Spitalfields is known for many things. Its market; its nightlife; its curry houses; its beigels. Between Nicholas Hawksmoor’s famous Christ Church and Old Spitalfields Market, it is home to another architectural point of note: London’s largest collection of early Georgian Huguenot houses.
The Huguenots were a group of French Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, who fled the country after persecution by the Catholic church. In total, an estimated 200,000 Huguenots left France for non-Catholic Europe, with around 50,000 people moving to England. Considered to be the UK’s first refugees, many settled in London, including areas like Soho, Greenwich and, of course, Spitalfields.
The Huguenots brought their skills with them to the UK, including feather and fan work, clockmaking, wood carving, paper making and clothing design. In particular, Spitalfields drew wool and silk weavers, who set up their businesses in the east London area.
Master weavers lived in the larger townhouses around Spital Square and the surrounding streets, with poorer, jobbing weavers who carried out work for their employers often choosing weavers’ garrets or two-roomed cottages in Whitechapel or Bethnal Green, according to The Huguenot Society.
Princelet Street, a quiet street between old Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane, is an 18th century enclave with a cluster of larger Huguenot houses. Some are private residences; others, like The Museum of Immigration and Diversity at number 19, are open to the public. And now, this one is for sale.
Built in 1720, the house was originally intended for a wealthy merchant, and may have had more than one family living and working in the space.
The attic space, known as the weavers’ loft, would have been used as a workspace, with its position at the top of the house allowing maximum light for weavers at their looms.
Covering five storeys, the layout of the 2,588 sq ft house has not been drastically changed, with a kitchen and dining room on the lower ground floor, a reception room, bedroom and conservatory on the ground floor and a further living room and four bedrooms on the three floors above.
“I am completely in love with the living space, says agent Simon Stone. “It’s the triple-fronted windows; the exceptional ceiling height. I love the creaky floorboards. I love the wonky staircase that you can see when you sit on one of the sofas. The fireplace is gorgeous.”
Today, the weavers’ loft on the top floor remains relatively self-contained, with a bedroom, L-shaped living space and extra deck bed in the eaves, as well as a bathroom, utility room and balcony.
“One of the nicest views is from the weavers’ loft,” says Stone. “As you look out over the street you’ve got this gorgeous, well-maintained, loved Georgian architecture immediately opposite. Then you look above and you’ve got this real metroland cityscape. It’s a nice contrasting view.”
The house also has a private, south-facing rear garden — one of the largest of any Huguenot house in the area— with a brick pottery outside with the potential to be used as further accommodation or a workspace.
Its current owner, Robert Shackleton, is a decorative antiques dealer and photographer. He bought the property in 2016, having lived in another house on the street since the 1980s.
This house, according to Stone, was previously a semi-commercial space. Shackleton undertook a lengthy renovation, uncovering many of the original fittings, repainting the house and re-doing the rustic kitchen downstairs, adding underfloor heating.
Inside, therefore, original historical details remain, like the panelled walls —re-painted in their original colour palette— sash windows, floorboards and fireplaces.
“There are a lot of modern touches under the surface,” says Stone. “[Shackleton] has completely immersed himself in the period of the property, and wanted to keep as much of the gentleness as he could. He quoted it perfectly — he said: ‘It’s just a very gentle house. It’s an easy house to own.’”
As well as living in the property, Shackleton has used it as a successful photoshoot location. His Instagram account, @princeletdrift, where he shares pictures of the house, has almost 18,000 followers.
Now, though, Shackleton has decided to spend more time at his second property, putting the house —and everything in it— up for sale.
Stone anticipates a buyer that loves the house for its quirks: its wonky doorframes and stairwells. “It’s going to be somebody who is massively into the Huguenot house scene,” he says. “I can see it selling to somebody who comes from a creative background, like an artist or a writer. It’s a wonderful house.”