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19 Princelet Street is a 17th-century Huguenot silk weaver's home in London's East End, dedicated to illuminating Britain's complex immigration-to-integration process from 1700 to present day. Exhibitions on three floors explore the trials and tribulations of the refugee life.
There are all-too-rare public openings in May, June and September during the fund-raising period, which aims to ensure this international historic site of conscience's very survival. However, visits at any time of the year may be arranged for groups. Be warned: demand is high, so book well ahead.
Since 1700, Spitalfields has been a place of sanctuary to French Huguenots fleeing persecution for their Protestant faith, Irish fleeing the potato famine, Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, Bengalis and Somalis fleeing floods and famine. Why did they leave their homes? What did they take? What did they find when they got here?
The ground and basement are occupied by an exhibition called Suitcases and Sanctuary. Search in suitcases displayed around the building for the dreams and hopes of the generations of refugees who came to this area.
Children from six local primary schools worked with artists, poets and actors in this exciting collaboration and used their imagination to create this powerful exhibition of images, poetry, prose, film ... and even potatoes!
The fragile first floor, part of which is the gallery of the former synagogue, is occupied by Leave to Remain, a wry, moving and heartfelt look at the experience of asylum seekers and attitudes to them in the present day. The featured artists are Margareta Kern, Suzana Tamamovic (both originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Gonkar Gyatso (a Tibetan who is Artist in Residence at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford).
The building has a multi-ethnic board including Huguenots, Jews and Muslims, working together to create a genuinely innovative celebration of immigration and diversity.
"One of the most remarkable places in London" (Michael Palin).
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