Hidden London

Norton Folgate

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Tower Hamlets/City/Hackney

Now just a short section of the A10 linking Bishopsgate with Shoreditch High Street, Norton Folgate was formerly a well-known mercantile neighbourhood. As Mr Burgess says in Shaw’s play Candida, ‘I never met a man as didn’t know Nortn Folgit before.’ Until its merger with the parish of Spitalfields in 1911, Norton Folgate was an extra-parochial liberty, which meant that it was outside the influence of the church. The playwright Christopher Marlowe was living here in 1589. A century later Spital Square and its surrounding streets began to fill with fine homes for silk merchants and master weavers, while artisans and journeymen occupied the diverging alleys and courts. Norton Folgate’s residential population declined during the course of the nineteenth century as premises were converted to warehouses and businesses. When London’s administrative boundaries were redrawn in 1900 a small part of Norton Folgate was included in the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch but the majority went to Stepney. Most of Norton Folgate is now occupied by modern offices and more are likely to appear in the near future as the City spreads northwards into Shoreditch.

The City of London theatre, which specialised in ‘domestic and temperance melodrama’, opened on Norton Folgate in 1837 and closed in 1868. Puma Court, east of Spitalfields market, has almshouses ‘for the poor inhabitants of the Liberty of Norton Folgate,’ built in 1860 to replace those of 1728.

Dennis Severs’ house at 18 Folgate Street is an enchanting recreation of a Huguenot silk weaver’s family home. Its restricted public opening allows visitors to experience the sights, sounds and smells of domestic life in the eighteenth century (or thereabouts) in a way that no mass access museum can achieve.

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Dennis Severs' book on his house in Folgate Street

Postal district: E1
Recommended listening:

Madness: The Liberty of Norton Folgate

Brewer's London Phrase & Fable

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