History and Connections
Of the Family Of
The descendants of John Pilon of Canterbury (1714-1783)
E. Ronald Pillow
The French Protestant Church at Canterbury
The following facts are derived mainly from the History of the Church compiled by F.W. Cross (Vol.XV of the Publications of the Huguenot Society of London, 1898).
A group of refugee French-speaking Protestants first established a congregation at Canterbury in 1548, and obtained a Charter from King Edward VI in 1550. During the reign of Mary Tudor, however, they were persecuted and scattered, some suffering martyrdom at the stake. After the accession of Elizabeth I a great many Walloon refugees came to London, and were systematically dispersed to other towns (as with recent waves of refugees). A large number were settled at Sandwich, and later moved to Canterbury, setting up business with their own trade as weavers in wool and silk, together with Huguenots who were escaping from persecution in France.
The two groups united to re-form a French Protestant congregation, and in 1576 they were granted the use of the western crypt of the Cathedral for their worship, the congregation then numbering two to three thousand.
The Huguenots who remained in France were eventually granted toleration by the Edict of Nantes in 1598, but this Edict was revoked in 1685 by Louis XIV, leading to renewed persecution which brought a fresh wave of refugees to Canterbury and to other towns, and added to the membership of the French Protestant Church. Their distinctive trade was now silk-weaving, but during the eighteenth century this was undermined by foreign competition and eventually disappeared. (The silk-weavers’ houses beside the River Stour are still regarded as one of the “sights” of Canterbury).
As mentioned earlier, Pilons (or Pillons) are mentioned frequently in the registers of the Church from 1594 until at least 1741. The list of elders and deacons includes Nicholas Pillon (1700), Daniel Pillon (1718), Guillaume Pillon (1725) and Nicholas Pillon (1738), and Daniel and Nicholas Pilon were trustees of the Church in 1767. Edward Pillow of Harbledown (1827-1909) also became an elder of the Church in 1875. (There were also Pilons associated with the French Church at Spitalfields in London, another centre of silk-weaving).
For the last 150 years the Church has used only a section of the Cathedral crypt, but services in French are still held there on Sunday afternoons.