Norton Folgate

Norton Folgate, 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

Hidden London: Welcome to the Liberty of Norton Folgate by Dees Chinniah

Norton Folgate was once so familiar to most Londoners that Mr Burgess could say, in GB 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.

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.

Norton Folgate’s resid­ential population declined during the course of the 19th 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.

Hidden London: Norton Folgate, Blossom Street scheme, CGI by British Land

Most of Norton Folgate is now occupied by modern offices and more will appear in the near future as the City spreads north­wards into Shoreditch. In particular, British Land is redevel­oping the quarter known as the Shoreditch estate following Boris Johnson’s favourable inter­vention when he was mayor of London. Johnson’s decision was upheld in the High Court in May 2016. Blossom Street, as that devel­opment is now called, involves the construction of several new buildings and the restor­ation of some existing ones, such as the group shown on the left in the CGI above, viewed from the corner of Norton Folgate and Worship Street.

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 18th century (or there­abouts) in a way that no mass access museum can achieve.

Postal district: E1
Recommended listening: Madness, The Liberty Of Norton Folgate, Lucky 7 Records, 2009
The picture entitled Welcome to the Liberty of Norton Folgate at the top of this page is reformatted from an original photograph, copyright Dees Chinniah, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution-No Derivatives licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.