October 1685 saw the start of a mass emigration which resulted in some 50,000 French Protestants arriving in London, a number comparable to 650,000 foreigners arriving in England today.
On Monday, representatives of London's Huguenot community and representatives of other faiths, commemorated over 400 years of Huguenot heritage with the presentation of a mulberry tree, an historic reminder of the tree and its association with the Huguenots' silk industry, which they brought to Spitalfields and other parts of the country. Today one in six of this country's population can trace an ancestor amongst these early refugees whose skills transformed this country.
On 18th October 1685 Louis XlV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had allowed Protestants to practise their faith in peace. Many chose to leave their country (despite this being forbidden) rather than their religion and embarked on truly terrifying and courageous escapes, defying the threat of imprisonment, torture and death.
To highlight this date, patron of the Huguenots of Spitalfields, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd & Rt Hon Richard Chartres, presented a mulberry tree to the Spitalfields community in the garden of Christ Church, Spitalfields, where many Huguenots were baptised, married and buried.
The tree was donated by The Conservation Foundation's Morus Londinium project which is currently recording and researching London's mulberry trees with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is the first of 100 "King James I" mulberry saplings, propagated from a tree that once stood in Chelsea Physic Garden, which will be distributed to London schools, groups and heritage sites as part of the project. To receive a free mulberry sapling visit www.moruslondinium.org/saplings
Also taking part in the commemoration was Charlie de Wet, chair of the Hugeunots of Spitalfields and Revd Andy Rider, Rector of Christ Church.
"As we have heard in the news today we are now going receive some unaccompanied child refugees and of course it was the Huguenots who gave refugee to the English language. 300 years ago 50,000 Huguenots arrived here around the time of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which if you look at the proportion of the population is equivalent to the arrival of 650,000 refugees today. Such an influx caused debate, but almost instantly Huguenots began to make an enormous contribution to society and to the economy.
"This mulberry tree we are presenting to Rev Rider for today's Huguenot community to be planted when this whole garden is redesigned around it - is a symbol of that great benefit to the economy because it was the essential nourishment of the silkworm and we are surrounded by the vestiges of Huguenots who worked in the silk industry. The mulberry is a very symbolic tree. We understand this one is probably derived from a tree planted in the Chelsea Physic Garden in the reign of James 1. It's an historic tree and I'm grateful again for the partnership with The Conservation Foundation who have all sorts of programmes of taking very significant trees and creating inspiring projects around them.
"This young tree does look a most healthy specimen and it is with enormous pleasure and remembering the work of so many of so many colleagues and allies and also, most importantly, the arrival of these young refugees today, I am delighted to present mulberry as part of the Morus Londinium campaign, which I hope will remind Spitalfields and its Huguenot community of its amazing heritage."