A History of Immigration into Britain

By Tim Lambert

Early Immigration Into England

About 650 BC a people called the Celts arrived in Britain. Then in 43 AD, the Romans invaded. After they left in the 5th century Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from Germany and Denmark invaded. They gradually conquered what is now England. Finally, in 1066 the Normans conquered England.

Under the Normans, Jews came to live in England. There were Jewish communities in Lincoln, London, Winchester, and York. Unfortunately, Jews suffered persecution. Finally, in 1290 all Jews were forced to leave England. Meanwhile, in the Middle Ages, foreign merchants and craftsmen came to England. Many came from Germany and what is now Belgium.

By the 16th century, there was a small number of black people living in England. In the late 16th century Protestants fleeing religious persecution in France and what is now, Holland and Belgium came to England. Weavers settled in Norwich and Southampton.

In the late 17th century more French Protestants, called Huguenots arrived in England fleeing persecution in their native land. Many were highly skilled craftsmen. Among them were silk weavers who settled in Spitalfields in London.

In the 18th century, immigrants to England were mainly Irish although some prominent people came from Germany such as the composer Handel and the great astronomers William and Caroline Herschel. In the late 18th century it became fashionable among the rich in England to have a black servant.

Modern Immigration Into Britain

In the 1840s Ireland was struck by a potato famine. As a result, many Irish people came to England. They often did the hardest and dirtiest work. In the 19th century, some Indian and Chinese people also settled in Britain. So did some Germans. In the late 19th century some Jews arrived in Britain fleeing persecution in Russia.

In 1904 Allan Glaisyer Minns became the mayor of Thetford in Norfolk. He was the first black mayor in Britain. He was a doctor and he was born in the Bahamas.

During the Second World War, some Czechs and Poles fled to Britain and fought on the Allied side. Some men from neutral Ireland also volunteered to fight for the Allies.

In the 1950s factories in Britain were booming. Many people came from the Caribbean, hoping for a better life. They sometimes met with prejudice and there were race riots in Notting Hill, London in 1958. In the 1960s many immigrants came from India and Pakistan. In the 1970s many Asians arrived in Britain as refugees from Uganda. Many Irish people also came to work in Britain in the late 20th century. Many of them worked in the building industry. In 2004 Poland joined the EU and many Polish people came to Britain.

Last revised 2024