A tenterground or tenter ground was an area used for drying newly manufactured cloth after fulling. The wet cloth was hooked onto frames called tenters and stretched taut so that the cloth would dry flat and square.
It is from this process that we have the expression “on tenterhooks”, meaning in a state of nervous tension.
Tenterground in Spitalfields
The Spitalfields Tenterground was established in the 17th century by Flemish weavers, who were Huguenot refugees fleeing religious persecution. Their weaving industry led to the area becoming a centre of the garment industry (the rag trade as it became known colloquially), with names such as Fashion Street and Petticoat Lane still extant.
It was originally an area of open ground about 150 yards square, surrounded by the weavers’ houses and workshops in White’s Row, Wentworth Street, Bell Lane and Rose Lane (the last of which no longer exists).
By the 19th century, the Flemish weavers had dispersed and in 1829, the Tenterground was developed for housing. From about 1850, it was populated by Dutch Jews (see Chuts), to be joined later by Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in eastern Europe (see pogroms).
During the early part of the 20th century, the Tenterground was largely demolished for redevelopment, but some old buildings remain in and around the area, including Flemish weavers’ houses and an early Dutch synagogue which was formerly a Huguenot chapel. Another former Huguenot chapel is now a mosque.
- Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster, and Borough of Southwark, John Rocque, 1746
- Ordnance Survey, London Sheet XXXVI, 1878