Inside 4 Princelet Street
It’s one of the most captivating (and photographed) facades in Spitalfields, but what lies behind 4 Princelet Street?
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.
(It’s open until 22 October 2023 if you’d also like to visit for yourself!)
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.
By the time you get to R Horwood’s 1799 map you can see what would become 4 Princelet Street (outlined in yellow).
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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”.
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!
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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