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Walloon clockmakers in London

Transfer of knowledge

Dutch financiers invested considerable capital in England and the Dutch played a leading part in the development of London as a financial centre. John Houblon, a Walloon, was first governor of the Bank of England founded in 1649.

The Dutch wielded significant influence in London from the 15th to the 17th centuries. Many of the city’s medieval craftworkers were from Belgium. When England became a Protestant country under Henry VIII, religious refugees arrived from the Spanish Netherlands. The Flemish developed the weaving, brewing and ceramics industries. 17th century Dutch artists painted famous views of London, while Prince William of Orange in Holland became King of England.

The most numerous overseas immigrants in medieval London were craftworkers from the Low Countries. Flemish weavers were encouraged to settle from the 14th century by Edward III to help develop the weaving industry. Weavers Lane in Southwark gained its name from these residents. Later, Flemish silk weavers practised in Cripplegate. Tax records from 1440 show the largest group of 'aliens’ were 'Doche', a term which included people from modern day the Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. After Henry VIII broke off relations with the Catholic Church in 1534, England became a haven for Protestants being persecuted throughout Europe. Flemish and Walloon refugees from the Spanish Netherlands flocked to east London during the last 30 years of the 16th century. The Dutch Church still occupies the same site in Austin Friars in the City that was granted to the community in 1550. The 16th century saw the Dutch in East Anglia developing ‘New Draperies’, a light soft cloth which outdid heavy English woollen textiles. Meanwhile the Dutch in London dyed and finished this cloth. Cornelis Drebbel discovered how to create a brilliant scarlet dye and set up a dye-works at Bow. The London brewing industry was more or less run by the Dutch, whose word ‘brewery’ (brouwerij) replaced the English term ‘brewhouse’. Potters Field indicates the place where Dutch potters brought new ceramics technology to Southwark.

Dutch engravers and mapmakers monopolised the production of high quality views of London. They also made important contributions to goldsmithing, the leather trades, clock-making, printing, spectacle-making, tailoring and brickmaking. Not able to join city guilds at the highest levels, the immigrants set up their own businesses in the suburbs. Women earned their living by doing laundry, spinning and in domestic service. Dutch influences on English art and design were strong during the reign of Charles II, who spent part of his life exiled in Holland. Dutch craftsmen seeking refuge in England at the end of the 17th century brought with them the furniture-making techniques of veneering, marquetry and japanning. The painters Van Dyck and Lely were the most famous of the many Dutch artists resident in London. Prince William of Orange in Holland married Mary, daughter of James II of England. In 1688 William ousted James to become King of England, chosen partly for his Protestant faith. This brought about a military alliance between England and the Ducth Republic against other Continental powers.


De Beefe

Gille De Beefe


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