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

Dennis Severs's book on his house in Folgate Street

Dennis Severs’ book on his house in Folgate Street

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.

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.

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

 

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