West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
Walking Tour of Spitalfields
Visit to the Geffrye Museum
Friday 18th September 2015
a delayed start from Stocklund Square, the day proceeded well and we
commenced our morning tour at The Seven Stars Public House in Middlesex
Street, having collected our guide, Owen, en route. He explained
that street markets have been held in the street for centuries – second
hand clothes were being sold here during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Our tour of Spitalfields encompassed medieval foundations under
glass (possibly part of St Mary’s Hospital & Monastery); discussion
of the Roman graveyards discovered; the sarcophagus of a wealthy woman
identified as an immigrant from the Basque region; and then
Spitalfields Market, granted a Charter by Charles II. Owen drew
our attention to the cellars under the market which were heated – in
order to ripen bananas!
on our tour was Christ Church Spitalfields, built by Nicholas
Hawksmoor, one of Wren’s students. This church was simple but
grand, in my view, and one could easily see Wren’s influence in its
design. The Richard Bridge organ, installed in 1735, was at that
time the largest organ in the world – Handel once played it.
we continued our stroll, Owen described the important influence of immigration on
the area. Of course the Romans were immigrants, but better known
were the Huguenot Christians who fled France in the late 17th Century,
to settle as close to the City of London as possible. As highly
successful silk weavers, they became wealthy, which enabled them to buy
houses, into which were incorporated both their business and living
accommodation. Fine examples are located still in Fournier
Street. The downside of their success was the inevitable decline
in the silk market, leading to poverty and eventually the fine houses
became slums. Over the centuries, Jewish and more recently
Bengali/Bangladeshi immigrants have settled here and the area is now in
the process of "gentrification".
In the 1800s poor Jews moved into east London, for whom their wealthy
compatriots financed the construction of tenement blocks.
Eventually these too were demolished, to be replaced in due course by
affordable housing. Toynbee Hall was the centre of social
reform, which attracted such luminaries as Clem Atlee and John Profumo.
Our walk through Pettycoat Lane, then passing Tracey Emin’s studio, led
us back to the Seven Stars Pub, where we received a most acceptable
The afternoon was spent at the Geffrye Museum of
the Home, set in elegant 18th Century almshouses founded in 1714, with
delightful gardens. The Geffrye explores the home over the past
300 years through period rooms which have been refurbished, based upon
surveys of existing buildings. Of
particular interest was the role of the Parlour as the main living
space in the late 17th Century, the introduction of mirrors post-1695
(manufactured in London rather than imported), and the influence of the
wealth created by the slave trade, with the subsequent import of, for
example, sugar, leading to the creation of tea sets and sugar
tongs. In the 18th Century the dominant style was Classical,
demonstrating the Greek and Roman influence – rooms became “neat and
not too showy”. Later in the 1800s, the world of work changed,
with men going out to work, and so the women’s domain centred on the
home. Should she be ill-equipped, then practical advice was
available in the form of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management
Further examples of later typical homes showed us the introduction of
wallpaper, matching materials, patterned carpets, fireplaces and over
mantel mirrors. The most modern showrooms were recognisable from
our youth – I heard several comments of “we used to have one of those”!
Our guide for the morning, Owen, was particularly capable - clear and
knowledgeable with excellent voice projection. He used to live in
the area, which was a great help with his local knowledge.
Although we were caught up in the Friday night traffic on the way
home, the outing was most enjoyable and successful. Thanks to Pat
for deputising for Gwen as our leader, ably assisted by Jonathan.
Text by Philip Akroyd
Photos by Jonathan Cross
Related Links (open in new window):
The Huguenots of Spitalfields
The Geffrye Museum of the Home