Tag Archives: spitalfields

London Slant: Be among the first to step inside a Huguenot’s house

If I was asked to pick my most fascinating road in London, Fournier Street in Spitalfields would be near the top of my list. Ever since its houses were built in the early 18th century it has been home to artist-craft workers starting with Huguenot silk weavers and leading up to current residents Tracey Emin and Gilbert & George. I love to look up and see the garrets where looms once rattled and it’s rare that I visit and don’t encounter the Besuited Duo striding along. (On one particularly surreal day they came gliding along the pavement towards me: without breaking gait they parted to let me go between them, eyes fixed on the middle distance, then came back together and continued their unruffled trajectory once they’d passed by.)

31 Fournier Street

First floor of 31 Fournier Street, transformed into an atmospheric art gallery.

I grab any chance to go inside these houses. I’ve visited gardens on open days and attended a handbell concert in one as part of the Spitalfields Festival. So when I heard that No 31 was opening by appointment for an art exhibition, I didn’t hesitate to book.

31 Fournier Street

The garden at 31 Fournier Street.

This inaugural show by Trevor Newton was the perfect choice to kickstart what will be a series of exhibitions, book launches and performances over coming months. Many of his works capture idiosyncratic architecture and interiors—perfectly at home crammed onto the wood-panelled walls of a house that its owner, Rodney Archer, describes part salon, part cabinet of curiosities. Other works, from Newton’s travels in the Australian outback, went rather well with the tree ferns and other exuberant greenery in the garden outside.

31 Fournier Street

Part salon, part cabinet of curiosities.

Many of the house’s original features have been preserved, while incomers, like the fireplace that once belonged to Oscar Wilde, lend a theatrical touch and yet only add to the Miss Havisham atmosphere. It was a delight to amble around with a glass of wine, and imagine who had lived here before Archer arrived 35 years ago.

On 1 July a new exhibition of prints and drawings launches: portraits-cum-caricature by Edward Firth. Then, on 12,15 and 17 July the house will be buzzing once again as part of the Huguenot Thread Festival, when it will host a collection of original 1850s silk velour patterns. All the shows mentioned are selling exhibitions, at advantageous prices since there is no gallerist involved. The opening of the house is a win, win, win situation—for buyer, seller and owner, who gets to share his fascinating home with an eager public for the first time. See 31 Fournier Street  for full details.

31 Fournier Street

Front door…


31 Fournier Street

…back door



Why would anyone open their private garden gate and let strangers come tramping in? What possesses owners of fabulous green hideaways to offer all-comers the chance to tread on their specimen plants? And, how come when the hordes arrive, they are greeted with tea and home-baked cakes?

London Slant Spitalfields gardens

Delightful companions: a bluebell and hosta embrace in a London garden.

The answer, as Mrs Whittington of London’s Southwood Lodge will tell you, is to raise funds for charity. As the owner of a fabulous terraced plot on Highgate Hill above the city, she has earned more than £40,000 for good causes over the past 25 years. Her method? Inviting admirers of her oasis to share it for two afternoons every year. Mrs Whittington’s garden is one of the most popular of that quintessentially British institution, the National Gardens Scheme. May and June are high points of its calendar, when, for a modest donation, glorious gardens all over the UK welcome visitors in. So from spring bulbs through to autumn leaves I keep an eye on what’s open where. Yellow posters lead me to amazing gardens that usually have an interesting owner in tow.

London Slant Spitalfields gardens

A seat shaded by ceanothus faces landscaped pools and cascading water.

Last weekend it was the turn of four gardens in Spitalfields attached to 17th-century silk weavers’ homes. The route between them started at Fournier Street, close to the home of besuited artists Gilbert and George, who are regularly seen striding about. Then came Brick Lane where the Bangladeshi community have put down roots. One minute I was inhaling the subtle scents of magnolia flowers, the next it was chicken vindaloo.

London Slant Spitalfields garden

A green oasis behind a Spitalfields house.

Each of the gardens had its own personality. One radiated echoes of the Alhambra, with a fountain at its centre and formal hedging. Another had been landscaped with deep pools and a waterfall splashing on stones in front of a basement room. A rustic arbour faced a state-of-the-art kitchen. How things have changed since it was a backyard where Huguenots took a break from their looms.

London Slant Spitalfields gardens

The Gherkin peers at the peonies.

Most impressive of all was the formal garden filled with blowsy peonies defiantly fluttering among clipped hedges and billiard-table grass. Despite being right at the heart of London it was so peaceful you imagined yourself at a country village rectory. But lest you forgot you were in the most dynamic city on earth, you only had to look up. There to remind you was The Gherkin, peeking over the ancient garden wall.

Southwood Lodge is open again on Sunday 2 June. Don’t miss it.


Ask someone to name their favourite food and I’ve discovered that they invariably “say cheese”. So I’m surprised that there are so few restaurants dedicated to the whiffy stuff. How many foods are suitable for starters, mains and dessert? Cheese hits up all three. Surely a shrine to this universally-loved treat can’t help but be a success.

And so we arrive at Androuet in Spitalfields market, where crystal chandeliers cast a glittering light on tall, silver mirrors that reflect towers of cheese. There’s everything from wizened Red Leicester to juicy Camembert and a considerable amount in between. All are arrayed in displays like museum pieces in a cabinet of curiosities. And indeed, some of them, like the crusty Reblochon, probably are.

Highlights of the menu range from fondue to tartiflette, both of which sound far more frivolous than the seriously substantial dishes that appeared on our table. With a Parmesan crisp here and a meltingly soft croquette there, by the time we came to the end there was no room for the one item that might be expected to conclude a meal – the classic cheese board.

So we spilled out into the Spitalfields night with a promise to return for a second bite.