Learning Zone Home > schooLMAte > Irish Community > Stories > The Spitalfield Riots, 1769
Learning Zone
London Metropolitan Archives The Archives of the City of London
Theatreland Look at London schooLMAte Archive Work Data Online Learning Zone Home
   Black and Asian Londoners  |   French Community  |   Irish Community  |   City Communities  |  Teachers' Notes
   Maps  |   Stories   |   Images  |   Documents   |   Timelines   |   Audio Gallery   |   Related Links
The Spitalfield Riots, 1769
<< Back

Spitalfields had been a centre of the silk-weaving industry since the early seventeenth century. Large numbers of Huguenot silk-weavers settled in the district. The Irish weavers came slightly later. By the middle of the 1730s there were many people from Ireland, or of Irish origins, working in the Spitalfields silk industry. Relations between the two communities were not always good. The Spitalfields Riots story unravels the history of this troubled time in London’s East End.

Author:
Gillian Spraggs


Rioters and Soldiers, c.1780.

Elma's TIP!
Find Out More…
Click on the pictures to see more evidence of the lives of the weavers. There are some useful questions you can try and answer at the end of this
section.


Dirty work in Spitalfields

On 6 December 1769, two men were hanged in Bethnal Green. One of them, John Doyle, had an Irish surname. The surname of the other, John Valline, was of French origin. Valline was one of many eighteenth-century Londoners who were of Huguenot descent.

A newspaper reporter recorded the words that John Doyle spoke to the crowd, as he stood on the hangman's ladder with the rope round his neck:

I John Doyle do hereby declare, as my last dying words in the presence of my
Almighty God, that I am as innocent of the fact I am now to die for as the child
unborn. Let my blood lie to that wicked man who has purchased it with gold, and
them notorious wretches who swore it falsely away.

Doyle's companion, Valline, also swore his innocence of the crime for which the two of them were hanged.


Violent incidents

Doyle and Valline were silk-weavers. They were convicted of the crime of 'silk-cutting': destroying the half-woven cloth on another weaver's looms.

That crime, and their execution, were only two of a series of violent incidents which disturbed the peace of Spitalfields and nearby Bethnal Green in the year 1769. These events left an ugly legacy. In the spring of 1771, a man was murdered because of them.

During the time these events were happening, many people in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green found themselves taking sides. Both sides believed that they were in the right, and that they were fighting for their survival. One side was supported by the government. The other side had a lot of support from ordinary workmen and their families.


The Huguenots and the Irish

Spitalfields had been a centre of the silk-weaving industry since the early seventeenth century. Towards the end of the century, at the time when the Huguenots arrived from France, large numbers of Huguenot silk-weavers settled in the district. During the 1760s, there were still many weavers in Spitalfields whose French surnames showed their Huguenot descent.

The Irish weavers came slightly later. However, we know that by the middle of the 1730s there were many people from Ireland, or of Irish origins, working in the Spitalfields silk industry.

Relations between the Irish silk-weavers on the one hand, and those of Huguenot or English descent on the other, were not always good. There were times when the Irish weavers were blamed for working for too little money and bringing down the rates of pay.


Illegal trade unions

However, the conflict of 1769 cut right through the middle of both communities, the Huguenots and the Irish. Doyle and his companion Valline were journeymen silk-weavers. Together with many other journeymen they were involved in a struggle to keep the rates that the master weavers paid for their work from falling below a reasonable level.

The journeymen were organised in unofficial, and highly illegal, trade unions. 'Silk-cutting', slashing up a weaver's work, was used as a punishment for weavers who accepted a lower rate of pay, or master weavers who refused to pay money into the funds that were collected to support union activities.


Rewards for giving evidence

Doyle and Valline were convicted of silk-cutting on the evidence of a couple of Irish weavers, Thomas and Mary Poor. The Poors also gave evidence in a later trial that led to the execution of William Horsford, also an Irishman.

During that trial, it emerged that Lewis Chauvet (pronounced Chauvette), a rich master weaver of Huguenot descent, had paid them a reward for this. Chauvet also paid a reward to another Irish weaver, Daniel Clarke, whose evidence led to the execution of a weaver called William Eastman.

Spitalfields Silks

<< Back
  Irish Community: Other things to see and do
 
Maps
Stories
Images
Documents
Timelines
Audio
Gallery
Related
Links
 Site Map    |   Disclaimer    |   Terms and Conditions    |   Privacy Policy    |    Credits