In Somers Town a French Protestant ended up building a whole urban village to accommodate those very Catholics who had pursued the sorry asses of his ilk a century before

Somers Town’s existence has endured two hundred and fifty years and was initially linked to the political and religious upheavals taking place in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the late seventeenth century whilst Somers Town was pastoral land used for dog fighting and bull baiting, in France, Catholic King Louis XIV outlawed the practice of Protestantism. French Protestants fled from France in fear of prosecution. The ‘Huguenots’ as the Protestants were nicknamed by their Catholic pursuers arrived in London in large numbers, between fifty and eighty thousand, settling in Soho and Spitalfields.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, by which time the Huguenots had become part of the fabric of London, the authorities in London decided to build a New Road for north London to ease congestion and to aid urbanisation. The New Road, today known as Euston Road, was to be an outer ring road running south of the pastoral land that would come to be known as Somers Town. The advent of the New Road spurred local aristocrat Lord Somers to initiate a building programme. His land was leased to French Huguenot developer Jacob Leroux. Leroux’s developments included a sixteen-sided residential building called the Polygon, which consisted of thirty-two houses and, which in the nineteenth century would become home to Charles Dickens and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Leroux’s housing development was finished, but it did not prove attractive to the rich, as had been intended, and was subsequently sold off at cheap prices. As it happened, the selling-off coincided with a revolution in French political life and the beginning of the Reign of Terror; an attempt to purge all opposition to the newly instated principles of republicanism and democracy. This time it was the Roman Catholic clergy, those who had a role to play in the pursuance of the Huguenots some years before, who were chased out. Many Catholics ended up on the shores of England and in London, and given the low rents, Somers Town. So, through a coming together of political revolutions, building developments and a crash in the housing market, a French Protestant ended up building a whole urban village to accommodate those very Catholics who had pursued the sorry asses of his ilk a century before.

Part of the legacy of the French Catholics in Somers town is frequent reference of place names to Saint Aloysius a sixteenth century Italian saint. The saint’s name was and still is used for a church, several schools and a social club.


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