A rough history of immigration into London

A rough history of immigration into London

This is a rough history of immigration into and the ethnic identify of Londoners.

One of the key messages to get across is that London has always been principally a market place, and it has always been a market place, where people from different ethnic groups have asserted and fought for a right to establish and maintain the market, buy and sell, and from time to time pillage.

London has always been a market place and a market town. The Romans, when they established Londinium within the current square mile sitting just north of the Thames, known as the city of London, developed it as a hub for trade between the British colony, Rome and other key colonies in its empire.

The success of the Roman’s project has arguably been a function of the brilliant location of the Thames in relation to its access to the Iberian Sea, and then on to the Mediterranean, through which much business was conducted. It also has reasonable access to the North Sea and German ports. The upshot has been that London has always been a place where people who have things to sell, meet people who want to buy and trade. Furthermore since its inception London has always been a hub in international trade of one kind or another. Furthermore, the presence of foreign traders in the city has always been a feature of London’s ethnic composition, and a driver in the development of the city. It has always been a place for traders and merchants, for whom national boundaries take second place to trade and money.

Its important to point out that the Romans when they invaded, didn’t come with a hoard of bent nosed but otherwise handsome dark haired strangers, who liked to wear olive oil in their hair and had red wine for blood. The men who invaded Britain under the aegis of the Romans, and who set up the market town of London, were a multinational mercenary workforce, much like today’s day Premier League footballers. From the start then, London was a multinational town, not uniquely Roman, and certainly not British.

Although many believe London can trace its roots back to Roman times, in fact, a permanent human presence only stretches back to Saxon times. The Saxons, who founded a new settlement in the area of London, outside of the walls of the old Roman city, which had been sacked and deserted hundreds of years since.

Saxon settlements, were for over eight hundred years perpetually living in fear of being sacked by marauding Danes, specialists in rape, pillage and extortion, who made regular shopping trips from the north east, landing anywhere between Newcastle and London, but invariably saving the best, London, to last, on their supermarket sweep. Whilst the Danes contributed little to the development of London, their unwanted genetic downloads, surely impacted on the ethnic make-up of successive generations of Londoners.

A turning point in London and Britain’s ethnic make-up came when the Normans successfully invaded Britain and took London, in 1066, under their king William. William established a new order, with a Norman ruling class, and Saxon subordinates, which in time. And whilst French became the predominate language amongst the authorities, Saxon languages were permitted, and as decades passed it was the Saxon culture, which prevailed. Naturally some Norman blood would have passed into the London mix.

As early as the tenth century German traders were said to have played an important role in the trade of the city. Men of Italy, once again played a key role in finance, the Lombards, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The dawning of the British Empire in the seventeenth century saw London used as a warehouse, for all the goods expropriated from British colonies, from India, to Africa, China, the United States and with time Australia. Men were employed from all these countries to work on the ships, and all of them, found a home, whether for a week or two, or for the rest of their lives, in and around the ports and docks of London.

Britain was home to Black people from as early as the sixteenth century, the time during which the slave trade started. In the seventeenth century, after the French king Louis XIV declared Protestantism illegal in 1685, with the Edict of Fontainebleau, 50,000 Protestants fled to England.

The nineteenth century, which marked the apogee of the British Empire, pulled in people from all over the British Empire into London, and has done ever since. Up until 1962, citizens of the British Empire, which then became the Commonwealth of Nations, were considered British subjects and had the right to residence in Britain. Irishmen, Indians, Pakistanis, Bengalis, Somalis, Chinese and Africans all set up home in London.

In the twentieth century Jews arrived from Eastern Europe after a series of pogroms in the Ukraine and Russia, after which another wave arrived, following the rise of the Nationalist Socialist part in Germany, and the attempts to humiliate and exterminate the entire Jewish population.

After the Second World War Britain encouraged immigration from Ireland, the Caribbean and South East Asia, in order to fill manual labour jobs, that British people did not want to take. Indians often moved to South-West London. Caribbean people most famously moved into the Notting Hill area, and later gave birth to the world famous Notting Hill Carnival. Irish labourers, often travelling to London by themselves, without family, stayed in lodgings around Camden and Euston, and would patronise the pubs, and in particular, the Dublin Castle, still standing today.

By the end of the twentieth century, London had become a magnet for almost anyone with enough verve and determination to want to make a better life economically.
Anyone arriving into Kings Cross from elsewhere in Britain would if waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road, be perplexed by the diversity of people waiting to cross the road in their direction. An African woman with dark cocoa skin, stood next to diminutive Japanese women, a North African man stood behind two Brazilian tourists, and two or three Englishmen and women, behind which is stood a moustachioed Indian, in white shirt and black trousers.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries rivers of finance, rather than raw materials, flow into the cities, the traders now sail offices and computers rather than ships and boats. Bankers from the United States and Switzerland, in particular, now occupy centre stage in the city of London, and in the affairs of London.

More recently, it was announced that the Chinese, the rising superpower in the world, would be, investing one billion pounds to create a Chinese town on the Royal Victoria Docks, which would operate to the business hours of China, and which would act as a portal into Europe for Chinese businesses.

Come the twenty-first century, Britain and London; in particular, was being used to entice in the super-rich from around the world. Russians, Arabs, who had already arrived in the 1970s and the Chinese in particular, started to make a big impression on the city, both in what they owned, but also in their presence. Britain had also signed up to the European Union’s agenda of allowing people within the European Union travel to and live wherever they wished within the Union. Hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans entered the streets of London. Polish grocers opened up all over the East End of London, every middle class household had a Bulgarian cleaner and Romanian Gypsies were to be seen wondering up and down the streets of some of London’s least salubrious districts, like Noel Park and Wood Green in Tottenham. In January 2005 a survey found that there are more than 300 languages spoken in London, as there are more than 50 communities, which have a population of more than 10, 000 in London.

Deyan Sudjic, talking of the newcomers to London, described how the history of immigration to London leaves traces detectable all over the city. He says, ‘You see their traces in Spitalfields, where a Huguenot chapel became, successively, a synagogue and a mosque, tracking the movement of waves of migrants from poverty to suburban comfort. It is a history of migration marked by place names like Lombard Street, Hindu shrines and mosques. It’s a place without an apparent structure that has proved extraordinarily successful at growing and changing. Its old residential core, sheltering in the approaches to its fortress, has made the transition into the world’s busiest banking centre. Its market halls and power stations have become art galleries and piazzas. The simple terraced streets built for the clerks of the Great Western Railway in Southall have become home to the largest Sikh community outside India. The failed speculation of 19th-century housebuilders in Holland Park has provided the base for the international financiers. Hoxton’s nonconformist chapels and Camden’s wharves provide fertile territory for hipsters interested in tattoos, unnecessary facial hair and the internet.’


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