The English

English Factory
Photo:  AHMPCC BY-NC-SA - Some Rights Reserved

First contacts

In 16 June 1147, the English crusaders heading to the Holy Land had to wait eleven days in Porto for the forces led by the Count of Areschot and by Christian de Gistel, which had been separated from the fleet during a storm. Having heard of the fleet’s passage by Porto, King Afonso Henriques tried to reach an agreement with its leaders, persuading them to help him release Lisbon from the Moors.

Trade in the Middle Ages

Since the Middle Ages Porto established important commercial relations with England and soon there was an English community in the city.  With the purpose of making the trade easier and of protecting the exchanges between both countries, many friendship treaties were signed. The Portuguese merchants Gomes Limpo and Afonso Martins Alho went to the court of Edward III in 1352 bearing a letter from the Portuguese monarch in which he demanded the same rights and privileges given to the English merchants in Portugal for the Portuguese merchants in England. The two countries exchanged mainly textiles, wine, wood, fur and fish.

Royal wedding

On 1 November 1366, D. João I met at Ponte do Mouro with the Duke of Lancaster. There they signed an alliance and friendship treaty. The Duke would benefit from military support against the King of Castile and the Portuguese monarch would marry the Duke’s oldest daughter, D. Phillipa of Lancaster. Still according to the treaty, the Duke would grant his daughter a part of the Kingdom of Castile, which would be incorporated in Portugal.The wedding took place in 2 February of the following year at the Porto Cathedral.

The English influence felt in the court was further reinforced by the queen’s action and by that of her suite. In a strongly patriarchal society, D. Phillipa seems to have had quite an influence in the political life. Her correspondence with England, interceding in favour of her proteges, and the role she played in the wedding of D. Beatriz with the Count of Arundel contributed to the reinforcement of the alliance between Portugal and England.

Henry, grandson of the Duke of Lancaster

On 4 March 1394 Henry, the Navigator, third son of D. João I and of D. Phillipa of Lancaster and grandson of John of Gaunt, was born in Porto. The education received during his youth was strongly influenced by his parents: the mother contributed to a strong religious and moral upbringing, while the father gave him the taste for an active life. He enjoyed horse racing, hunting exercises and horse tournaments. These two views of life would stimulate him for the project of the Discoveries, which would change the History of Mankind.


In 1432, the Porto City Council granted a scholarship of 300 pounds to the Black Friar Pedro, master in Philosophy and friar at the Monastery of S. Domingos, so that he could pursue his studies in Oxford. This happened while the English suite of D. Phillipa of Lancaster was still in the city.

The first consul and the first chaplain

In 1642, two years after the restoration of independence in Portugal, Nicholas Comerforde, the first English consul, arrived in Porto. This shows the strengthening of the political an economical relationship with the English crown. The arrival, in 1671, of the first Protestant priest, John Brawlerd, sent by the bishop of London, shows the growth of the English community in Porto.

London as a port of destination

Documents about the arrival of boats in Douro, in the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, indicate the port of London as the main destination in northern Europe.

The Methuen Treaty

In 1703 the Methuen Treaty was signed in Lisbon. This was a commercial treaty between Portugal and England which established that English textiles would be accepted in Portugal and that the Portuguese wines would be preferred in England, by paying only two thirds of the rates settled with the French.

An architect consul

In 1756, John Whitehead became the first Consul in Porto. He was nominated by the Factory and remained in the seat for fifty years. Documents from that time mention the prestige he had in Porto: the English admired him and the Portuguese respected his knowledge. In 1785 Whitehead lived at Rua de São Francisco, in Porto. The Factory House, a neopalladian project, planned by the consul, started to be built in 1785 and was finished in 1790. The consul was also responsible for the rearrangement of Praça da Ribeira. His was the idea of creating an arcade that would close the western, southern and eastern sides of the square.  He also ordered the construction, in 1787, of the first Protestant cemetery in Porto and the invention of a water measuring system that was adopted by the local authorities in Porto and Lisbon.

The Santo António Hospital

Built between 1770-1825, in an English neopalladian style, following a project by the architect John Carr, the building was first intended to have the shape of a quadrilateral. The main façade has five bodies in different plans. The first floor has full arched windows and doors. The central body, prominent in relation to the others, has an open gallery, with six Doric columns and a pediment. The second floor, recoiled in relation to the intermediate bodies, has windows with triangular frontons, except for the corners, which have segmented arches. The third floor forms a “mezzanine.”

Port Wine

In the seventeenth century there was a commercial expansion of Port Wine mainly due to the growth of the English importation. The high taxes on the Bordeaux wines exported to England led to an embargo by King Charles II on such wines. Forced to seek new suppliers, the Plymouth, Bristol and London merchants found the Douro Valley wines and installed their commercial agencies in Porto. This was possible, due to the Methuen Treaty, which established special rates for Port wine. At that time the adding of brandy to the Douro wines is frequent. Initially the Douro wine was dry and full-bodied, sweet-smelling and with a high natural alcohol degree. Brandy was added to help the wine endure the long sea trips. However, by interrupting the natural fermentation, the wine lost some of its acidity and retained some of the must sugar, acquiring further delicacy and intensifying the scent. Port wine was thus born. In 1757 the Marquis de Pombal demarcates the Douro Valley vineyards, creating and regulating the first Demarcated Wine Region in the whole world.

Businessman and Artist

José James Forrester was born in Scotland in 27 May 1809 and settled in Porto in 1831. He dedicated himself to the commercial career and became one of the main Port wine merchants. He was the most important Scottish merchant to the Douro region. He invested large sums in the region where he developed an intense activity. He was also responsible for the survey that originated the first Map of the Douro River. King D. Fernando II, in 1855, gave him the title of baron. He died in 12 May 1861, following a shipwreck in the Douro. The body was never found. The following are among his many published works: "Uma ou Duas Palavras sobre o Vinho do Porto" (on or two words on Port Wine, "Uma Palavra de Verdade sobre o Vinho do Porto" (a word of truth about Port Wine), "Memória sobre o Curativo da Moléstia nas Videiras" (solution for disease in vineyards), etc.

The French Invasions

In 1809, during the French invasions, the city was permanently occupied by the troops of Marshal Soult. An army, mainly English and led by Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington), marched on Porto causing the flight of the French and liberating the city from the invader.

The Porto Siege

One of the most heroic episodes of the History of Porto was the resistance of the inhabitants to the siege of the absolutist troops, which took place in 1832 and 1833. The Portuguese liberal cause earned the attention of London and the English aid became essential then. English vessels and troops, led by Admiral Napier, contributed to the liberation of the city. A direct participant in the fights, Colonel Owen, related this event and a vast iconography still remains due to the English interest.

The Rua Nova dos Ingleses (New Street of the English)

The Rua Nova dos Ingleses always had an important role in the life of the Port wine merchants. In the eihteenth and nineteenth-century it was the centre of one of the most important residential and commercial areas and it was there that many English companies had their offices. The English Factory is located at one of its extremities. The Factory had a great importance as a Chamber of Commerce and today works as a private club of Port wine exporters. In 1883 the street was named Rua do Infante D. Henrique.

The first photographer

Frederick William Flower was born in Leith, Scotland, in 1815. At the age of 19 he left England and settled in Porto where he worked at the Port wine company Smith Woodhouse & Company. In 1849 he married Mary Mason and started to be interested in photography. He travelled often between both countries and fell hill in 1874, leaving then for England with his wife and younger daughter. His three other children remain in Porto. At that time they used to spend summer in Lavadores, at the house that today lodges the “Casa Branca” restaurant. He returned from England and died in Porto in 1889. Flowers is considered the photography pioneer in Portugal. He was the first to use the Fox Talbot process, named “calótipo” in Portugal and whose original term - “Kalos” - means “beautiful.” He is the author of the oldest photographs of the country, highlighting Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. The National Photography Archive of Porto holds his collection.

The Avenue’s City Planner

The importance of the city as a financial centre is clear, since the 1890s, through the multiplication of banking societies and insurance companies that settle in the centre of the city.
The first city council, elected in the new republican regime, tried to enhance the activity developed by the local administration. One of its decisions was the urban alteration of the centre of the city, and the project was given to the British architect Barry Parker in 1915. He presents a proposal for a civic centre, structured in three areas: Praça da Liberdade, Av. dos Aliados and Praça do Município, framed by the new City Hall. The Parker project would be changed regarding the constructions planned for the Avenue, by the architect Marques da Silva. Individual architectonic values replace the group ordering that had been proposed and a French and Flemish style of architecture prevails. The changes also happen in the original layout of the Avenue. From a business and leisure centre (Barry Parker’s original idea), it becomes a connection point between the historic centre and the new areas of the city.

Published 13-09-2013
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