Leeuwenhoek's neighborhood: Oosteinde

Antony was born and raised to age 8 on the gracht called Oosteinde ("east end"). In 1928, the house (below; click to enlarge) was replaced by the school building that is there now. The house was next to the Leeuwenpoort (Lion's Gate), also long gone, the gate that Antony's father's generation began using as a family name (see Did You Know? below right). In the far right of the photo below, the gate had become what looks like a shed with a slanted roof.

The detail from the Wandkaart of Delft (right sidebar; click to enlarge) shows not only the neighborhood where Leeuwenhoek grew up. It also shows the property across the singel -- A0985 - A0991 now on Dr. Schaepmanstraat. Grandfather Thonis Philips is the first recorded owner of those properties in the notary archives. On the Wandkaart, it's the long rectangle in the center. The end closest to the singel has a gate that has a little house attached to it and another little house just to the left of it.

Did you know?

What is the Leeuwenpoort?

contributed by J. H. Geertzenwijk

François Spiering was a weaver of tapestry, originally from Antwerp. In 1593, he got use of part of the confiscated Agnes Convent to start an atelier. The convent was situated near the Oostpoort, between the Bastiaanvest and the Zusterlaan. On the grounds of the convent, Spiering constructed small houses for the labourers employed by his atelier. One of the alleys still exists, the Spieringstraat.

Around the same time, a plan was developed for the other site of the Oosteinde, an initiative of charity, to build a hofje (small court) surrounded by houses for elderly women in need of support. This hofje still exists, the Klauwshofje.

Next to the Klaushofje Arent Dircxz Hoendervanger, a bricklayer, made an alley with small houses on both sides. Where the alley began at the Oosteinde, he built a gate (poort).

Thonis Phillipsz., Leeuwenhoek’s grandfather, owned the house on the Oosteinde, called Het Bijltje (the little ax). The northern side of his house bordered the entrance-alley to the Klauwshofje, named the Klauwepoort. Behind Het Bijltje stood a little house with the entrance in the Klauwepoort. That was some time afterwards bought by a son of Thonis, Phillips Thonisz. The northern row of houses built by Arent was constructed behind Het Bijltje and the little house annex.

In later time Thonis bought two houses in the row behind his house, inherited after the death of Thonis by his son, Leeuwenhoek's uncle Huijch Thonisz.

As shown on the key below left (click on thumbnails for larger images), which is at the bottom right of the huge Wandkaart, Number 33 is labeled Klaeuw Hofje and Number 34 is Leeuwe Poort. The Klaeuw Hofje is the group of a dozen houses around the garden with two trees that the white hand is pointing toward. It provided residences for unmarried and windows Catholic women, and is still standing.

Leeuwe Poort, number 34, was an alley between Oosteinde and Oranje Plantage along the singel. I don't know why it was called Leeuwe (lion), the heraldic symbol for both Delft and the Republic. The word poort indicates that it had a gate at one time. Thus the house in the picture is the one on the map between 33 and 34.

The pre-1928 photos (right sidebar; click to enlarge) come from the Delft city archive. They show a structure, attached to the left (north) side of the house between the house and the Klaeuw Hofje. It is not indicated on the Wandkaart or on the 1832 Kadaster map, also on the right sidebar, which has E0073 Oosteinde 56 as one parcel. The old Leeuwe Poort alley was by then E0075, owned by the same person who owned E0074 behind the house, apparently a one-story storage area.

The structure on the left of the house was a two-story building with two narrow doors and a solid row of windows above. Perhaps it was there that Antony's father employed people to make baskets to feed Delft's growing ceramics industry. At the time, the safest way to transport the tiles and plates was to nest them in straw in baskets made from willow branches and reeds. As Soutendam notes in his book describing the neighborhood in 1600, the Oosteinde was the birthplace of Delft's famed pottery industry, which needed a steady supply of baskets to pack the plates and tiles for shipment around the world.

The next question then, is whether part of the large property across the singel was used for growing a dependable supply of willow and reed. If it is true that Antony's grandfather Thonis Philips and his sons used this side house for a basket making operation, then Antony grew up in relative prosperity. His father was a business owner, not a poor solitary basket-weaver. Perhaps his mother, raised in a regent family, did not marry that far below her social class.

A case of mistaken identity

The image on the left was taken from the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf's issue of January 5, 1928. The caption:

Tot Verdwijnen Gedoemd. - Het geboortehuis van Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek aan het Oosteinde te Delft zal worden afgebroken.

Doomed to Disappear. - The birthplace of Anthony van Leeuwenhoek at the Oosteinde in Delft will be demolished.

In spite of the efforts of the Dutch historical societies that appealed to the Delft city council, the demolition occurred shortly thereafter. The image in the Telegraaf, however, is not the same house as the one in the other photographs. What house is this?