Rembrandt, De Keyser & Van Gogh, Our Historic Building

the Origins of the Staalhof complex at Groenburgwal 42-44 / Staalstraat 7


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Name: The Staalhof
Address: Groenburgwal 42-44 / Staalstraat 7
Construction time: 1630 AD

Hendrick de Keyser

Behind one of the Netherlands’ first, possibly even first, neo-Gothic facades, stands a building that has undergone memorable transformations over the centuries. City architect Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621) worked and lived right here. The Westerkerk, The West-Indisch Huis and The House with the Heads; they are all drawn on the ground of Groenburgwal 42. The location was convenient for him as a builder, because the Stadssteenhouwerij was just around the corner from Staalstraat/Groenburgwal.
Two years after his death, the area was overhauled. Several buildings had to be demolished and made way for the Staalhof; a collective name for the building complex that would become the center of the cloth industry. The complex contained the Saaihal on the Staalstraat, the Zijdehal on the Groenburgwal and the Lakenhal, also on the Groenburgwal, behind De Keyser’s home.

At the beginning of the 17th century the cloth industry and cloth trade had increased strongly. To keep the quality high, the Staalhof was built between 1626 and 1630 on the Verwersgracht (later Groenburgwal) where the cloth fabrics could be inspected. It was a large symmetrical building with three adjacent entrances, with the servants’ residence adjacent to the right. The middle of the three entrances led to the Staalhof, an open square, the left entrance gave access to the Silk Hall built in 1650 and the right entrance to the house of the inspector, later to the glass buyers’ guild. Behind the servants’ house of the Staalhof was the Cloth Hall.

As early as 1411, the dry-shearers’ guild was given the right to appoint wardens, who had resided in the old Town Hall since 1413, where the sheets were inspected and provided with a lead bearing the town seal. That is why they spoke of the ‘Seal House’. The ‘College of Chiefs and Overseers of the Cloth Trade’, established in 1618, essentially dates back to this old college of valets or samplers. Since 1630 these were housed in the Staalhof, where the woolen fabrics were weighed, inspected, tared and leaded. At that time, a ‘staal’ did not mean a small piece or sample of the fabric, but the whole piece, the roll.


Name: Lakenhal, English Episcopal Church
Address: Groenburgwal 42
Architect: -, J.Jansen?
Construction time: before 1600, 1829
Commission: -, English Episcopal Church

The Dutch word staal means ‘sample’ and refers to the full sample of cloth (swatches) that were assessed. Downstairs, the Cloth Hall has, in addition to the house with the step gable of the servant (on the Groenburgwal), a large room where the sheets are sampled or leaded, a courtyard where the sheets are hung and inspected in advance, a room where the five syndics of the Lakens (Swatches) take turns to inspect and lead the blue and black swatches. The five syndics are sitting, the servant is standing. This five-member board of inspectors was appointed every year on Good Friday: two Catholics, a Mennonite, a Remonstrant and a Reformed. Rembrandt van Rijn captured these drapers of the cloth guild on canvas in 1662 in his world-famous painting De Staalmeesters. The painting remained in the building until 1771.

Click on the video for a 5 minute segment out of the documentary “Rembrand as Director” on the making of the staalmeesters painting, filmed at the Groenburgwal building (documentary used with licensed permission by the Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid)

The first floor has two rooms; one is the meeting place of the five chieftains of the cloth trade, the other is for the meetings of the chieftains of the cloth-makers or dry-shearers’ guild.

Upstairs is the room where the dry shearers do their test of competence. Dry shaving is the treatment the sheet undergoes after fulling, when it is still rough and uneven. The protruding fluff is cut with large scissors, giving the fabric a smooth surface. First, the tissue was carded, or roughened with the spines of a teasel. The best quality cloth was thus worked on both sides. This was called scarlet.

Christ Church Amsterdam

In 1771 the city council granted permission to the English Episcopal Church (Christ Church Amsterdam), to use part of the Cloth Hall. The English Episcopal Church was founded in 1698. The held their first church services, among other places, in an upper room on the corner of Oudezijds Achterburgwal and Huidevettersloot and later in the Agnietenkapel.

With the arrival of a new user of the Cloth Hall, it was decided to move the six paintings present, so that they ended up at the Rijksmuseum via the City Hall on Dam Square

Vincent van Gogh goes Sunday School

Some decades later, the Napoleonic wars broke out and in 1806 the church was driven out of the Cloth Hall and the Silkwind House was brought in the Groenburgwal building. The Silkwind House was a workhouse for (orphaned) girls and since 1682 it has been located in the attics of the Stads-Artilleriehuis on the Singel. Because the French ruler wanted to house a militia inspection room here in 1810 (now known as Militiezaal), the Silkwind House had to give way. In 1827 this institution was moved again, this time to the Beterhuis on the (Wetering) Schans .

Without a permanent church building and residence in 1806, there was no housing nor funds for the Anglican Episcopal Church to pay for a chaplain. But, in 1817, the churchwarden, adapting to the image of the times, invited the “London Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews” (“Christian Ministry among Jewish People”) to send a minister as a Chaplain, and to assist the local Jewish population, who were socially in dire straits.

The Society sent the great Charles Simeon, who stabilised the church and preached in support of the Jewish people, which included initiatives resulting in the funding and construction of the missionary Episcopal Zion’s Chapel in the Barndesteeg, where Vincent van Gogh assisted in teaching Sunday School for a while, during his period considering pastoral ministry. Vincent taught Sunday school in the winter and spring of 1878.

In his letter of 18 Feb. 1878 to his brother Theo, Vincent writes “ His sermon consisted mainly of stories from the lives of factory workers there, and although he wasn’t especially eloquent as far as ease of expression goes, and though one even noticed how difficult it was for him and a little awkward, as it were, his words were moving nonetheless, because they came from the heart, and that alone has the power to make an impression on other hearts. Afterwards, at 1 o’clock, I had to be at a Sunday school given by an English minister, Adler, in Barndesteeg, he has a small but very respectable old church there. The school, though, was held in a small room where the light had to be lit even at that hour, i.e. in the middle of the day. There were perhaps some 20 children from that poor neighbourhood. Although he’s a foreigner he nevertheless preaches in Dutch (though the English service), and also gives confirmation classes in Dutch, but very charmingly and capably. Had taken along the sketch of that map of the Holy Land that I’d made for Pa’s birthday (with red chalk on heavy brown paper) and I gave it to him, because I thought that little room a nice place for it, and I’m glad it’s hanging on the wall there”

The Zion Chapel no longer exists: the church was demolished in the early twentieth century. The Barndesteeg location of the former Zion’s Chapel is still in use as the Shelter City Christian Hostel, where young people from all over the world know where to find this Christian youth hostel, which is today still one of Christ Church Amsterdam’s mission partners.

Hendrick de Keyser

The Cloth Hall at Groenburgwal 42 was drastically renovated in 1827-1829 for the English Episcopal Church once again. Hendrick de Keyser lived in the old house on the canal in front of the Cloth Hall that still existed at the time. The current facade facing the street is the neo-Gothic successor to the facade of that house. The actual entrance to the church is in a courtyard behind the house, the front house has been converted into a rectory and concistory room. The Cloth Hall was to become a large church hall, so the attic was broken out and the meeting room of the samplers added. The interior of the church, in contrast to the exterior, is for the most part not in neo-gothic, but in classicistic style. Above the altar decorated with fine sculptures is the English coat of arms, flanked by the lion and the unicorn. The organ, a national monument, dates from 1829 and was made by Leonard van den Brink. The renovation was led by architect J.Jansen , but it is not certain that he also designed the facade. The total costs amounted to approximately NLG 8,000.

Most of the interior is from after 1895. Around that time, the chaplain James Chambers had the furniture restored and he also had neo-Gothic paneling and panelling.

The four stained glass windows by designer Fik Abbing from 1929, manufactured by the firm W. Bogtman, depict scenes from the life of Stadholder William III of Orange and his wife Maria Stuart (1688-1694). This window was a gift from a number of Amsterdam bankers and merchants and symbolizes the historical connection between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. A second window shows regimental arms of the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. These two army units served under William III. A third window was donated in 1930 by a group of friends from the United States. The window shows brotherhood of the nations, also the words of John 15:12 are written on the window: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you’. The fourth window was placed a year later. This window was offered by the City of London.The window is dedicated to Boniface and Willibrord, two British missionaries who spread the gospel in what is now the Netherlands. The arms of London and Amsterdam are also depicted in this window.
In 1966 the seventeenth century house on the canal was restored by architect Jacob Dunnebier.

A complete restoration of the church took place from 1999 to 2001.
The Anglican Episcopalian Church emerged as a moderate Catholic faith community in 1534, when the British separated from Rome due to a combination of circumstances. The reigning monarch Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife and remarry. Bishop Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, agreed. It was convenient for Hendrik that he was subsequently excommunicated by the Pope. As head of state, he also wanted to take power over the church. This is how an independent movement developed that deals with marriage smoothly, abolished celibacy and, since the 20th century, has also trained women to become priests and bishops. They did, however, maintain the hierarchical structure. The English royal family is still in charge and the Archbishop of Canterbury comes next.

Name: Zijdehal
Address: Groenburgwal 44
Architect: Daniël Stalpaert? or Adriaen Dortsman?, Greef
Construction time: 1641, 1856
Commission: -, Municipality of Amsterdam

This part of the complex has given it the greatest allure due to its appearance to the Staalhof.

It was built at Groenburgwal 44 with the servants’ house adjacent. Daniël Stalpaert or Adriaen Dortsman may become a master buildercalled. The middle entrance was to the Cloth Hall, later the English Episcopal Church until a new entrance was completed. The door on the left gives access to the house of the second servant of the Saaihal, the door on the right leads to the Silk Hall with the comptoir for the judge, the receiver and the accountant. Above this entrance was a picture of a silk worm on a mulberry leaf near a bowl and some strands of silk. The chieftains of the Silk Hall, as well as the captains of the silk weavers’ guild, resided here. The chieftains of the Silk Hall were six, two silk merchants, two silk cloth merchants, and two silk dyers. This inspection hall was intended to prevent fraud in the manufacture of and trade in silk. The inspections were compulsory for everyone who traded in silk goods.Whoever failed the inspection of his goods forfeited the undeclared goods and a thousand guilders.

Around 1827, the Zijdehal at Groenburgwal 44 was also renovated to serve as office space for municipal services, including the police. From 1850 to 1890 the building was used as the Chemical Laboratory of the Municipal University. Architect Bastiaan de Greef proceeds energetically in 1856 to adapt the facade to modern times, whereby the top is demolished, the gates disappear and the facade is plastered tightly. Internally, the police space and the office of the Municipal Impost at the Gemaal (an excise tax on bread grain) are being thoroughly renovated.

In 1878, the Chemical Laboratory expanded again, filling the square-shaped courtyard with the galleries. In 1885 they leave for the Roetersstraat. From 1890 the building is taken into use by the Municipal Health Service. In 1890, the Paleis voor Volksvlijt also hosted an ‘Exhibition to promote health and safety in factories and workshops’. This exhibition generated so many positive reactions that on 1 Jan 1893 a permanent security museum opened in this former Silk Hall. In 1914 the museum moved to 22 Hobbemastraat in a building built for them by Ed.Cuypers. In 1952 the name was changed to Safety Institute, in 1987 the Netherlands Institute for Working Conditions (NIA) was created.

The GGD will continue to use the building until 2006, when the building is best known as an outpatient clinic for venereal diseases.

Name: Saaihal
Address: Staalstraat 7
Architect: Pieter de Keyser, Greef, WAvan der Velde, AAkok
Construction time: 1641, 1856, 1881, 1919
Assignment: -, Municipality of Amsterdam, Municipality of Amsterdam, Municipality of Amsterdam

De Saaihal moved in 1641 to the abandoned Stadssteenhouwerij, where it ended up in a new two-storey building at 7 Staalstraat, built by Pieter de Keyser . Dull was a green light twill woolen fabric (with a diagonal pattern) of a less laborious kind than bed sheet and used for curtains, lining interior doors and cheaper quality clothing. The departure of the judges was in the Saaihal on the middle floor. Here hung a large painting from 1643 with four of the first chieftains of the Saaien and a servant.
To the left of the Saaihal was a spacious entrance gate with an Agnus Dei (Reclining Lamb) with a flag. The first servant had his house downstairs behind the entrance gate.

On the right side of the Saaihal was a gate with the text ‘Int Tarhof’. This should originally have been ‘t Aar-hoff’ and presumably intended as ‘t Andere Hof to which the cloth was referred to be treated by the tare masters after being rejected in the Saaihal because of the defects. The Tarhof was ordained in respect of indemnities for cloth found to be too short, too narrow, with crimps, bindings, creases or similar defects.The discounts, the tare, were calculated on the basis of this. Tarhof can therefore be a corruption of the name ”t Aar-hoff’ or related to taring. During taring, the woolen sheets were wetted, measured and inspected. This was part of the approval process. The name above the gate would have been added later.
With the abolition of the guilds in 1798, the buildings became vacant. In 1954, various municipal services came to Staalstraat and entrances were added to the two side buildings.

This text is derived, and used with permission, from the excellent Amsterdam wiki by the Amsterdam Culture Historic Heritage (Amsterdam Cultuur-Historische Vereniging). You can find more here about the history of Amsterdam, walks and lectures,

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