The 19th century

Irish immigrants

Irish immigrants came to England fleeing poverty and the Great Famine in Ireland. By 1861, 600,000 people, or 3 per cent of the English population, had been born in Ireland.

Three-quarters of Irish immigrants were unskilled labourers or farm workers. Many ended up living in Irish areas of towns, especially Liverpool and Glasgow, in indescribable filth. They were victims of racial and religious discrimination (most were Roman Catholic) – in 1846 and for many years after there were anti-Irish riots.

Irish immigrants made a key contribution to the life of Britain in the years up to 1900:

  • Many Irish were navvies and helped to build canals or railways.
  • In 1830, the British army was 40 per cent Irish.
  • The Chartists Feargus O'Connor and William Sharman Crawford, were Irish immigrants.
  • Most Irish immigrants married local men and women. Today an estimated 42 per cent of English people have Irish ancestry.

Jewish immigrants

The Jewish community had been slowly growing since Oliver Cromwell started allowing Jewish people to settle in England in 1656:

  • By 1850 there were 50,000 Jewish people in a population of 18 million - 0.3 per cent of the population.
  • This Jewish community integrated into the population. They were often wealthy and many had professional careers such as doctors and lawyers.

Between 1880 and 1914, a further 150,000 Jewish people came to England, fleeing persecution in eastern Europe:

  • They were generally very poor and many could not read and write.
  • Most went to live in the slums of the East End of London and did 'sweated labour' - poorly paid home-working - in the 'rag trade' making and mending clothes.

Although the first Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe were welcomed and given charity, as their numbers grew, they suffered discrimination and hatred. Even some members of the established Jewish community openly said that they ought to go home.

Jewish German children who arrived in Britain
Jewish German children who arrived in Britain

Jewish immigrants made a great contribution to the life of Britain in the years up to 1900:

  • Benjamin Disraeli, who became Prime Minister in 1868, was the son of a Jewish immigrant.
  • Marks and Spencer was founded in 1884 by Michael Marks, a Jewish immigrant.