Dictionary of London Immigrants |||

Key dates

AD 43

Shortly after the Roman invasion by Emperor Claudius in the summer of 43AD, Londinium is established on the banks of the Thames.


Emperor Honorius withdraws his Roman armies from England. The gap they left was filled by Germanic tribes of Angles, Jutes, Suevi, Frisians, and Saxons.


On 13 November King Aethelred (‘the Unprepared’ or Ill Advised’) orders the killing of Viking (Danish) soldiers and citizens in the realm. The term ethnic cleansing enters the socio-political discourse. A few years later the Danes invaded Saxon England.


After London’s capitulation to Sweyn Forkbeard’s army, England was to have four Viking kings. The greatest of these was King Cnut, a Christian, who acknowledged Anglo-Saxon laws and customs.


William I of Normandy, the Conqueror, ferries his army across the Channel to take the English crown from Harold II in the battle of Hastings. It fundamentally changed the nation’s ruling class, although the permanent settlement of Continentals was relatively limited. Only with the accession of Henry IV in 1399 did the country have a king who spoke English as his first language.


Richard I (Lionheart) is crowned at Westminster Abbey on 3 September. Jews were barred from the ceremony. Jewish dignitaries who brought him gifts were stripped, whipped, and banished from the court. It deteriorated into a London-wide murderous pogrom.


Edward I issues the Edict of Expulsion expelling all Jews from England. The decree remained in force for more than 350 years.


Edward I signs the Charter of the Merchants granting rights to foreign traders in return for dues and levies. Freedom of trade was accompanied by freedom of movement. Although attempts were made to regulate migration, many strangers’ settled in London to pursue their business careers.


Edward III invites a group of Flemish weavers to England to revive a decaying native textile industry. At a time that the impact of government action was limited, the encouragement of newcomers to settle in the country was a significant act of state in the socio-economic sphere.


The Crown starts issuing (i.e. selling) letters of denisation to prosperous immigrants who have taken an oath of allegiance in order to obtain a range of legal rights. From the outset the allocation of English/British nationality has been a money-spinner.


Imposition of the poll tax leads to the Peasant’s Revolt, the first great outburst of xenophobia in English history. Wat Tyler marched his men from Kent and Essex into London where they attacked and massacred dozens of Flemings.

1404 & 1421

Catastrophic floods, known as the St Elizabeth’s floods, along the coastal regions of the Low Countries force many inhabitants to seek shelter in England.


Italian merchants are attacked and their properties looted by an anti-alien London mob in an atmosphere of bitter trade rivalries.


Richard III issues an Act of exemption to foreign printers encouraging them to bring their trade to London. England did not have its own printing press until the 1490s.


In Easter week Dr Beal of St Mary’s Church, Spitalfields, delivers a sermon to a mass congregation denouncing aliens who steal Englishmen’s livelihoods and seduce their wives and daughters. Just as birds expel interlopers from their nests, so men are entitled to fight for their country against foreigners’. The ensuing attacks on aliens became known as the Evil May Day Riots.


The Parliament of England passes the Egyptians Act expelling the outlandish people calling themselves Egyptians’ [gypsies]. The Act was not repealed until 1856.


Archbishop Thomas Cranmer permits the first Stranger Church to open its doors to a Protestant congregation. Led by Bernardino Ochino, it served the Italian community in London and other reformed Protestants.


Charles IX orders the murder of Huguenot leaders in Paris, thereby setting off an orgy of killing. The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day on 24/5 August is one of the blackest events in European history. Religious civil war led to around 100,000 Huguenots fleeing to Britain.


Expulsion of most (not all) members of the Iberian merchant communities of New Christians (crypto-Jews) who had settled around the docks of London and Bristol.


Oliver Cromwell permits Jews to return to England after 350 years of exclusion.


In the midst of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, Charles II issues a declaration in which Dutch artists and craftsmen are invited to immigrate. After the Restoration there was an expanding market for paintings, portraits, marine subjects, and landscapes that could not be satisfied by English artists.


The revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV causes large numbers of Huguenots to flee the country. An estimated fifty thousand settled in Britain.


The Bishops of England sent an invitation to William III of Orange to become king of the nation. He assumed the throne having landed at Tor Bay in November. His rule was the highpoint of Dutch presence in Britain.


The Toleration Act is passed, allowing freedom of worship to nonconformists and dissenters who pledged to the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. Roman Catholics were excluded.


The Foreign Protestants Naturalisation Act is passed in March, allowing that any foreigner professing to be a Protestant and pledging allegiance to the government will be naturalised and enjoy all privileges held by English-born citizens for the cost of a shilling. The Act allowed for the naturalisation of French Huguenots who had fled to Britain. The Act was largely repealed by the Tories with the introduction of the Naturalisation Act 1711.


The mass influx of Poor Palatines’ from Southwest Germany sparks a debate about immigration and asylum that polarised political opinion. The ruling Whigs encouraged immigration arguing that an increase in population would create prosperity. Tories feared that the country would be swamped by foreigners. They considered their presence an acute financial burden to the nation.


George I is crowned King of Great Britain and Ireland, marking the start of the Hanoverian period and German becoming the court language. In October riots broke out in the south and west of the country in protest against the coronation with crowds uniting behind the slogan damn all foreigners!’


Fierce Tory opposition and an anti-Semitic press campaign forces the repeal of the 1753 Naturalisation Act allowing alien property-owning Jews to become naturalised British citizens.


Anti-Catholic summer upheavals - known as the Gordon riots - follow an attempt to introduce the Papists Act of 1778 intended to reduce religious discrimination. These were the most protracted urban riots in British history with a shocking death toll. Foreign Catholics were singled out by the mob.


The Aliens Act is passed in order to reduce immigration after the French Revolution which enforces strict controls on immigrants and a draconian censorship.


Ferdinand VII returns from exile to ascend to Spanish throne. The liberal Constitution of Cadiz (1812) was overturned, the absolute monarchy restored, and the Inquisition re-instated. Fearing repression, many liberals left the country and lived in exile in London.


After three years liberal rule under the 1812 Constitution, Louis XVIII dispatches French troops to seize Madrid and reinstall Ferdinand VIIs absolute monarchy. Once again, progressive and liberal minds were forced to seek safety in exile.


Foundation of University College London (UCL) as a secular alternative to the religious Oxbridge colleges. Amongst the first members of staff were a number of European political refugees, underlining the socio-political courage of its pioneers. UCL opened up a pathway to the globalisation of education.


Harsh suppression of the Polish November Insurrection against Russian rule heralds the beginning of the Great Emigration of political elites and liberal thinkers. The first wave of 1831 emigres played a major role in preparations for the 1846 and 1848 revolutions in Poland.


A new Naturalisation Act requires that aliens shall provide information about their circumstances and swear an oath of allegiance in a process handled by the Home Office. Previously, naturalisation was granted only by a private Act of Parliament which was expensive and exclusive.


Failed harvests, starvation, and religious dissent in Sweden’s countryside set off the Great Emigration process that lasted up to the 1930s. As many as one million and a half Swedes left the country, mostly for the Americas and Australia, devastating the nation’s cultural landscape.


Rural Europe and Ireland are hit by the potato blight. The Hungry Forties was a period of mass mortality and migration.


Republican revolts against European monarchies, beginning in Sicily, and spreading to France, Germany, Italy, and the Austrian Empire, all end in failure causing ruthless repression and mass migration.


Opening of the Round Reading Room to house the library of the British Museum. The institution offered political refugees a venue to continue their study and research, either as Readers or as members of staff. An internationalist spirit was mirrored in the Library’s acquisition policies.


Parliament passes the Jews Relief Act, thus finally allowing Jews to enter Westminster as MPs.


Census records start to take note of people’s country of birth. Being foreign’ is becoming an issue.


Benjamin Disraeli is elected Prime Minister. He was the grandson of Jewish Italian immigrants - a double first in British history.


The murder of Czar Alexander II leads to a brutal suppression of civil liberties. Pogroms and anti-Semitic legislation (the May Laws) followed. An exodus of refugees headed for Britain.


Passing of the Aliens Act to reduce immigration from Eastern Europe.


The Aliens Restriction Act instigates the abolishment of German newspapers and clubs, the closure of businesses, and the confiscation of property and assets. All males of military age were interned.


The Russian Revolution causes over one million people to leave the country for the Far East or Europe’s cities (Berlin, Paris, or London).


The Aliens Act extends into peacetime immigration restrictions passed during the war, including requirements for all travellers to carry identification (standardised as passports in the 1920s).


The Aliens Order, an amendment to the 1919 Aliens Restriction Act, requires all aliens seeking employment or residence to register with the police. Failure to do so would result in deportation.


The Bolsheviks denounce as traitors those who had fled the Revolution and its aftermath. Their citizenship was revoked leaving some 800,000 peole stateless. In the process, a vocabulary of migration was established by creating and defining terms such as refugee, escapee, and defector. 


The League of Nations introduces the Nansen Passport allowing refugees to move between countries to find work or family members without the threat of being deported. It was the first time that stateless people were granted any form of legal identity.


The Soviet government is held responsible for the Holodomor (Great Famine) in which millions of ethnic Ukrainians starved to death. Hunger forced many farmers and citizens to migrate. The term genocide has been applied as Stalin used starvation in order to suppress social unrest and stifle calls for independence.


The Reichskulturkammer (RKK) requires all artists to apply for an Aryan certificate. Jewish directors, producers, actors, or dancers were banned from stage and screen; composers and musicians silenced; writers and poets outlawed; architects blocked; painters and sculptors prohibited to exhibit; journalists and broadcasters tabooed. Many of them would settle in London.


Members of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) march through Cable Street, Whitechapel, blaming Jewish immigrants for the pains of the Depression.


On 9/10 November Nazi authorities stage the brutal Kristallnacht pogrom. Under pressure of public opinion, the British government eased immigration restrictions for certain categories of Jewish refugees and allowed an unspecified number of children under the age of seventeen to enter the country on temporary travel visas.


As Italy joins the war, Winston Churchill orders to collar the lot’, leading to the indiscriminate internment of German and Italian citizens and refugees.


Approximately fourteen million Germans are forcibly removed from Central and Eastern Europe, not only from areas where they had long been a minority, but also from regions where inhabitants of German descent constituted the majority of the population. It was both a punishment for Nazi atrocities and a push by governments towards more homogenous nation-states (ethnic cleansing).


Churchill delivers a speech in Zurich in which he calls for the re-creation of the European family and the founding of a United States of Europe.


The government approves the recruitment of European Volunteer Workers (EVWs) to address labour shortages. Between 1946 and 1949, roughly 83,000 displaced persons from Eastern Europe were selected from camps in Germany and Austria. Balts were preferred to Ukrainians (Latvian women were judged to be of sound stock’). Jews were barred.


The Polish Resettlement Act offers citizenship to over 200,000 displaced soldiers who had fought the Nazis and resisted the Soviet takeover of their country.


The Geneva Convention on Refugees outlines the rights of displaced persons and prohibits their refoulement.


Soviet forces invade Budapest to crush the Hungarian Uprising. Some 200,000 people fled the country and many of them settled in Britain.


The International Passenger Survey (IPS) is introduced in order to give a more accurate account of those entering or leaving the country.


Constitutional changes on Cyprus cause an eruption of Greek-Turkish inter-communal violence culminating in the Turkish invasion of 1974. Some 10,000 Cypriots (many of them holding a British passport) fled to London.


Having been vetoed twice by Charles de Gaulle previously, Britain gains membership of the European Economic Community. Two decades later (Maastricht 1992) freedom of movement was introduced as one of the fundamental principles of unification.