Stay at 5 Fournier Street

Posted on January 4, 2014


I have been planning for some time to have a short stay in London’s East End to accelerate the process of photographing my chosen locations at unsocial hours (very early in the morning and late at night!). Next week my wife and I are very lucky to be staying at the ‘Townhouse’ which is a Georgian house right in the heart of Spitalfields.

Courtesy of the Townhouse and photographer Jeremy Freedman

Courtesy of the Townhouse and photographer Jeremy Freedman

The website for the place is here. The house is situated on Fournier Street and sits opposite the Hawksmoor church Christs Church Spitalfields.

Fournier Street was the last to be built on the Wood-Michell estate in Spitalfields. The estate was developed in the early eighteenth century to meet the needs of a significant community of wealthy French Huguenots, many of whom were silk-weavers originating from Nantes, Lyons and other cities. Thus, although initially intended as domestic dwellings, many were immediately occupied by the silk industry. The top floor lofts were designed to provide a light airy space for the weavers and their looms.

Weavers lived in 5 Fournier Street (formerly known as 30 Church Street) until about 1820, when two doctors, a father and son, moved in. They lived there until the 1870’s and built what is now the rear gallery as their surgery.  A succession of families and businesses followed.

In 1881 Albert British a 29-year-old Bohemian carpenter, his wife Fanny and their two sons Carl and Rudolph occupied the house. Living with them was Albert’s younger brother Carl who was also a carpenter.

By 1891 Abraham Miller a Furrier and Skin Merchant had moved in along with his wife Rebecca and their seven London born children. Abraham came to London from Lithuania in 1865 and conducted his business from the attic workshop. (When 5 Fournier St was renovated, the gaps between the floorboards were found to be crammed with clippings of fur). The Millers were still living there with five of the children in 1901, two of which now worked in the family business.  Abraham’s grandson is Jonathan Miller, the comedian, polymath and celebrated intellectual.

During the early part of the twentieth century the building gradually fell into disrepair eventually being used as a storage warehouse for the vegetable market, until at the end of the Second World War when it became the Market Café. Gilbert and George breakfasted there for many years and claimed that  “It was like Rules, only much better and cheaper.”

In 2000 its present owner Fiona Atkins acquired it. Fiona runs her antique shop from the ground floor and rents the upper part of the house out for short stays.

My plan for the four days/nights we are there is simple. I will shoot in the very early morning and early evenings. The rest of the time my wife Glynne and I will enjoy a stay in London. The list of locations I plan to visit is set out below:

Morning Shoots

  1. Corner of Brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road
  2. Oldest Restaurant on Brick Lane
  3. Wentworth Street
  4. Fieldgate Street
  5. Jamme Masjid Mosque
  6. 13 Princelet Street Steps

Evening/Night Shoots

  1. Wentworth Street
  2. Altab Ali Park (Eventing)
  3. Hanbury Street
  4. Corner of Princelet and Wilkes Street
  5. Rag Factory
  6. Narrow Street (Night time)
  7. St Katherine’s Dock Wharf (Night time)

Daytime Shoots 

  1. Inside 5 Fournier Street

I have been thinking about my likely set of photographs for Assignment Two. At the moment it is shaping up as follows:

  1. Regents Canal
  2. Cable  Street
  3. Leman Street
  4. Wentworth Street
  5. Hanbury Street
  6. Corner Brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road
  7. 13 Princelet Street
  8. Corner of Princelet Street and Wilkes Street
  9. Inside 5 Fournier Street
  10. Oldest Restaurant on Brick Lane
  11. Strangers House
  12. Pennyfields
  13. Altab Ali Park
  14. Rag Factory
  15. Fieldgate Street

This will require some further trips to London, probably early morning by car, but the stay in London should kickstart my progress, especially since I am very clear on the locations and times for the shoots.