Alan Crosby: England's Huguenot heritage

By Jon Bauckham, 27 August 2015 - 10:31am

Sir Derek Jacobi's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? shows that persecuted people have been settling in England for centuries, says Alan Crosby

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 27 August 2015
Alan Crosby
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Huguenot silk weavers London

The Huguenots brought many skills to England, including silk-weaving (Photo: Getty Images)

Tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? features Sir Derek Jacobi, and one of the themes which the programme picks up is Huguenot ancestry.

For many communities in southern and eastern England, the Huguenots are an important element in their local history – one of many waves of migrants to settle and establish roots.

They were Protestant refugees, mainly from France where (after 1685) they had been subject to overt repression and persecution by the state. Protestant England was an obvious place of refuge, offering protection and shelter (especially as many of the would-be immigrants had skills and talents, notably in the economically-crucial textile trades) so large numbers came to Kent, Sussex, London and East Anglia. There they joined other Protestant emigrants from the Low Countries.

I used to live in Norwich, where ‘the strangers’ – as they were known in the 17th and 18th centuries – became a very powerful and influential element in city business and social circles. They maintained their separate identity for many decades, with church services in their own languages and a strong sense of family ties carrying on for several generations, but gradually they assimilated. At one time, it’s been estimated, the ‘strangers’ and their descendants may have formed at least a quarter of the entire population of Norwich.

We’re hearing a great deal at the moment about a very different sort of migrant, waiting on the Channel coast of France to seek refuge in England. The experience of the Huguenots and their fellow-migrants, 300 years and more ago, reminds us that this sort of thing is nothing new. England, or Britain, has been a magnet for refugees of all sorts for centuries.
 

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities

 

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