Inside 4 Princelet Street

It’s one of the most captivating (and photographed) facades in Spitalfields, but what lies behind 4 Princelet Street?

Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London

I got a chance to look inside this 18th century terraced house thanks to a free exhibition of Christo’s ‘Early Works’, hosted by the Gagosian Gallery in October 2023.

History of 4 Princelet Street

The story of 4 Princelet Street begins in the late 17th century.

Spitalfields, an area adjoining the North-east edge of the prosperous City of London, is gradually losing its rural character and scattered residential development is springing up.

Looking at the 1682 William Morgan map you can see the beginnings of housing in amongst clusters of fields. I’ve circled thew rough location of Princelet Street.

Image from layersoflondon.org – William Morgan 1682 Map

By the time you get to R Horwood’s 1799 map you can see what would become 4 Princelet Street (outlined in yellow).

Image from layersoflondon.org – R Horwood 1799 Map

4 Princelet Street was speculatively built as part of the Wood Michell estate, named after Charles Wood and Simon Michell. It’s an area which also included Fournier (formerly Church) Street and Wilkes (formerly Wood) Street, built between 1718-1728. 

Princelet was originally Princesse or Princes Street and numbers 4 and 2 were the last original houses built, completed 1723 by Samuel Worrall. Worrall worked on a number of houses in the Wood Michell estate including number 18 (in which he lived himself), 19 Princelet Street and 8-10 Fournier Street. 

The following year the first tenant moved in, Benjamin Truman who was working in the famous family brewery based at Brick Lane.

Image Credit – Tate – Sir Benjamin Truman c.1770-4 Thomas Gainsborough 1727-1788

Business was booming and by 1737 he was supplying beer to Frederick, Prince of Wales (eldest son of King George II) then in 1761 Benjamin Truman received a knighthood from King George III.

From the street outside the crumbling and faded pink stucco always catches the attention of passersby. This was a later addition to the house c.1820s.

Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London

“When completed in the mid 1720s, Princelet Street with its tall houses of regular design and relatively large gardens was one of the best streets in Spitalfields”

Dan Cruikshanks, Spitalfields

Certainly the 15-room house has glimpses of both grandeur and despair. Etched into the walls are the stories of the individuals who’ve lived here and whose experiences reflect a full circle of the human experience on one London street. 

Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London

Truman was an ideal first owner for an up-and-coming district for working Londoners and ambitious immigrants. He died in 1780 and the property he left was about to witness huge changes.

Attic spaces were added to provide a space for journeyman weavers or apprentices to work on looms.

Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London
Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London
Long houses, attic additional storeys, are easily visible along Princelet

One weaver who lived here (and sensibly took out fire insurance in 1791) was named Joseph Vaux.

I don’t know if it’s the same person commemorated in this memorial in Christ Church Spitalfields, but Hawksmoor’s magnificent church (1714-1723) can be seen from the back windows of the house.

Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London

The galloping growth of London’s population and shrinking of the silk trade meant that properties in Spitalfields were being subdivided to house multiple families.

A rear extension was also added to the house in the 1800s, a glass skylight aiding the toiling weavers who had already maxed out the space in the loft in the search for natural light in which to work.

Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London

By the end of the 1800s the Charles Booth poverty maps show that the No.2 and west end were still classed as “fairly comfortable, good honest earnings” while the east end of the street were daubed a harsh black which meant “lowest class, viscous and semi criminal”.

Image from layersoflondon.org – Charles Booth Poverty Maps 1890s-1903

In the 19th century the residents reflect the arrival of Eastern European Jewish refugees who swept through Spitalfields like the Polish bootmaker,  Solomon Franklin and his wife Goulder who were living there in 1881. 

Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London

In the early 1900s it was home to Samuel and Selina Myers and their 10 children. Samuel was also Polish and worked as a tailor.

Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London

By the 1930s two other Jewish brother were living in the house but only using two rooms. At least that’s what is described by Robert Shackleton who bought the run down No.4 in 1986, a move he calls both “reckless and fortuitous”. 

Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London

It was his home and a successful event and filming location until 2017 when he moved a few doors down to No.12.

Incidentally No.12 now on the market for £4million if you’re interested! 

Inside 4 Princelet Street | Look Up London

Today 4 Princelet Street is available for events, photo shoots and filming and is managed (in a funny turn of events) by Truman Brewery. Though no longer an actual brewery, the events management company is based on the site of Benjamin’s business back in the 18th century. 


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5 Comments

  • theoldbuilding

    Reply

    Fantastic photos Katie. These few streets are some of the best in London and so atmospheric. I love the brick. Can see why its used for filming now

    October 18, 2023 at 12:05 pm
  • Jane Burnett

    Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this! My great-great-great-grandfather, David Hunter, was a silk weaver in Spitalfields. He lived on the other side of the church in Flower and Dean Street in the late 18th and early 19th century. I know little about him so every bit of history of the area is helpful!
    This house that you have featured is stunning, even in its less than pristine condition, and the view of Christ Church from an upper room is beautiful.

    October 18, 2023 at 12:52 pm
  • Josette Gerlier

    Reply

    very informative article, maps.. Visiting the Christo exhibition was awesome ; the art work combined with this extraordinary house, a unique experience.

    October 25, 2023 at 12:54 pm

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