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|Migration Histories Introduction|
Growth of Industry
World Wars and Global Movement
A Place of Refuge
The Place in our Lives of Those who have Moved Here
There have been migrants to what is now known as Britain for more than two thousand years. They helped to create the foundations of the country we know today. People that move here are often known as immigrants, refugees, sojourners (people that stay temporarily) and, more recently, asylum seekers and illegal migrants. Some settle permanently, some stay for just a short while and then move on. Others return to their roots. Immigration has continued largely because of Britain's appeal as a place of security and opportunity.
Between AD43 and 411 Britain was part of the Roman Empire. During this 400 year period people came from all over the known world as soldiers, merchants and administrators but especially from France, Germany and Eastern Europe. Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings followed. The last 'conquering' invader was William of Normandy who claimed the crown of England in 1066 as William the Conqueror. Early settlers left their mark, through religion, language, methods of farming, trade and road systems.
In the medieval period, Jewish businessmen, physicians and scholars settled in London, and other major centres.
In 1290 this established Jewish community was expelled by Edward I. New waves of immigrants and sojourners followed, including German merchants and Italian bankers from Lombardy who gave their name to Lombard Street in London. In the centuries after, Irish soldiers, trades people and labourers, Dutch brick makers and brewers as well as textile weavers all came to settle here. Africans were here in Roman times and by the reign of Elizabeth I, were working in the households of the rich as domestic workers.
In 1656, Oliver Cromwell allowed the Jews to return and settle. Merchants, bullion dealers and diamond brokers built the foundations of the future Jewish community. These were Sephardi Jews who came from Spain and Portugal. They were followed by Ashkenazi Jews, from eastern and central Europe. Many of these earned their living as tradesmen, old clothes dealers and peddlers (travelling traders).
Huguenots (French Protestants) fled Catholic persecution and moved to England during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. They settled in London and in towns like Norwich and Canterbury. Most finally settled in Spitalfields at the east end of London and in Soho at its west end. Some were expert in making clocks and scientific instruments. Others were goldsmiths, silversmiths, merchants and artists. Their skills at weaving silk and velvet helped expand the silk weaving industry in Spitalfields that already employed many Irish workers. Because of their hard work and skills the Huguenots were known as 'the profitable strangers'. During the 18th century members of the Huguenot and Jewish communities gave major financial support to both state and army.
As the British Empire developed so did trade, bringing new peoples to these shores. Lascars (sailors from South East Asia and India) came along with seamen from countries like China, West Africa, and those known today as Somalia and the Yemen.
Some returned home but others stayed and formed communities in the port cities of London and Liverpool. By the end of the 19th century, the areas of Limehouse Causeway and Pennyfields, close to the London docks, was known as Chinatown. It was renowned for its opium dens, Chinese laundries and Chinese restaurants. The first Chinese restaurant was opened in London in 1901. Today, London's Chinatown has moved to Soho and is on Gerrard Street.
By the first half of the 19th century, the industrial revolution was in full swing, using raw materials from home and abroad. The need for a better transport system provided work for Irish labourers. They were employed to build the roads, railways and canals that transported goods between the docks, the manufacturing centres and shops in towns and cities around the country.
It was not only Irish men that found employment on the mainland. Irish women worked as domestics and street vendors. Irish children as young as four could be seen on the streets selling their wares.
Migrants also began to move to the textile manufacturing regions of the north and the midlands. Cities like Bradford, Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester attracted German merchants and manufacturers.
The needs of industry and empire called for a growing clerical workforce. From the mid 19th century, German clerks were attracted to Britain by the higher wages paid here. Their efficiency and ability to speak English made them ideal employees. Other Europeans also crossed the channel in the second half of the 19th century.
Italians came along with a large-scale influx of mostly Jewish Eastern Europeans. The Clerkenwell district of London became known as 'Little Italy'. Italians introduced street vending of ice cream, and worked in the catering trade as waiters, chefs, bakers, confectioners and café owners. Later on, in the 1940s and 1950s, men and women from the south of Italy were recruited to work in factories in Luton and Bedford. Some went on to open Italian restaurants and pizzerias locally and further afield.
London and the main university towns and cities attracted students from Africa, India, Europe and America. Young men (and some women) came to study law and medicine. Most returned home after they had qualified, but a small number, particularly young Indian doctors, settled over here permanently.
Members of the Empire travelled from all over the world to serve in the forces or on merchant ships during both World Wars. At the end of each conflict, some stayed, some wanted to stay but were not welcomed and others returned later to make a contribution to the peace.
Even after the pace of development of industry and empire had slowed, migrant workers and entrepreneurs saw a future in this country. There was a labour shortage after the end of the Second World War. European Voluntary Workers (EVW) and people forced to leave their homes (displaced) from Poland, Italy, Ukraine and Germany were recruited to fill the gaps. Later, the National Health Service and organisations like London Transport recruited men and women from the Caribbean to build up their labour force.
The partition of India in 1947 was the starting point for what later became a large-scale migration and settlement of people from the Indian sub-continent. Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs came from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
During the 1950s the attraction of owning a British passport to come to Britain to find better-paid work caused a big increase in passport applications. Most of these were from young men, many from Pakistan. Their aim was to stay for a short while and then return home better able to do well. Few ever returned home for good.
Not all those who move here, come because they really want to leave home. Some have come because their lives and livelihoods, and those of their families, are at risk. Sometimes this is because of war, religious persecution, political discrimination and, at other times, because of natural disasters. These people are seeking refuge and therefore known as refugees. This comes from the word 'refugie' which the Huguenots called themselves when they arrived in the 16th century.
Revolutions in France and other parts of Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries led to the arrival of other refugees. These included French aristocrats as well as German, Italian and Austrian socialists and communists, amongst them Karl Marx. Towards the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century many Russian revolutionaries and anarchists spent time here. Some made it their permanent home but others like Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky returned.
In spite of a tightening of entry controls, the outbreak of war in 1914 did not stop people 'moving here'. In the first year of the war many thousands of Belgians took refuge in Britain, even though most did not stay. Small numbers of Russians, escaping the 1917 Revolution and civil war, established a tight-knit community in London. The depression of the interwar years and the harsh controls imposed on entry put many people off from coming here. But it did not prevent the temporary arrival of thousands of Basque children, evacuated from the Spanish Civil War. Nor did it stop Jews fleeing Nazism from coming here. This included nearly 10,000 children on the kindertransport.
The flow of refugees has been continuous since the end of the Second World War. Many of those who arrived in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s have become permanent communities. Those displaced by the conflict of the war were followed by Chinese leaving Mao Tse Tung's communist regime, refugees from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Jews escaping the Middle East, Kenyan and Ugandan Asians and Vietnamese Boat People. More recently still there have been refugees from the former Yugoslavia and Rumania, from Afghanistan, West Africa and Zimbabwe. Some have returned home. Many more are going through the long process of trying to gain legal entry into a country in which they hope to find a future.
Over the centuries, people that have moved here have had a significant impact on most aspects of our society. Places such as Spitalfields and Soho in London, the Leylands in Leeds and Red Bank in Manchester have come to be closely identified with immigrant settlement.
Spitalfields, in particular, has seen great changes in its migrant population over the years. At one time or another it has been known as 'Petty France', 'Little Jerusalem' and now 'Banglatown'. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the building on the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane in Spitalfields, which has been in its time a Huguenot church, an ultra-orthodox synagogue and now a mosque. Or in the mosque in Shearbridge Road in Bradford. That was once an Anglican church.
Migrants have had a widespread influence on our diet and tastes. The Huguenots brought oxtail soup, the Jews smoked salmon bagels, chicken soup and fried fish. Chicken Tikka Masala and Sweet and Sour Pork created specially for western tastes are now part of the national diet.
There are Indian and Chinese restaurants in almost every town and village. Mexican, Thai, Japanese with Italian, Greek and Turkish restaurants have become commonplace. Exotic fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices are on every supermarket and corner shop shelf.
Music, art, culture and sport have all been influenced. We are treated to carnival, Bollywood films and ceilidhs. Calypso, reggae, klezmer, bhangra and fusion blare from sound systems. Novels, films and plays about growing up in multi-cultural Britain are reaching a wider audience.
Migrants have also played an important role in determining how we look. From the sweated eastern European Jewish workers of the 19th century and their Turkish and Greek Cypriot, Pakistani and Bengali successors, to the Asian jean manufacturers at the close of the 20th century. The garment business was and still is, dominated by migrant communities. Ethnic forms of dress, fabrics and accessories are all popular influences in fashion, running through the work of fashion designers and street styles.
And so the immigrant success story continues. Immigrants from all over the world contribute to the arts, media, professions and politics of this country. Those who have moved here have played a central role in the lives of the people of this island since early history.
Moving Here explains and illustrates the incredible story of migration, past and present. Find out about Caribbean, Irish, Jewish and South Asian communities coming to England over the last 200 years. Explore the experience of migration as told through pictures, text and personal stories on this website. Wander through The Gallery of 1,000 fantastic images selected from the 150,000 on the site or or tell your own story of moving here.
Creators: Dr. Anne Kershen
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