F is for the French and the Foreign #atozchallenge

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French Protestant church, part of the Huguenot legacy, in Soho square.

The English are a mongrel race; given London is not, by some distance, situated in the cradle of humanity in Africa and we British are still 2% neanderthal (and I can think of a few who top that percentage by a margin) it’s hardly surprising that London’s success is built on immigration. Romans, Vikings, Angles, Saxons, early Christians, they all came for the weather and the shopping and stayed.

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A lovely sculptured homage to the Huguenot ‘invasion’. It could apply to so many

We tried to keep the newbies out – the Spanish, the French – but weren’t always successful. Indeed arguably the thing that maintains Britain’s place in the world today – English – is the result of the Norman invasion in 1066. Let’s face it that was a fluke of timing, like a last minute winner flying into the top corner off a wicked deflection. But those French Johnnies, who sneaked the away goal to win, insisted on their lingo being spoken in and at Court. It was formal, the locals didn’t know it so they used their own tongue and, since it was a common man’s speech, they didn’t overcomplicate it – they took in words from wherever – it constantly adapted and initially had few rules of spelling or grammar. A spoken language not really to be written, at least not initially. It’s not so easy nowadays – it is codified and it has as many exceptions as rules – but still it changes and morphs and sucks in new words and meanings. Huzzah, I say.

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Soho square again and a statue to Charles II who encouraged the Huguenots to come

But I’ve not come to praise William the Conqueror but rather some other Frenchies – the humble trades people from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Huguenots

I’m of Huguenot stock, hence the silly name. Le Pard. Like Leopard, only not.


A sculpture representing the seven ages, in Baynard’s Inn near Blackfriars station. The pard is facing away. Love death on the top…

Well Shakespeare has ‘bearded like the Pard’ in the seven Ages of Man speech – a wild beast of a boy so maybe that’s me.

Then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.

Anyhoo, when the French decided that toleration had its limits, revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and banned Protestants from practicing their version of Christianity, Britain amongst other places said, come on down. Mostly these folk were craftsmen – leather and metal workers and so on – and ended up populating the East End of London, forming something of  ghetto. Like stays with like, inevitably.

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A typical house in Fournier Street in East Lonon where the Huguenots plied their trades

It isn’t always comfortable; often enough the indigenous folk, even if themselves of immigrant stock get a bit pissed by Hugo or Vincent taking their place in the bread queue. But gradually the newcomers are absorbed and move out. And then the next wave..

The Jews

Mostly the Jewish immigration was out of Eastern Europe and Russia as the pogroms took hold. Once again they settled in the buildings formerly used by the Huguenots, they integrated and then they moved on. These people were part of the cloth trade often; their influence talked about by my parents and, if I’m being being honest, disparaged by my grandmother, who felt aggrieved by some historic grievances that were never clearly explained to me. But whatever antagonism there was it changed, slowly, still not perfectly as gradual acceptance followed arrival.

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And now the next phase.

The Muslim communities

From the end of WW2 the previously Jewish populated areas have been adopted and adapted by the influx from the Sub continent. Not exclusively Muslim but a large section from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Brick lane has more curry houses than anywhere else in such a short stretch but it also still houses the Beigel Bake Shop, as a link to its recent past. Cheek by jowl living – London all over.

We are a tight packed corner of a crowded island and we are at times suspicious of change but if history tells us one thing it’s that England, and London in particular has thrived by absorption. Our language is mongeel and so are we. From Neanderthals to now we are anything but pure bred and we would do well, when needy people cry for some support, to remember that.

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Let me finish by bringing you an architectural metaphor.

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There is a building on the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street that served as the Brick Lane Mosque. It has a natty steel minaret too. But this is an 18th century building.

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Originally it served as the Protestant chapel but with declining congregation as the Jewish diaspora moved in it fell into disuse.

So misguided locals took it over ostensibly to try to persuade the Jews to convert but they hadn’t held their faith and come all this way to give up so easily. They bought the building and it became a synagogue.

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History sometimes learns its lessons and when the attendees declined the owners passed it on. It remains a place to worship but otherwise it is infinitely flexible. What next? Jediism?

On the wall high up is a rather splendid sun dial. The Latin underneath is rather appropriate

Umbra sumus

We are but shadows

This is part of the 2016 A to Z Blogging challenge. Please click here to find your way to other participants.

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About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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21 Responses to F is for the French and the Foreign #atozchallenge

  1. I’m reallyenjoying this series Geoff, nice work. The mosque reminds me of the mezquita in Cordoba. Not to look at, merely the takeover by the xtians. Here in Gib, one neighbour said to us, ‘the Jews came first, then the Indians, and then the British’. He was referring specifically to trading opportunities rather than historical order of immigration, although certainly the Jews did come first. I digress. Lovely photos too in this series.


  2. susieshy45 says:

    Geoff, wonderful history lesson- really enjoyed reading the origins of London and the London British.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ritu says:

    Another great post Geoffles!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Judy Martin says:

    Great post Geoff, I have learned a thing or two here 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mick Canning says:

    Super post, Geoff.


  6. Ah – Geoff the Panther! I assume ‘bearded like a pard’ then refers to the bristly stubble? It suits 🙂
    [I tootled over to Google and looked it up for, as with many Shakespearian words, this was yet another one I had not ingested!] I too am enjoying very much your tour and your words in this series.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. noelleg44 says:

    Another great tour! The Huguenots who migrated were lucky – the avoided the purge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Yes. I hadn’t realised it was illegal to leave so they ran huge risks, rather like today’s refugees, only they aren’t welcomed. Big difference


  8. I’m glad you focussed on Brick Lane. I lived there for a short time in 1972, when you could still see evidence of the different waves of immigration in the buildings

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Helen Jones says:

    A great post, Geoff – and a wonderful example of how migration and displaced people have been part of our history for millennia.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I loved in London for 27-years and knew none of this. Thank goodness you’re here to teach me, Geoff. You’re discovering places and history of London that I think many Brits know nothing about. Good on you.

    Liked by 1 person

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