Books on life in 19th Century Bethnal Green?
August 10, 2009 12:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for interesting and engaging books on life in the area around Brick Lane, Bethnal Green in 19th century London, (bonus points if they focus on the Huguenot silk weavers). Any suggestions?

This is because I've found out my maternal ancestors were Huguenot silk weavers and they lived in the streets around Brick Lane for most of the 19th century, and I'd like to find out more about the life they might have led at this time.
I'm currently reading The Blackest Streets by Sarah Wise, my wife has recommended me "London in the Nineteenth Century" by Jerry White. Any other good reads?
posted by chill to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If fiction is allowed, you might check out Sarah Waters' Fingersmith, which is partially set there. Or maybe it was her book Affinity, which I didn't like as much. Can't quite remember which. In any case, whichever book it was had a very evocative, if fictionalized account of life there.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:59 PM on August 10, 2009

You could try The People of the Abyss by Jack London, although it was written in 1902.
posted by kenchie at 1:17 PM on August 10, 2009

There is also Ed Glinert's East End Chronicles, which covers about 400 years of history but it has a chapter on the silk weavers.
posted by kenchie at 1:52 PM on August 10, 2009

Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor is an interesting read and full of details of 19th-century London.
posted by zadcat at 2:12 PM on August 10, 2009

Best answer: Oh! I live in Bethnal green, not far from Brick Lane and I'm obsessed about the history of the place. East End 1888 is a fantastic, vivid book looking at the social context of the area as a whole.

For more specific references try contacting staff at the local history archive. I spent a happy day there a couple of weeks ago absorbing social histories.

Also, not a book but: 19 Princelet Street was a master silk weavers house, now run as a private museum to the history of Spitalfields. The website's a bit thin but it includes a section on the Huguenot weavers who lived there, the map shows the room layout.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:19 PM on August 10, 2009

Best answer: I just checked the local history archive booklets for sale. This one looks promising:

"Huguenot Tales; The Rondeau's of Spitalfields; an everyday story of Huguenot folk.
Price: £3.00 plus £1 post and packing."
posted by freya_lamb at 3:39 PM on August 10, 2009

Had a scout of the sources Ackroyd used for his London - The Biography; one source for the life of the poor in the 19th century (though not specifically Bethnal Green or Huguenot) is Thomas Beames' 1852 The Rookeries of London, which as you can see is online; same site has a section on Bethnal Green. As well Mayhew's work linked above, he drew on Charles Booth's "survey of life and labour in London (1886-1903)" which he finds less colourful than Mayhew but useful and sympathetic for a view of everyday life.
Couldn't dig up anything specific to Huguenots, though the references to their in-migration go back to the 16th century in Ackroyd's shelf-bender.
posted by Abiezer at 11:18 PM on August 10, 2009

Response by poster: Update on this - I went to the local history library - it's indeed a great resource.
19 Princelet Street is closed and doesn't look like it will open up any time soon. However 18 Folgate Street, another weaver's house, is open for business. I went yesterday and it was amazing. Website. They have a DVD and book too. Bought the DVD and it's not just about this house, but also the quest to save other historic buildings in the area.
posted by chill at 9:21 AM on September 7, 2009

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