Industrialisation: migrant workers and entrepreneurs

Britain’s Industrial Revolution brought such wealth and power that it became the world’s superpower. This depended both on shipping routes and the factory system. Factories all over the country, but especially the cotton mills in the north of England, needed large numbers of workers. Pushed by poverty and pulled by the chance of work in growing cities such as Manchester, whole families left the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish countryside where they had lived for generations. This mass internal migration took place alongside migration from other parts of Europe, notably Italy.

As cities grew, hundreds of thousands of people became part of an industrial workforce. Workers organised themselves into trade unions and a labour movement that pressed for social and political change. Demands for voting rights, higher wages and better living conditions were often led by migrant workers.

Industrial Britain offered business opportunities too. During the 19th century, the growing urban population offered an opportunity for people setting up small businesses dealing in popular items such as street food, clothing or household goods. Britain also attracted entrepreneurs from overseas who believed their ideas and business ventures might take off in the most technologically advanced country in Europe.

Many migrants settled in areas of cities where they could be close to others who shared their culture and language. This made it easier to find work and accommodation, socialise, shop and generally survive in a new city. Certain areas of cities became identified with particular groups, for example the Irish in the Scotland Road area of Liverpool, Italians in Manchester’s Ancoats and, in London, communities were established in Limehouse (Chinese), Clerkenwell (Italian) and Spitalfields (eastern-European Jews).

A map showing where different immigrant communities were created in the Industrial period in England.Examples of migrant communities in England during the Industrial period
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