Friday, 30 September 2011

French Protestant Church, Soho Square W1

The French Protestant Church in London was founded in 1550 when the child-king Edward VI, guided by Lord Protector Somerset, issued a charter establishing a strangers' church at the former Augustinian monastery in Austin Friars, in the City. The aim was to attract Protestant theologians and scholars experiencing persecution on the Continent.
Unfortunately, the congregation of all nations soon experienced the usual language difficulties and the Francophone faction decamped to Threadneedle Street.
The church was hugely boosted by the arrival in England of an estimated 50,000 Huguenots, exiled after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. They brought with them many hugely valuable skills and the word refugee.
After a peripatetic period in Victorian times they built the current church in 1893 to the designs of Sir Aston Webb. Soho was chosen partly because of its strong expatriate French population (the House of Barnabas on the other corner of Soho Square was immortalised by Dickens as the house of Dr Manette in Tale of Two Cities).
To celebrate the quadricentennial of the charter in 1950, the tympanum of the entrance door was filled with a delightful carving by John Prangnell.
A boatload of Huguenots is shown docking at Dover, the helmsman waving and cheering at their successful escape from religious tyranny. Not all are happy, however - a pair of faces looks gloomily out of the cabin window, as if they have been horribly ill for the entire voyage.
The escaping Protestants face one more trial on their journey to religious freedom - that gangplank looks very precarious. A woman in clogs carries a spinning wheel, indicating the silk production that was a Huguenot speciality.
Inside Dover Castle, a pair of Huguenot leaders in 17th century dress are met by Edward VI in Tudor garb, signing his charter. It is a shameless mess of anachronisms.

1 comment:

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