Tag: London

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

English: "A list of the names of all the ...
“A list of the names of all the adventurers in the stock of the honourable the East-India-Company, the 12th day of April, 1684,” broadside on paper, 32 cm x 20 cm, published by the East India Company, London. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The East India Company, often referred to as the Honourable East India Company or more colloquially as “John Company”, was established with a Royal Charter from Elizabeth I on December 31, 1600. The Company was originally chartered as the Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies, with the intention of pursuing trade throughout the East Indies. As it turned out, however, the Company ended up trading primarily with the Indian subcontinent, Balochistan, and the North-west frontier provinces.

The Company was created by a group of influential businessmen who gained government permission to monopolize trade in the East Indies for a period of 15 years. Thus, the British Raj was established, and fortunes were made dealing in ivory, silk, cotton, and spices.

Interestingly, however, English traders never looked at India as a permanent home. East India Company merchants went to India to establish trade and to rule. While few EIC employees stayed permanently, British rule over India lasted nearly 200 years.

As the British EIC moved into the territory, they had to face a certain amount of foreign competition. The Dutch East India Company in particular had a tight hold on the Spice Islands; thus, the British EIC focused its attentions on the Indian mainland. The first trading station was established in 1613, and by 1647, the Company had 23 factories and 90 employees throughout the subcontinent.

The Company built forts throughout India and established its own private army comprised of both British officers and native soldiers. Through this martial rule, it was easy for the Company to collect profits. Lands could be seized, local rulers could easily be deposed, and taxes could be extracted from the general populace.

It took a few decades before the EIC really became profitable; however, once it did, it became a juggernaut, dominating both the business and political spheres. As the Company’s power grew, so did England’s on the global scene.

East India House in Leadenhall Street was the ...
East India House in Leadenhall Street was the London headquarters of the East India Company. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By 1784, the power of the EIC rivaled that of the British Government, in that it held rule, in effect, over a vast number of British territories. To combat this, the government passed the East India Company Act, separating the Company’s commercial activities from its political functions. Through this act, the EIC was subordinated to the government in regard to all political matters.

The Charter Act of 1813 further subjected the EIC to Crown rule. While the act extended the Company’s charter for another 20 years, it ended the trade monopoly in all products except tea. This event also led to a greater influx of British citizens in India, as the EIC was forced to allow missionaries to establish works in the country – something that had previously been banned.

By 1873, the Company had all but dissolved. Over time, the Crown had absorbed much of the power once held by the EIC. So too, the Company’s army of 24,000 was incorporated into the British army, effectively removing the “muscle” that the Company had once relied on.

The East India Company Stock Redemption Act was passed in 1873, but little remained of its former glory. Power had effectively transferred to the government, and Queen Victoria ruled as Empress of India.

Evacuees to New Zealand
Evacuees to New Zealand (Photo credit: The National Archives UK)

In the summer of 1938, war loomed on the world’s horizon. Though fighting had not yet touched Britain, the government began preemptive plans to evacuate the cities.  The Anderson Committee divided the country into “evacuation,” “neutral” and “reception” zones, and established priority evacuees: school children and teachers, mothers and young children, pregnant women, and incapacitated adults.

At the time, London was as yet out of reach of the German Luftwaffe; however, evacuation plans progressed, rehearsals were held, and additional rural camps were set up for evacuees. By 1939, it became increasingly clear that war was on Britain’s doorstep, and local evacuation suddenly seemed an insufficient measure.

In June of 1940, France crumbled under relentless German attack. The Germans then set their sights on Britain, starting with air assaults and progressing to Blitz and bombing of British cities by September of the same year. The British government began to fear for the country’s survival in the case of an all-out invasion; thus, suggestions began to surface for a large-scale overseas evacuation.

While the suggestion was initially rejected, the government soon began to look to Commonwealth nations such as  Australia, South Africa, and Canada and also the  United States as safer havens – a way of survival for some, even if Britain was invaded. Thus plans were developed with the goal of evacuating 1 million children to British Dominions overseas.

The first “guest children” sent abroad were those of the upper class families. Personal efforts were made to send children to family or friends in Canada or America. In some cases, parents from an entire school combined efforts in private arrangements to send the whole group of children abroad. Eventually, however, the public began to demand government assistance for those less fortunate.

The possibility of an eminent Nazi invasion had parents clamouring to send their children to safer shores, while private groups in America and the other Dominions were inspired to offer a haven to Britain’s children. In order to facilitate this emigration, the government established the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) in May of 1940. The CORB was responsible for organizing this overseas evacuation, and applications began pouring in from all over the country.

Rather than processing the applications on a first-come-first-served basis, CORB placed greater priority on some children than others. It’s unclear exactly how selections were made; however, the press was soon accusing CORB of giving preferential treatment to children of the wealthy. Many more applications were received than the government was able to move, and ultimately, many of the children who were sent abroad were indeed children of wealth with contacts overseas.

The CORB process was a slow one, and in fact, far more children were sent abroad through private arrangements. An estimated 13,000 children were sent abroad by parents with the means to do so. While CORB received 210,000 applications by the time the scheme was ended, it’s estimated that a mere 3,300 were actually sent to the Dominions by the organisation.

Evacuees were primarily sent to the United States and Canada, since the trans-Atlantic passage was relatively short. Most, however, were sent to Canada, as immigration between England and Canada was more easily accomplished. Of course, some children had families in the other Dominions, so a number did end up in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the Caribbean as well.

In 1944, the tide of the war had shifted, and Britain decided to bring its children home. Troopships brought American and Canadian soldiers to their home shores and returned with British children. Families were reunited, and Britain set out on the path to rebuilding the nation.




Singapore: Gibraltar of the East

"Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles"...
“Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles”. Oil on canvas, 1817, 55 in. x 43 in. (1397 mm x 1092 mm). Given by the sitter’s nephew, W.C. Raffles Flint, to the National Portrait Gallery in 1859. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The modern nation of Singapore was established by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1819. The British statesman saw the tiny island off the coast of the Malay Peninsula as an ideal spot to establish a British colony and trading post. As an agent of the British East India Company, Raffles was able to obtain permission from Malay officials to establish a trading post on the island. He named it Singapore, after its ancient name, and promptly opened the port for free trade and free immigration.

When Singapore was first established, there were a mere 1,000 inhabitants scattered across the island. The population grew rapidly, however, as ships passed through the island’s international ports. Singapore became very ethnically diverse, and while Chinese made up the majority of the population, the island was peppered with immigrants arriving from Britain, India and the Dutch East Indies.

In the early 19th century, Britain was a great producer of woollen goods, cotton cloth and glassware. The home market was limited, however, and all of the goods could not be sold. China and Southeast Asia presented a ready market, and Singapore was the perfect trading post. Multitudes of British merchants migrated to Singapore as soon as it was established as a British outpost. They ran a brisk business selling British goods throughout the Orient and buying spices and other Asian products that could be sold in Britain.

English: The charge of the Settlement of Singa...
The charge of the Settlement of Singapore from the coat of arms of the on the gate of , . The airport opened in 1937, when Singapore was one of the three Straits Settlements together with and (Prince of Wales’ Island). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 50 years after Raffles established his free-trade port in Singapore, the country prospered and the population boomed. The Dutch officially acknowledged British sovereignty over Singapore in 1824, and the island (along with two other trading ports and a number of small dependencies) were ruled as the Straits Settlements. When the British government needed a location to station their troops, the Straits Settlements were adopted as a crown colony, and were ruled directly from London.

Singapore continued to grow as a busy seaport, now home to roughly 86,000 inhabitants. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, British influence increased even more, and thousands of workers were brought in from India, China and the Dutch East Indies to work in the tin mines and on rubber plantations.

As Singapore steamed into the 20th century it continued to prosper under British rule; however, Japan soon posed a threat. The British built a large and costly naval base to protect the island, but this “Gibraltar of the East” was only a more attractive target for the Japanese forces. Japan attacked and Singapore’s severely outnumbered forces were quickly defeated and forced to surrender.

After three and a half years of Japanese occupation, they were finally ousted and the British forces were able to return. The Singaporeans gave the returning troops a hero’s welcome. Though many British and Empire soldiers had died due to Japanese brutality, the island of Singapore was returned to peace and stability once more. Though a few Britons remained in Singapore permanently, most returned home after a time.

Immigrants Made Good – Sir Montague Maurice Burton

Sir Montague Maurice Burton was born on August 13th, 1885, in the tiny town of Kukel in Russian Lithuania. From his humble beginnings, he would go on to found the enormously successful Burton Company, responsible for outfitting so many British men throughout the 1900s.

English: Burton's menswear factory Leeds (now ...
English: Burton’s menswear factory Leeds (now owned by Arcadia) viewed from Brown Hill Avenue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burton was notoriously cagey about his early life. We do know, however, that he was born Meshe David Osinsky to Hyman Jehuda and Rachel Elky Osinsky. His father was a bookseller; however, he passed away shortly after Meshe’s birth. Following his mother’s remarriage, Meshe was sent to live with his uncle, Soliman Osinsky.

Throughout his childhood, Meshe received a strong religious education and was well instructed in the Talmud. His uncle was a leader in the community and Meshe was well cared for; however, at 15, Meshe struck out on his own with the goal of starting a business in England.

He arrived in England in 1900 with little more than £100 in his pocket, but his keen business intellect more than made up for the money he lacked. He began his business career as a peddler selling accessories from door to door. After just a few years, however, he managed to set up as a general outfitter selling ready-made suits for the working man.

He purchased the ready-made suits from the Zimmerman Bros wholesale clothiers in Leeds and marked the price up by 30% in his retail business. By 1906, Burton was ready to expand, establishing a branch in Mansfield and then another in Sheffield. By this point, his stores offered both ready-made and bespoke (custom-tailored) suits.

In 1909, Burton met and married Sophie Marks. Shortly after his marriage, he changed the name of his stores from M. Burton to Burton & Burton. Children soon arrived in the Burton home. A girl was born in 1910, followed by a boy in 1914, followed by twin boys in 1917. It’s unclear when Burton began going by Montague Burton – and up until this point, he had not changed it legally; however, in the birth records of his twin boys he gave his name as Montague Maurice Burton.

By 1914, Burton had increased his number of stores to 14. The stores were scattered mainly throughout the industrial Midlands, and catered largely to the middle class. They offered a large variety of men’s wear, and soon grew to become the world’s largest wholesale made-to-measure tailoring service.

English: Shop Ventilator, High Street, Hunting...
Shop Ventilator, High Street, Huntingdon The script reads “Montague Burton The Tailor of Taste” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the First World War broke out, business boomed for Burton. He won a lucrative uniform contract, leading him to rapidly expand his workforce and the number of shops. Sales nearly tripled between 1915 and 1917.

Though he was a driven businessman, Burton was an outstanding employer for his time. He was committed to providing healthy working conditions for his employees, providing meals and low-cost dentistry. He even contracted the services of an eye specialist for his tailors, recognizing the strain caused by focused needle-work.

His efforts and business acumen were publicly recognized when, in 1931, he was knighted “for services to industrial relations.” He was a Justice of the Peace from 1930 onward, and was a prominent supporter of the League of Nations.

Burton passed away on September 21st, 1952, at a dinner party for his executives and managers at the Great Northern Hotel in Leeds. His funeral was held at the Chapeltown Synagogue.

Guernsey evacuees and kind Canadians during the Second World War

For 5 years Gill Mawson has been interviewing evacuees who fled Guernsey, in the Channel Islands,  to England, just before the Germans occupied the islands in June 1940. 17,000 children and adults left Guernsey, which was British territory, with the majority arriving in England with just the clothes on their backs. Whole schools were evacuated with their teachers, and some reopened in England during the war as ‘Guernsey schools’ so that the evacuated teachers and pupils could remain together. One school was financially supported by Americans, with one child being sponsored by the President’s wife, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt. The only communication between England and Guernsey was through 25 word Red Cross letters. The evacuees remained in England for five years until the war ended. Some evacuees chose not return to Guernsey but to remain in England where they had settled into their local communities.

Interviews with the evacuees, together with surviving wartime records, show there were certain individuals and organisations that made a huge difference to the lives of these penniless evacuees, not just financially, but  also emotionally. Amongst these were the Canadian Channel Islander‘s Societies.When news of the Channel Islands evacuation and occupation reached the 500 Channel Islanders living in the Vancouver area, a sense of shock swept through the community. They quickly realised that the evacuees would need clothing, shoes, cash and medical supplies, and a writer, Philippe William Luce, formed the Vancouver Channel Islanders Society. Some of their newsletters have survived, and the society noted at one meeting,

“Thousands of old folks, women and children urgently need help, and every dollar counts. It costs about $1000 a week for shoe repairs and dental attention alone. Every letter from the kiddies to their parents in the Islands costs one shilling and families building homes in England need stoves, furniture, bedding etc.” [i]

The society’s newsletters give details of the fund raising efforts they made. They sold Christmas cards and Jersey seed potatoes, and held raffles – with one prize being a prize Jersey calf which raised $3,000.  Local people donated clothing, shoes, socks, quilts and books to the society, which were sent to Victory Hall, 535 Homer Street, Vancouver, for packaging on Thursday afternoons. The society organised lunches for which admission was $25 per person, together with musical evenings, concerts, film shows and picnics. In October 1941 the Vancouver Lion’s Club donated all the proceeds of its annual charity concert to the society, which featured an appearance by Lansing Hatfield, a star of the New York Opera.  By February 1942, the Vancouver society had sent $3,254 to London for the evacuees together with 119 crates of clothing, and letters of thanks began to arrive from Channel Island evacuees in England,

“More and more letters of thanks are coming from the recipients;some exceedingly touching scribblings from little children.”

Some of the Canadians who donated clothing to the society placed little notes in the pockets of coats and jackets.  A Guernsey evacuee at the Forest School in Cheshire found the following note in the pocket of his coat,

“To the little boy who receives this parcel. Please write to me at the above address and let me know how you like it. May God Bless you, and keep you safe from harm. Sincerely yours, Mrs C J Collett.”

Canadian note found in pocket  Martel

Another society was established in Victoria,Vancouver Island, containing around 100 members. At their first meeting in August 1941, the committee decided to arrange a Channel Islands Arts and Crafts event, to arouse interest in the islands, and between 1941 and 1945, the Victoria society raised $4,992 for the evacuees. They used the Women’s Institute rooms on Fort Street for the collection and packaging of clothing, before sending the crates to the Vancouver society, or directly to London.4

It is not known exactly how many more Channel Islanders in Canada carried out this wonderful work, but their efforts clearly went a long way in helping hundreds of  unfortunate evacuees in England who had been torn from their homes.

Guest post by Gillian Mawsom. For more information on Guernsey Evacuees, please visit http://guernseyevacuees.wordpress.com/evacuation/

[i]      Martel, Diary, Vancouver Channel Islanders Society Minutes, February 1942

4     The Daily Colonist, Channel Islanders in Victoria, 3 May 1979, p.4


Immigrants Made Good – Michael Marks

Michael Marks immigrated to England around 1882. He was a young Polish Jew with hardly a penny to his name. He arrived unable to speak the English language, and lacking any marketable trade experience. Within his lifetime, however, he would found one of the most widely known companies in the world: Marks & Spencer.

English: Dewhirst's Warehouse - Harper Street ...
Dewhirst’s Warehouse – Harper Street Here Michael Marks met Tom Spencer, Dewhirst’s cashier, and in 1894 they formed the partnership of Marks & Spencer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marks was born in 1859 to Jewish parents in Slonim, then a part of Russian Poland. In 1882, he sought to escape anti-Jewish repression and looked to England as a solution. He had heard of a company called Barran in Leeds that was known to employ Jewish refugees, so off to Leeds he went.

Despite his lack of trade skills, Marks had a shrewd business mind. He had a knack for understanding what customers wanted and how to provide those goods and services.

In 1884, Marks met a Leeds warehouse owner named Isaac Dewhurst. Marks arranged a deal in which he would purchase products from Dewhurst’s warehouse and then sell them in the villages around Leeds. He learned English fairly quickly as he travelled throughout the towns and villages of West Yorkshire, carrying his bag full of wares.

Using the proceeds from his travelling sales, he invested in a permanent market stall in Leeds’ open market which quickly grew into a bustling little business. The venture was so successful that he opened stalls at markets in Castleford and Wakefield as well. He set himself apart from others in the market by clearly displaying prices on each of his products – a practice that was unusual at the time, but one that his customers clearly appreciated.

Eventually, Marks began renting a space at the new covered market in Leeds, which allowed him to operate six days a week. He had a few stalls, but his most popular by far was his penny stall. Prominently displayed was the message “Don’t Ask the Price, It’s a Penny.” The next few years would see more of Marks’ penny stalls opened in market halls across Yorkshire and Lancashire.

In hopes of further expanding his business, Marks approached Dewhurst with the idea of a partnership. Dewhurst wasn’t interested, but he directed Marks to his cashier, Tom Spencer. Spencer had observed Marks’ steady rise and business acumen, and felt that the required £300 investment was a safe one.

The new partners divided the work according to their particular strengths. While Marks continued to run the market stalls, Spencer managed the office and supply lines, capitalizing on contacts he had made with manufacturers while working for Dewhurst. Marks and Spencer soon had stores running in Liverpool, Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Sheffield, Bristol, Hull, Manchester, Sunderland, and Cardiff.

By 1897, Marks and Spencer were running a miniature empire of thirty six branches. They built new stores in Bradford, Northampton, Preston, Swansea, and Leicester, as well as several branches in London. They also constructed a new warehouse in Manchester, which became their home office.

Marks & Spencer became a limited company in 1903. While Spencer soon retired, Marks continued to grow the company until his death in December of 1907.

In addition to his status as a great businessman, Marks was also remembered as a great philanthropist. He was widely known and respected in the community, and his life, work and generosity were celebrated by the largest attendance ever seen by the Manchester Jewish Cemetery



Barnado’s Emigrant Children

Thomas Barnardo never intended to settle in England. He set out with grand ambitions to become a missionary in China. As it turned out, however, he found his mission among the destitute and drifting children in the slums of England’s cities.

English: A boy ploughing at Dr. Barnardo's Ind...
A boy ploughing at Dr. Barnardo’s Industrial Farm, Russell, Manitoba, ca. 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas was born in Dublin, Ireland on July 4th of 1845. He was the second youngest of the five children born to Abigail and John Michaelis Barnardo. John, a furrier by trade, had emigrated from Hamburg to Dublin in the early 1840s – not long before young Thomas was born. Over the course of two marriages, John fathered seventeen children.
John’s children were well cared for, and young Thomas began his working life as a store clerk. Before long, however, Thomas converted to Evangelical Christianity. He left his employer and spent much of his time preaching in the slums of Dublin.

After a time, Thomas set his mind to becoming a doctor, with the plan of working as a medical missionary with the China Inland Mission. In pursuit of this plan, Thomas moved to England to begin his studies at the London Hospital. He went on to further his studies at colleges in Paris and Edinburg, where he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Despite his extensive studies, Thomas never earned a doctorate. As he studied in London, he began an evangelical work which made him aware of the plight of homeless, drifting children adrift throughout England’s biggest cities.
Barnardo was a powerful speaker, and brought his concerns to the Missionary Conference in 1867. His speech fell on the receptive ears of Lord Shaftsbury and prominent banker, Robert Barclay. They were moved by the plight of England’s homeless children, and offered to support the establishment of homes for these children. Thanks to their support and encouragement, Thomas gave up his plans to move abroad.

The first of “Dr. Barnardo’s Homes” opened its doors in 1870 at London’s 18 Stepney Causeway.  This first home was the beginning of Barnardo’s life’s work. From this small beginning, his humanitarian reach continued to increase, ever with the goal of feeding, clothing and educating the waifs and strays of England.

English: Dr Barnardo Memorial, Village Holmes,...
Dr Barnardo Memorial, Village Holmes, Barkingside (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The youngest children Barnardo received were “boarded out” to families in rural homes. Older girls were trained in useful occupations and housed in industrial training homes. Boys in their upper teenage years were also trained in labor homes before they were given employment in businesses at home, at sea, or abroad.

Barnardo’s was one of a number of charities that were actively involved in child migration. The policy was widely accepted at the time, and Barnardo was a prominent figure in enabling child migration in the late 19th century. He primarily worked at placing children in homes throughout Canada, and succeeded in sending over 30,000 children to new homes there.

Barnardo went on to establish further institutions, including a convalescent home, a hospital for the very ill, and a rescue home for girls in danger. Barnardo and his wife also converted their Barkingside home into “The Girls’ Village Home,” complete with 66 cottages and a modern steam laundry.

Thomas Barnardo succumbed to angina pectoris on September 19th, 1905, and was buried in front of his house in Barkingside. At the time of his death, over 8500 of England’s destitute children were being cared for in his 96 homes.
Proving the great value of his work, a national memorial fund was instituted, providing financial support for Barnardo’s work on a permanent basis.

The Unemployed Workmen’s Act of 1905 and its Emigrant Register

In 1905, the Liberal Government passed the Unemployed Workmen’s Act. The initiative had been inherited from the previous Conservative administration, and the goal of the program was to provide assistance for unemployed workmen throughout the country.

The Act was based on the establishment of Distress Committees in metropolitan boroughs with a population of over 50,000 residents. Each Distress Committee throughout England, Scotland and Ireland would be responsible for setting up public work schemes, as well as providing assistance for families to relocate in order to find employment (either elsewhere in the country or abroad).

Alexandra of Denmark, Queen Consort to Edward ...
Alexandra of Denmark, Queen Consort to Edward VII of the United Kingdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The government threw its full weight behind the program, putting a huge contribution into the scheme. Queen Alexandra was also fully supportive of the act, and raised over £153,000 from private donors to support the various enterprises.

Each Distress Committee was entrusted with the responsibility of helping unemployed workers with small cash handouts or with temporary work. Grants were given to select businesses and local authorities, enabling them to hire more workers; however, applicants had to meet a stringent set of requirements. “Proper cases” would be thrifty and of “good character;” they could not have a previous criminal record, and they could not have received poor law assistance.

The Act also made provision for unemployed workmen and their dependents to migrate or emigrate in order to find work. Distress Committees could refer unemployed individuals to the “Central Body”, who would assist with emigration or migration as needed.

Of course, there were conditions in place governing the emigration of any unemployed worker and his family. They would need to meet specific age and fitness requirements, as well as certain qualifications showing employability in agriculture, forestry, husbandry, horticulture, breeding livestock, or growing fruits and vegetables.

Those who met the requirements would receive assistance in relocating and finding employment abroad. In some cases, the unemployed person would agree to repay the Central Body in part or in full for the sum expended for relocation. This was not a requirement, and it’s unclear how many emigrants actually repaid the Central Body for provided assistance.

The Central Body was required to report to the Local Government Board at the end of each month. Details were provided on each person who had been aided to emigrate.

Despite heavy financial backing by the government, the monarchy and by private donors, money soon ran out and the programs were no longer financially viable. The London Committee reached the conclusion that “it is impossible to deal adequately with unemployment by local authorities and we are therefore of the opinion that in future legislation the question should be dealt with nationally.”

Despite its obvious flaws and failings, the Unemployed Workmen’s Act of 1905 was a step in the right direction. It raised public awareness of the problem of unemployment and started a serious discourse on the topic in government circles.

If you know more about this Act and can enhance this article, please comment accordingly – Ed.

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.


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