Category: Immigration

2381938995_23fffb7259_french-huguenotOn Monday 13th July in the presence of HRH Princess Alexandra the staff and trustees of the Huguenot Museum will be holding an event to celebrate the museum’s public opening.

Britain’s first museum of Huguenot history opened its doors to the public in May following a £1.5 million development project. Rochester’s newest museum tells the story of the Huguenots, their persecution in France, escape to Britain and the trades, crafts and skills they brought with them.

Since the early 1960s the French Hospital, La Providence, has been situated in the heart of historic Rochester. Originally founded in London in 1718 to provide accommodation and assistance to Huguenot refugees and their descendants, this institution has over the years amassed a beautiful collection of artefacts. It is this collection that forms the basis of the first museum in Britain dedicated to the history of the Huguenots.

With the help of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, along with generous private donors, the top two floors of an unusual 1920s building on Rochester’s historic High Street have been transformed into the new Huguenot Museum.

The project has been in the planning for some time but work started in earnest last summer (2014) as major structural works commenced. The building work and fit out of the new galleries was completed early this year and the museum started welcoming its first visitors in May (2015).

The museum site is made up of three galleries telling the story of the Huguenots from their persecution in France, their escape to England and the trades, crafts and skills they brought with them.

Alongside beautiful new galleries displaying objects never seen by the public before there is a reception area and shop, and an archive room where visitors can look at historic books and archive material relating to Huguenot families and general Huguenot history. There is also a vibrant and engaging learning space. Here visitors can further their learning experience either through a programmed craft workshop, talk, lecture, film screening or cross curricular schools session.


About the Huguenot Museum and the French Hospital

The Huguenot Museum is the first museum in Britain dedicated to the history of the Huguenots, a group of some 250,000 French Protestants who fled from religious persecution in France.

The Huguenots largely settled in the South East of England: in Kent (Canterbury, Rye, Sandwich), East Anglia (Ipswich and Norwich) and, predominantly, London (the City, Soho, Spitalfields, Wandsworth, Westminster, Greenwich).  There were approximately 580,000 people living in the Capital in 1700; the 40,000 Huguenots living there, represented approximately 7% of the population. They also settled in the West (Bristol, Southampton and Plymouth).

Today, their legacy can be found in fine crafts such as silk weaving, silversmithing, furniture-making, together with banking, insurance, in science, the arts, the church and the army.  The Huguenots serve as an outstanding example of immigration, and as an early experience of refugees. Their flight from France to England brought the word “refugee” into the English language.

The French Hospital was founded in London in 1718 as a charity offering sanctuary to poor Huguenots (French Protestants). It had several subsequent locations before moving to Rochester in Kent and currently maintains 60 self-contained sheltered flats. 

To find out more about the Huguenot Museum see:

Photo by amandabhslater

From Shanghai to Chinatown

In 1865, Alfred and Philip Holt founded the Blue Funnel Line and established the first direct steamship service between Europe and China. Prior to 1861, the London census showed a mere 78 Chinese-born residents in the entire city. This new steamship line would change all that.

English: Stenton (ship) Blue Funnel Line.
Stenton (ship) Blue Funnel Line. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Blue Funnel Line quickly built up its reputation thanks to its high quality service, management and crews. Much of the staff was hired from England, Scotland and Wales; however, a large percentage of the crew was made up of Chinese sailors. By using Chinese crews, the Blue Funnel Line was able to cheaply staff their liners, as the Chinese workers were paid a mere fraction of the salary earned by the European seamen.

The first major influx of Chinese immigrants arrived in 1866. Quite a number of Chinese sailors arrived in Liverpool and decided to stay on rather than return with the ships. The sailors settled in near the docks in Cleveland Square, and the beginning of Europe’s oldest “Chinatown” was born.

The Holt Shipping Company established a series of boarding houses in the area to accommodate their workers, as many Chinese immigrants signed on for temporary service with the ultimate goal of settling in England. Numbers rose steadily, and by 1871 – a mere six years later – there were over 200 Chinese living in Liverpool.

A strong Chinese community naturally grew up in the area, as Chinese immigrants settled in and opened their own businesses. The resident Chinese ran a bustling trade, catering to their own countrymen who arrived unaccustomed to the English language and traditions. Chinese-run boarding houses, restaurants, laundries, and stores opened practically overnight, offering familiar comforts to new immigrants and visiting seamen.

Many of the Chinese men who settled in Liverpool ended up marrying local women. In fact, the Chinese seamen were often seen as better prospects for marriage (than their British counterparts) as they didn’t drink and were typically hard workers and good providers.

English: Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church, Chin...
Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church, Chinatown, Liverpool, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a further expansion of Chinese influence both in Liverpool and throughout England. The Chinese settlement in Liverpool gradually spread further inland, stretching along side streets such as Kent Street, Greetham Street and Cornwallis Street. Dozens of Chinese restaurants were established, as were quite a number of gambling houses which catered to visiting Chinese seamen.

London was seeing a similarly expanding Chinese population, with two distinct communities established in the East End. The 1891 census recorded 582 Chinese-born residents in London, and a full 80% were men (mostly settled sailors).  By 1911, approximately 1,319 Chinese-born residents were living in England, and another 4,595 were serving in the British Merchant Navy.

The extension of the Alien Registration Act in 1919 brought a decline in the Chinese population; however, this provided the resident Chinese to further establish themselves and improve working conditions. Hundreds of Chinese laundries were established across the country, along with dozens of restaurants and even the first Chinese school.

World War II provided work for thousands of Chinese seamen, who were recruited to serve aboard British ships. At the end of the war, however, the Blue Funnel Line fired all of its Chinese employees – as did most other shipping lines – and thousands of Chinese seamen were forcibly repatriated. Many left behind wives and children, as they were never able to return to England.

Escaping the Guillotine: French émigrés from Revolutionary France

"The Storming of the Bastille", Visi...
“The Storming of the Bastille”, Visible in the center is the arrest of Bernard René Jourdan, marquis de Launay (1740-1789), (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the years following the French Revolution of 1789, a large number of Frenchmen fled France and took refuge abroad. Nearly one percent of the French population abruptly left France, including many members of the royal family and the French aristocracy, as well as priests, clergymen and others who had lost lands and privileges during the great uprisings.

While a large number of these émigrés gathered in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and in the United States, a significant number – particularly those from Normandy and north western France – found a safe haven in Great Britain. Though the British had nothing to gain politically from helping the Catholic French, Britain was, in fact, the only European nation to reach out to the émigrés with financial assistance.

The French refugees found an established French-speaking community in England where the Huguenots had previously settled. Some made their homes in Richmond, Surrey, though the largest community of émigrés settled in London, where they found a strong social structure and an active political lobby. In 1796, England’s Alien’s Act was renewed, and all émigrés were moved inland from the coasts and Channel Island.

By 1801, London’s West End and the Parish of St. Marylebone were populated with a substantial number of French political refugees. Aside from the 4,000 or so lay French Catholics, the area was home to some 5,600 priests and clergymen as well.

Other French communities thrived in London as well. Some settled in Soho where the Huguenots had established a French community. Others made their homes along Tottenham Court Road, Thames Street, Aldgate, Cripplegate, Temple Bar, Bishopsgate, and Shoreditch. Others still settled in Somers Town near Old Pancras Church, which was a predominantly Catholic area and the traditional burial grounds for English Catholics.

King Louis Philippe
King Louis Philippe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, many members of the royal family and the aristocracy found a comfortable home in England as well. The comte d’Artois, the brother of Louis XVI, who would later become King Charles X spent the majority of the Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic years in England. Louis-Philippe, the duc d’Orleans (who would later become King Louis-Philippe) also took refuge in England after spending a number of years in Scandinavia and the United States.

A few émigrés were lucky enough to have English relatives who welcomed them into their homes. These were typically Stuart supporters who had followed James II to France. Many Walshes and Dillons, as well as the Duc and Duchesse de FitzJames numbered among the émigrés who fled to England at this time.

A large number of émigrés were not so lucky, unfortunately. The poorest settled in St. George’s Fields, Southwark, and many fell ill and died. Though a significant number suffered gravely during this time, this fact is often overlooked due to the fact that the more prominent émigrés were wealthy members of the church or aristocracy. Some prominent Britons like the Duchess of York and John Eardley Wilmot worked tirelessly to raise awareness. Through their efforts, they provided a measure of relief for the suffering émigré population.

Many working class émigrés were industrious, however, and established themselves fairly quickly. Some offered lessons in French, dancing, fencing, and chess. Others became tailors, seamstresses and hatmakers. Some opened boarding houses and restaurants. A number found work with the Post Office which gave them safe access to France where they were able to gather information.

The émigrés left a mark on England in more ways than one. Chapels, hospitals and schools were constructed by these industrious immigrants – many of which still remain today. St. Cross in Dudley Court, Soho Square, was the first built, followed by others in Somers Town, St. George’s Fields, Tottenham, and St. Mareylebone.

The Italian Hurdy Gurdy Men

Carlo Gatti is credited for introducing ice cream to the British as a street food. Throughout the 1850s, he peddled his sweet treats from his brightly painted cart. He and a few other ice cream vendors found such a ready market that they began bringing other Italians over to join them in the venture. These ice cream vendors were largely responsible for the popular take-away food culture that continues to thrive in some of England’s largest cities.

Carlo Gatti, 19th century ice-cream pioneer
Carlo Gatti, 19th century ice-cream pioneer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the economy in Italy took a nosedive, the trickle of Italian emigrants rapidly became a flood. Some went to America, though a large number made their home in Scotland. The established community of Italians began to bring friends and relatives in to work in the family industry. Padrones, or “benefactors”, would send agents back to Italy to recruit cheap labour for their enterprises – primarily the ice cream business. Carlo Giuliani was one of the most successful and well-known of the padrones, and he is credited with laying the foundation for the ice cream industry in Scotland.

Many Italian immigrants arrived with little to nothing, and initially made a living by begging or as itinerant musicians playing hurdy-gurdies on street corners. The hurdy-gurdy men and the beggars realized that they could make more money selling ice cream, and the padrones were all too eager to give them a barrow and take a cut of the profits.

Every morning throughout the warm summer months, the Italians would work their hand-cranks to freeze the ice cream mix they had prepared the night before, and then they would set off on their rounds. Throughout London, Manchester, Glasgow and other big cities, the ice cream vendors could be heard calling, “Gelati, ecco un poco!” This cry quickly earned them the nickname “hokey pokey men”.

While they were making more money, the immigrants were still grossly underpaid and lodged in poor conditions. During the winter months, many had to go back to working as hurdy-gurdy men to earn enough to survive. The Italians spoke little English at first, and many were subjected to mischief and abuse at the hands of local youth.

Photo credit: V & A Museum

Necessity forced the immigrants to persevere, however, and many soon became very successful. In a short 50 years between 1870 and 1920, the ice cream vendors had graduated from rickety hand carts and shabby slum shops to rather luxurious establishments. Ice cream cafes along Sauchiehall Street and in Glasgow’s city centre boasted leather-covered seats, glossy wooden booths and mirror-lined walls.

Carlo Giuliani himself was running three hugely successful cafes in Glasgow by 1890, and customers were pouring in by the thousands. He often had five or more assistants working behind the bar serving out ice cream and drinks like ginger ale.

The hand barrows slowly faded into oblivion as more immigrants moved into shops. Employees often aspired to owning their own establishment, and many would buy into a chain when they could prove their ability to turn a healthy profit. An immigrant could buy into a chain and get stocked up for about £150. Giuliani eventually established a huge network of cafes throughout Glasgow by using this system.

By 1905, there were an estimated 336 ice cream shops in Glasgow and the Italian population had reached nearly 5000. By the 1920s there was a whole new Scottish-born generation serving behind the counters of the family enterprises. At the same time, British Parliament passed the 1920 Aliens Order which required immigrants to gain a work permit before entering the country. The Italian government also passed stiff anti-emigration laws to stem the flow of its citizens. The Scottish-Italian community still thrives today, however, and their food and culture is widely celebrated

The Shotely Bridge Swordmakers

In the late 1600s, a colony of Germans quietly settled in at Shotely Bridge and set up what would become the heart of Britain’s sword making industry. The little group of families, led by the Oleys and Moles, had fled from Solingen in 1688, though no one knows why for certain. Some have suggested that they were fleeing religious persecution. Other sources indicate that they may have been escaping the wrath of a local sword maker’s guild whose secrets they had betrayed.

The Solingen 02
The Solingen 02 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever the reason for their arrival, they found an ideal home in Shotely Bridge. Naturally, they wanted a locale where they could maintain the secrecy of their trade, and they spent some time searching for the perfect home. They initially looked near London before making their way north, exploring along the banks of the Tyne. It wasn’t until 1691 that they came upon the sequestered spot a few miles from Ebchester. The tiny village of Shotely Bridge was remote and the very soft water of the Derwent was perfect for tempering steel.

It is quite apparent that a number of German immigrants had settled in the region earlier in the century as well, and this may be an additional factor in why the sword makers chose to make Shotely Bridge their home. The register in the nearby town of Ebchester shows an entry recording “Eleanor, the daughter of Matthias Wrightson Oley, baptized 1628.” The Wrightsons were an old family in Ebchester and it seems that a number of German Oleys had arrived in the region several decades before the Shotely Bridge settlers.

They were an overall respectable people. The quiet settlers were industrious with strong moral and religious principles. They established themselves easily, mingling freely with natives of the dale. The sword makers of Shotely Bridge quickly gained a reputation for the outstanding quality of their swords, knives and cutlery. They became widely known for their skill in engraving and gilding and the art of tempering steel – an art that was unknown in England before their arrival. There was one weapon though, that none in England could imitate: the hollow sword blade. These blades took special skill that few but the Shotely Bridge sword makers possessed.

Skull showing sword-blade trauma, 1903
Skull showing sword-blade trauma, 1903 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the Napoleonic wars began, demand for good swords rose sharply and Shotely Bridge was the primary provider of the needed weapons. Rather than manufacturing their own iron as was common at the time, the sword makers purchased high quality Swedish iron from Danmora. From this high quality iron they produced the steel used in their craft.

For many years the Germans, and particularly the Oley family, enjoyed great prosperity. They enjoyed high profits, their workmen had high wages, and there was an enormous demand for their products. When William Oley died in 1808, nearly the whole of the village and surrounding territories were owned by the Oley family.

Unfortunately, William Oley’s sons neglected the trade. Competition in the sword making industry increased, and as the Napoleonic war ended, so did the demand.

Today, most of the old German families have faded away, though a few remain. Besides a few Oleys, we can find a number of Molls (though they now spell their name Mole). Sword blades are no longer made in Shotely Bridge, however, and the art has been lost with time and neglect.

Further Reading

The Sword Makers of Shotley Bridge

Swordsmiths in England

Surnames of North East England

Short Sea Migration to the UK

As travel increased in the 19th century, British railway companies began to branch into cross-channel services. The 60 or so railway operating companies owned a huge fleet of some 1,250 ships, ranging from tugs and dredgers to cross-channel ferries and pleasure steamers. Many of the larger companies invested massively in the venture, placing a huge value on providing comfortable and dependable short sea crossings.

English: Victoria Station entrance Built in 18...
English: Victoria Station entrance Built in 1851 for the Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British ports served as a gateway from continental Europe to Canada and the United States, thus, there was a great demand for the services that the railways offered. The railway companies met the demand by taking the shortest practicable sea route, and even constructing special harbours to connect the ship route to existing railways. Some railway companies even took ownership of strategic canals to facilitate this process.

Early in the game, the government had attempted to protect smaller existing enterprises by putting stringent restrictions in place to prevent railway companies from owning ships. Of course, the railways quickly found loopholes in the legislation by simply setting up lightly disguised subsidiary companies. The London and South Western Railway, for example, held a large interest in the South Western Steam Navigation Co, founded in 1842. The Brighton and Continental Steam Packet Co, founded in 1847, was held in large part by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway.

By 1863, however, the railways were collectively granted permission to run passenger steamers across the channel. From early on, the railways ran large operations of steamers from the ports of Goole, Grimsby and Hull in Humber. Most routes were focused primarily on cargo, meaning that there was typically room for no more than 12 passengers. The routes from Hull as well as the routes linking Grimsby with large European ports, on the other hand, ran steamers that could accommodate up to 450 passengers at a time.

The Great Central Railway (originally called the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway) became a very popular way for emigrants to journey from mainland Europe through the UK and on to their final destination in North America. The GCR ran ships to Grimsby on the East Coast from some of the most important ports in Northern Europe, including Hamburg and Antwerp, Riga and Libau. From the Grimsby port, GCR trains would take passengers to Manchester and then on to Liverpool, from which most ships sailed to the United States and Canada.

The White Hart, Alfred Gelder Street, Kingston...
The White Hart, Alfred Gelder Street, Kingston Upon Hull (Photo credit: D H Wright)

Since the Railway operated both the ships and the trains, they were able to offer combined tickets in a packet price. Emigrants from Hamburg, for example, could visit one ticket agent and buy their ticket for their short sea crossing and their train ride across the UK to Liverpool.

Quite a large number of emigrants chose this route on the GCR on their way to North America. In fact, the only comparable competition to this line was a similar package offered through the port in Hull, where emigrants – Scandinavians in particular – traveled via the Paragon Railway Station.

A huge number of Jewish immigrants came at this time from modern day Lithuania, and between 30,000 and 70,000 Russian and Polish emigrants also flowed through the Humber ports. The majority of these (as high as 63 percent) made their journey via the Grimsby steamers and trains of the Great Central Railway.

In all, Grimsby saw over 100,000 emigrants flow through its port and along its railway. When the exodus from Europe was at its pinnacle, as many as 5,000 emigrants a year flowed through the British borders, swelling the population of Grimsby from a mere 8,860 in 1851 to 40,000 by 1880.

Some of the immigrants did settle in Northern England – most of them concentrating along the travel route in Grimsby, Hull, Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool. However, the majority of the European emigrants held tickets through to Canada or the United States and carried on with their journeys to North America after a brief period of weeks or months in England.

The Lascars of London and Liverpool

Reproduction ID: P85233 Maker: Marine Photo Se...

As the British maritime trade expanded throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, ships began to look further afield for seasoned sailors. Indian seamen – or “Lascars” – had been serving on European ships since Vasco da Gama hired an Indian pilot in the late 15th century, so naturally, the British shipping lines turned to this ready force. Throughout the 1870s, a huge number of Lascars were contracted into service for the United Kingdom, as the British East India Company recruited seamen from Yemen, Assam, Bengal, and Gujarat.

The Lascars played a valuable role throughout this period, and manned many British ships through times of war and times of peace. Their skillful ship handling ensured safe passage of merchandise as it was shipped from the Orient to London and other British ports.

Despite their skill and invaluable contribution to the commerce of the day, the Lascars were unfortunately treated very unfairly. They served on the British ships under “lascar agreements”, which gave ship owners an undue power over the Indian sailors.

Lascars were paid a pittance, making a mere 5% of the white sailors’ wages, while being expected to work at far longer hours. They were given food in smaller portions and of inferior quality. They were often quartered in the most cramped and dingy areas of the ship with the poorest ventilation.

The Lascars lived under conditions not unlike slavery, as ship owners could retain their services for up to three years at a time, transferring them from one ship to the next on a whim. They sometimes served as deck crewmen, though more often they worked as stokers below decks, as the task was deemed to be below the dignity of a white man.

Not surprisingly, there were many desertions among the lascar ranks. Others were forced to wait in England for long periods before they could find work on a ship returning to India. When the Navigation Acts were passed, many Indian sailors arriving in London could not even be reemployed for return journeys, and thus, they were simply abandoned.

Lascar and unknown ship
Lascar and unknown ship (Photo credit: ballasttrust)

The impoverished and ill-prepared Lascars would be left to fend for themselves, wandering the streets of London, Liverpool and other ports, often forced to beg in order to survive. Many took up low-paying, menial jobs sweeping streets or peddling. Initially, many would sleep out on the streets or in sheds on the docks.

Eventually, the ports at London, Liverpool, Southampton, Cardiff, Manchester, and Glasgow began to provide temporary housing for the Lascars; though these barrack homes were often filthy and pest-ridden. By the 1930s, conditions had improved somewhat, and Lascars  were able to find lodging and eventually employment through The Stranger’s Home or other similar Indian lodging houses in East London.

A substantial community of Indian sailors grew up in East London, Liverpool, and other seaport towns, and by World War I, there were 51,616 Lascars settled across Britain. As the Indian sailors integrated into the community, many of their customs and festivals became part of the British social scene. A Parsi chapel and cemetery were established, and eventually a mosque.

Many of the Lascars took British wives, and thus further integrated into the British culture and community. In fact, at one point, the Lascar seamen were almost exclusively marrying white women as there were very few Indian women in England at the time. While some expressed disgust over this interracial marriage, there were no legal restrictions against the mixed marriages. This resulted in a strong interracial community being established in Britain’s major port cities.

The Diversity at Tiger Bay

Few places in Britain show such cultural diversity as Cardiff’s Tiger Bay. The region is a veritable potpourri of colours, creeds and nationalities – and it has been so for many years now.

English: Immigrant Statues, Cardiff Bay A bron...
Immigrant Statues, Cardiff Bay A bronze of an immigrant couple symbolising the arrival of many to Tiger Bay seeking a better life in Britain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Welsh capital served as one of the great global coal producers. Naturally, this industrial boom was something of a beacon for immigrants, who found work aboard ships and on the docks.

Immigrants poured in from the Middle East, Africa, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, and China. Norwegians, Italians and Irish soon joined the mix. They began to settle in around Cardiff Docks and Butetown in the early 1900s, bringing with them their own unique cultural heritages and traditions. By the 1950s, the mile long stretch of dockland commonly known as Tiger Bay (incorporating Butetown and Cardiff Docks) could boast some 57 nationalities and over 50 languages scattered throughout its 10,000 inhabitants.

Rather than the intense cultural clashes that we might expect, Tiger Bay became a truly amicable melting pot where cultures blended and even mixed with existing Welsh traditions. Racial intermarriage became quite common, particularly between male immigrants and Welsh women. There was an overall attitude of tolerance, harmony and respect between cultures as the immigrants settled in and made Wales their new home. Thus, Butetown essentially became one of the UK’s very first multicultural communities.

Unfortunately, despite the pervading harmony between races, Tiger Bay soon earned a reputation as a hotbed of immorality, rife with prostitution, gambling and violence. It was considered to be a very rough and dangerous area, and in many cases it was. Merchant ships arrived from all over the world loaded with rough and rowdy seamen who only stayed long enough to unload and reload their ships.

Catering to the demand, Tiger Bay essentially became the red light district of Cardiff, offering all the comforts that the sailors demanded. The rough sailors often caused trouble before moving on, leaving murders, thefts and lesser crimes unsolved. So prevalent was this reputation of vice and immorality that the name “Tiger Bay” began to be applied to any seaside dock or neighborhood with a similar notoriety for violence and crime.

The locals, however, do look on Tiger Bay as a friendlier place – a place closer to the harmonious community described earlier. Rita Delpeche, a 69-year-old local recalls that “There was so much love here in the old days. But outside Butetown all the women were portrayed as prostitutes and the men as pimps.”

Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey

Despite its rough reputation, Cardiff’s Tiger Bay remains as one of the most fascinating melting pots in UK history. The rich mix of culture brought about a powerful character in its community – and much of that can still be seen today.

Tiger Bay even produced a number of celebrities. Singer Shirley Bassey was born in Tiger Bay and went on to rank among the most famous female vocalists of 20th century Britain. The rugby world can also thank Tiger Bay, as it produced league stars like Frank Whitcombe, Billy Boston and Colin Dixon.

In 1999, much of the old derelict buildings in the area were bulldozed to make way for new living spaces. Yet, though the landscape has changed, the diversity of Tiger Bay remains. Today, more than 100 years later, Butetown can still claim the highest percentage of ethnic minorities in the Welsh capital. It has become something of a haven for refugees, attracting a large number of immigrants from war-torn countries like Somalia.

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German Pork Butchers in Britain


Before burgers, fish and chips and kebabs came the original takeaway: German pork pies, sausages, rissoles and other ready-made foodstuffs. During the 19th century, while most European emigrants were making their way to North America, a significant number of Germans were quietly making England their new home

Pork packing in Cincinnati. Print showing four...
Pork packing in Cincinnati. Print showing four scenes in a packing house: “Killing, Cutting, Rendering, [and] Salting.” Chromo-lithograph of the cartoons exhibited by the Cincinnati Pork Packers’ Association, at the International Exposition, at Vienna.. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the Hohenloheregion in the north-east of Germany, population growth, agricultural depression and a series of crop failures provided a significant push-factor. Germans from the region began looking outward for new opportunity, with a number of skilled professional butchers making their way to England in 1817.

The butchers quickly established themselves and found a ready market in the rapidly-expanding cities of Northern England. Industrialization was leading to a burgeoning population who demanded cheap, ready-made basic foods. The butchers had arrived at an opportune moment to serve a market of factory workers who wanted a convenient, hot meal after finishing work.

The demand quickly outstripped the supply, leading more butchers to open shops across England. In Sheffield, for example, one lone butcher shop in 1817 grew to 14 shops by 1883, and 18 shops by 1914. Soon, the number of qualified Hohenlohe butchers could no longer meet the demand, so they called out to young men back home.

Young farmers’ sons were ready and able to take up the challenge. Once the winter set in, they jumped into butchery courses where they learned the art of slaughtering and butchering. Back home, their mothers taught them to produce the savory German sausages and salted, smoked and pickled meats that were in such high demand in England. With well-honed skills, the young butchers entered the British market near the middle of the 19th century.

As butchers grew wealthy, some sent letters home recruiting young women for household help. Others wrote home looking for wives. German women answered the call, bringing with them a whole set of skills and delightful family recipes to add to the butchers’ offerings.

Butchers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The German butchers and their families quickly spread to all parts of Northern England, eventually establishing themselves as far afield as Scotland and Ireland. Butcher shops were soon opened in London as well as the German community continued to spread and grow.

The demand for cheap, ready-made foods continued to grow, and in the 1870s, the immigrant butchers called for a third wave of emigrants. A whole new flock of young apprentice butchers and young girls finished school and set off for work in Britain. The boys immediately jumped into their new employment, and girls served in German households.

A 1897 newspaper ran a story documenting the phenomenon, noting “The Germans created this business amongst us … In every town there are many of them, and there is now hardly a village (…) throughout the North of England that has not one or more. Englishmen have all along been to blame for neglecting the pig as a subject of human food (….). But the German is the pork man par excellence”

At first, the Germans stayed in close, tightly-knit communities. They spoke little English, and maintained their traditions, customs and stories. Eventually, however, they realized that their enterprise would be better served by integration into British society. This allowed them to thrive even further, with some taking leading positions in pork butchers’ associations.

Unfortunately, the two World Wars brought widespread intolerance toward the German butchers. The once-thriving business went into decline, and the rich history of the Hohenlohe butchers was greatly diminished. A few establishments did make it through, like the Herterichs in Ireland and the Haffners in Burnley; however, little remains today of the once-famous German takeaway specialties.


1. New light on the German Pork Butchers in Britain (1850 – 1950)” by Karl-Heinz Wuestner, Ilshofen, Germany

The King’s German Legion

From the time George I ascended the throne of England in 1714 until the end of the reign of William IV in 1837, the Kings of England also ruled as Electorates over Hanover in Germany. In 1803, however, Hanover was occupied by Napoleonic troops. Though the German States had no quarrel with the French at the time, Napoleon justified his occupation of Hanover by pointing out that since it was under British rule, it was fair game.

English: A Sergeant 2nd Btn. (Light infantry) ...
A Sergeant 2nd Btn. (Light infantry) King’s German Legion, British Army, Waterloo (1815). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Due to extreme apathy on the part of the Hanoverian government, little importance had been placed on military strength in the electorate. The nominal strength of the armed forces, including infantry, cavalry, artillery and engineers was counted at 15,546. In reality, more than a third of these men were on furlough, leaving the real force at around ten thousand men. There were numerous vacancies throughout the regiments, leaving a dearth of both officers and soldiers. Fortresses had been neglected, and military discipline had relaxed almost to the point of being non-existent. Thus, when the Electorship of Hanover was overrun by French troops, the army of Hanover posed little opposition and quickly surrendered. This led to the signing of the Convention of Elbe, which formally dissolved the Electorate of Hanover.

George III refused to recognize the Convention of Elbe, however. He quickly sent off a letter to Colonel Friedrich von der Decken commanding him to raise a corps of soldiers to be called “The King’s German Legion.” In August of 1803, thousands of soldiers from the former electorate army emigrated to England to become part of the King’s legion. By December of 1803, the King’s German Legion was officially established and placed under the command of His Royal Highness Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge.

So many soldiers answered the call that they exceeded the original plans for a light corps. The King’s German Legion incorporated soldiers in all positions, including horse and foot artillery, light and heavy cavalry, light and line infantry, as well as a corps of engineers.

Though they had come from the rather undisciplined ranks of the Electoral army, the King’s German Legion became known for its outstanding discipline and fearsome fighting skills. Its cavalry ranked as one of the highest in the British army, and according to historian Alessandro Barbero, the Legion “had such a high degree of professionalism that it was considered equal in every way to the best British units.”

Edmund Wheatly, who procured a commission in the KGL in 1813 was duly impressed and noted that, “The Germans bear excessive fatigues wonderfully well, and … will march over six leagues (18 miles) while an Englishman pants and perspires beneath the labour of twelve miles.”

Though the Legion never fought on their own, they participated in numerous campaigns, lending their strength to the bulk of the British troops. They fought alongside the British in Hanover, Pomerania, Copenhagen, and Walcheren under General Sir John Moore. They then went on to serve under the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular Campaign, fighting in the battles of Bussaco, Barrosa, Fuentes de Onoro, Albuera, Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca, Garcia Hernandez, Burgos, Venta del Pozo, Vittoria, San Sebastian, Nivelle, and Sicily, as well as throughout eastern Spain and Northern Germany.


Possibly the most famous, however, was their participation in the Battle of Waterloo. The 2nd Light Battalion, along with members of the 1st Light and 5th Line Battalions, dug in to defend the road at “La Haye Sainte.” Reinforcements were cut off before they arrived, and the KGL battalion was forced to defend the road and farmhouse for six hours without ammunition or reinforcement. Eventually, however, they had no choice but to retreat and abandon the farm.

After Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, Hanover once again came under British rule and was re-founded as the Kingdom of Hanover. A new Hanoverian army was formed, and some officers and soldiers of the Legion were integrated into its ranks. Others settled in England – particularly in Bexhill, where parish records show quite a number of marriages between KGL soldiers and local girls.

At its strongest point, the King’s German Legion employed approximately 14,000 soldiers and officers, though over the 13 years of its existence, the King’s German Legion counted as many as 28,000 men in its service at one time or another.


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