Multiethnic London

Term Paper, 2004

23 Pages, Grade: 1,5 (A)



1 Introduction

2 Immigration and the corresponding legislation
2.1 Immigration and legislation in the first half of the 20th century
2.1.1 Immigration and legislation before World War I
2.1.2 Immigration during the World Wars
2.1.3 Immigration and legislation after World War II
2.2 Immigration and legislation in the second half of the 20th century
2.2.1 Immigration and legislation after 1948
2.2.2 Immigration and legislation today

3 Race Relation Acts and reactions of Londoners

4 Most significant ethnic groups in London
4.1 Asian Communities
4.1.1 Indians
4.1.2 Bangladeshis
4.1.3 Pakistanis
4.1.4 Chinese
4.2 Black communities from Africa and the Caribbean
4.2.1 Black-African
4.2.2 Black-Caribbean

5 Conclusion

6 Sources
6.1 Books
6.2 Internet

7 Appendix

1 Introduction

The topic of this essay is “Multiethnic London”. The first step necessary when writing about this topic is to define the term “multiethnic”. According to Collins English Dictionary[1] “multiethnic” means “consisting of, relating to, or designed for various different races”. Thus, this presentation will not focus on the different nationalities living in London but on the different distinct races residing in the British capital. Moreover, Third Countries will be in the centre of attention, which are nations outside the current 15 member states of the European Union.

As many European races do not really differ much from each other and as the many different communities are listed among the white community, they are not of much relevance today, when talking about multiethnic London.

With London being one of the most multiracial cities in the world, it is important and interesting to find out why this is the case and how the different ethnic groups integrate and contribute to cultural and social life.

The first part of this presentation will concentrate on history and immigration to London and the corresponding legislation from the beginning of the 20th century onwards.

The next chapter will focus on race relations, both the legislation and the reactions of Londoners towards the newcomers from all parts of the world.

The third part of this essay will present the most important and largest ethnic minority groups in London, the Asian and Black communities. Out of personal interest and because I think they are the most relevant group, I put an emphasis on the various Asian communities.

In the appendix, different reference materials, such as a list of Commonwealth countries, a table with the different ethnic groups in London and their share of the capital’s population and a map with the boroughs of London can be found.

2 Immigration and the corresponding legislation

Talking about immigration to London and the United Kingdom, one could start with the Romans, Angles, Saxons and Normans; this presentation however will focus on the more recent immigration of the 20th century and its corresponding legislation with which it is closely linked.

When it comes to legislation, it should be made clear that the term “British Nationality Law”,

which is the way it is referred to in the governing Acts of Parliament is confusing; it should by right be called “UK nationality law”[2].

2.1 Immigration and legislation in the first half of the 20th century

2.1.1 Immigration and legislation before World War I

At the beginning of the 20th century already, a great number of “foreigners” already lived in London. Among these were mainly Jews and Poles who had escaped persecution in Eastern Europe around 1900, and Germans, Italians, French and Irish, who had all settled in the East End of London and Soho[3]. Soho was considered London’s “cosmopolis”, where most of the foreign residents stayed and where the many different cultures were visible in everyday life[4].

The French community which dominated Old Compton Street for example, had its own newspapers, hospitals, butchers, grocers, bakers, different cafés and restaurants around Soho, and a shop which was considered typically French as it only sold snails and frogs[5].

The same applied to all other communities living in London at that time: Italians and Germans had their own shops and cultural institutions as well, including German Christmas card makers and Italian dance halls[6]. The Jewish community preserved its culture in Yiddish theatres, Jewish schools, different shops selling Jewish goods and even ritual steam baths, mainly around Poland Street.

However, the communities mentioned above are only the most influential ones; other groups of foreign settlers had come to Soho from Greece and Cyprus, Arab countries, Switzerland, Africa, Turkey, Syria, Persia, Montenegro, Russia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Algeria, Austria and America, to name a few more[7].

The Aliens Act of 1905 and Aliens Restriction Act of 1914 targeted undesirable aliens; diseased and criminal aliens could be refused entry to Britain. Moreover, deportations of aliens were permitted.

At that time, there were only few Black and South Asian Londoners who had mostly come as seamen around the turn of the century and ran lodging houses or small cafés[8]. Few Indians had been brought to London by wealthy families as servants[9].

The first Indian restaurants opened in Soho around 1914.

Before 1948, the prime British nationality was designated “British subject”. It was a single nationality which was “acquired by virtue of a sufficiently close connection with any part of the British Empire”[10]. Thus, not only citizens of the United Kingdom were referred to as “British subject”, but everyone throughout the whole British Empire including the self-governing dominions. Since the British Empire comprised one fourth of the world population at that time, a quarter of the world’s population was consequently allowed to settle and live in London.

This led to mass immigration from the whole Empire and the influx of foreigners had to be controlled relatively soon.

2.1.2 Immigration during the World Wars

The First World War put an end to immigration from Germany, as from August 1914 all Germans were considered as “alien enemies”[11]. The German community in London, which was earlier known as one of the most influential groups of foreigners, declined in its number of people and became almost non-existent.

During the two World Wars, hundreds of thousands of men from all over the British Empire came to Britain to fight for England[12]. Many of them stayed on after the end of the wars, settled in London, the capital of the Empire, and contributed on a large scale to mass immigration around that time.

During the First and Second World Wars, European immigration to Britain continued, and included, in addition to earlier communities, Maltese, Spanish and Hungarian.

But even immigration from non-European countries became more and more significant; for example from China, the United States, as well as a remarkable number of South Asian and Black sailors[13].

During World War II however, the largest-growing group in London was naturally the Jewish community, since many Jews fled from the Nazi Regime in continental Europe and settled in London; other refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe followed, particularly from Poland and France, as both countries had their government-in-exile in London.

2.1.3 Immigration and legislation after World War II

As a result of labour and work shortages in Britain and particularly in London after World War II, the government began to search for more immigrants[14]. The first to be admitted to London were a great number of homeless Poles, and as not enough workers could be recruited from Europe, the government reluctantly turned to non-white Commonwealth citizens to fill the vacant lower-paid jobs of a growing economy[15].

The Polish resettlement Act of 1947 was aimed at assisting Poles in Britain who had been made homeless by World War II and who were needed as workers.

Therefore, the British Nationality Act passed in 1948 created citizenship for the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom’s remaining colonies (CUKC), excluding the self-governing dominions. By virtue of this Act, all citizens of the United Kingdom, its colonies and independent Commonwealth countries were free to enter Britain as they wished, to work, settle and bring their families[16]. Naturally, this act increased mass immigration from Commonwealth countries, especially from India, Pakistan, which had just gained its independence, and the West Indies (Caribbean), as the dissolving Empire provoked unemployment and civil wars.

The largest immigrant group in the late 1940s and 1950s came from the West Indies, a region that includes all of the islands which extend through the Caribbean Sea from the tip of the Florida peninsula to the northern coast of South America[17]. The docking of the “Empire Windrush” at Tilbury in London on 22 June 1948 with almost 500 West Indian men on board, most of them from Jamaica can be seen as key event of immigration from the West Indies.

As mass immigration continued, particularly of African and Asian races, racial violence, prejudices and discrimination against immigrants rose rapidly.

2.2 Immigration and legislation in the second half of the 20th century

2.2.1 Immigration and legislation after 1948

In the 1950s and 60s West Indians and South Asians were still the largest immigrant group of all newcomers followed by immigrants from Hong Kong. West Indians were employed in public transport, catering, the health sector and manual trade whereas Indians and Pakistanis mainly worked in the textile and iron industries[18]. In the mid-1950s, a Rubber Company in Southall with labour shortages recruited workers directly from the North-Indian state of Punjab and provided accommodation for them; other factories in that area followed the company’s example and employed more Indians[19]. As a result of the growing number of Punjabis in Southall, the first Sikh temple[20] opened there in 1959.

Until 1962, all Commonwealth[21] citizens were free to enter Britain. The 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act under a Conservative government was the first legislation to control and limit Commonwealth immigration in view of an increasing influx of newcomers every year. The act required all Commonwealth citizens seeking employment in Britain to apply for employment vouchers. Moreover, those citizens of Commonwealth nations whose passports had not been issued in Britain were obliged to hold a work permit to enter the country[22]. As immigration was restricted but did not stop altogether and many Commonwealth citizens settled in Britain through gaining work permits for the many vacant jobs, a new Commonwealth Immigrants Act adopted in 1968 and introduced in 1971 further tightened immigration controls. Potential immigrants were now required to prove that they themselves were born in the United Kingdom or that either their parents or grandparents had been[23]. This condition could obviously not be satisfied by most of the South Asian immigrants and immigrants from the Caribbean.

A new wave of Asian immigrants came from Kenya from 1967 onwards and from Uganda in August and September 1972, when they were expelled from the African countries due to Africanization policies of the newly independent states[24] and dispelled from their jobs. They had been encouraged to settle in the two states as labour on railway constructions at the beginning of the century and most of them had become professionals, shopkeepers, merchants and craftsmen later[25]. Britain admitted some 28,000 expelled Asians in two months, most of which settled in London.

The 1971 New Immigration Act which came into effect in 1973 intended to further restrict immigration and created the right of abode in the United Kingdom, which according to the act only certain citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC) had; it was only granted to those “CUKCs” who could prove that they themselves were born in the UK or that their parents or grandparents had been. This meant that not all British citizenship holders were equal and that the UK denied entry to some of its citizens[26]. Thus, the New Immigration Act made some British citizens homeless who were no longer allowed to settle and remain in the country.


[1] Collins English Dictionary - 21st century edition, Glasgow 2001


[3] Oakland, John, British Civilization, an introduction. London: Routledge 2002 (page 45).

[4] White, Jerry, London in the Twentieth Century. London: Penguin Books 2002 (page 104).

[5] White 2002, page 105

[6] White 2002, page 106f

[7] White 2002, page 105

[8] White 2002, page112



[11] White 2002, page 107


[13] White 2002, page 115


[15] Oakland 2002, page 46


[17] Encyclopaedia Britannica 2002

[18] Oakland 2002, page 46

[19] White 2002, page 138

[20] the majority of Indian Punjabis follow Sikhism.

[21] for table of Commonwealth countries, see appendix

[22] Kershaw, Roger and Pearsall, Mark, Immigrants and Aliens - a guide to sources on UK immigration and citizenship. Richmond: Public Record Office 2000, page 10.

[23] Kershaw/Pearsall 2000, page 10

[24] White 2002, page 139.

[25] White 202, page 139


Excerpt out of 23 pages


Multiethnic London
University of Heidelberg  (Institute for Translation)
Hauptseminar "The London Seminar"
1,5 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
753 KB
Multiethnic, London, Hauptseminar, London, Seminar
Quote paper
Heike Winter (Author), 2004, Multiethnic London, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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