Huguenot Heritage Museum Rochester

Jan Leeming

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Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

HUGUENOT HERITAGE MUSEUM - ROCHESTER

Date: 15th April 2015

HUGUENOT HERITAGE MUSEUM - ROCHESTER

Yesterday I had a sneak preview of this superb Museum which will have a ‘soft opening’ in May with the official opening on July 13th. I went to record a small piece about my involvement with the Huguenots and was given a look around.

The whole exhibition has been mounted in stunning fashion and it is lovely to see the Huguenot ‘treasures’ properly displayed and being used to relate the Huguenot story. In some respects the Huguenots were the first big wave of immigrants to this country. They were of Calvinist/Lutheran persuasion and wishing to worship in a more simplified form and pull away from the corruption and panoply of the Catholic Church. Over a long period some 200,000 Huguenots left their homeland of France and came to England, Ireland, elsewhere in Europe, America, Canada and South Africa.

We received some 50,000 and when you consider how relatively small was the population number in the 16th Century onwards, it is said that 1 in 6 of us have Huguenot blood. My grandmother was of French descent and her line has been traced back to 1562 and indeed further but I won’t go into that at the moment. There was a Petit who became Governor of La Providence and I suppose somewhere along the line we must be related.

The French were much more advanced than we were in so many fields of Art, Science, and the Military. France’s loss was definitely our gain and, we in this country, owe a great deal to those first ‘refugees’. At the height of the immigration there were around 25 Huguenot Churches in London - today there’s only one in Soho Square and as far as I know only one practising Huguenot Pasteur whom we had the pleasure of welcoming last Sunday to the Huguenot Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral.

Just en passant, the Huguenots brought great weaving skills to this country - both woollen and silk, they were good at banking, one of their foremost silversmiths was Paul de Lamerie - an acknowledged master whose work is exhibited in the V & A.

Henry Vlll’s only son Edward Vl was the first to allow Freedom of Religious worship and the Huguenots began to arrive in small numbers initially. Centuries later when Louis 1V revoked the Edict of Nantes and persecution began anew the Huguenots came here in droves. In fact Louis depleted his own army as over 600 military officers left France and came to England as well as thousands of ‘foot soldiers’. Over the centuries France’s loss was our gain.


The treasures comprise artefacts such as a Bible which had been baked in a loaf of bread to hide it from the persecutors. There are tiny ‘finger lamps’ which lit the way and could be blown out and placed up a sleeve at the approach of the Dragonaards. There are numerous portraits of prominent Huguenots and those whose beneficence was duly recognised. In fact, as far as we know, it was the Huguenots who set up the very first Charitable Institution to help their brothers and sisters in times of need. That Alms House was called La Providence and there have been three since their commencement with the latest being La Providence just off the High Street in Rochester.

There is a new station being built at Rochester and it is right behind the Huguenot Heritage Museum so they are in an ideal place to attract the attention of Visitors.

I was  shown the Strong Room where the Archives will be kept and was even allowed to use the ‘wheel’ which opens up the storage - similar to that in places like the British library etc.

I am full of admiration for what Hannah Kay and her team have done since last September. The Museum is housed on the floors above the Tourist Information Centre in the High Street at Rochester. It would make for a superb day out - Visit the Huguenot Heritage Museum and then trot across the road to Rochester Cathedral and Rochester Castle. 

HUGUENOT HERITAGE MUSEUM - ROCHESTER

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