cardinals of Rome used to obtain their hats.

The other footnote has a marvellous quote from historian John Finnemore’s 1924 book, Social Life in England (italics in the original):

Between 1670 and 1690 no less a number than 80,000 French Protestants came to England.They were well received, and they were worthy of a welcome. For one and all belonged to the thrifty, hard-working, deft-handed class which has always been the salt of France.

More posts on the Huguenots in Britain will follow next week.

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