History KS3 / GCSE: The story of the Palatines who migrated to Britain in the 1700s

Historian David Olusoga tells the story of the Palatines, one of a number of groups of European migrants who came to Britain in the 18th century to escape poverty, religious persecution and seek a better life.

In 1709, in an area in Blackheath in south London, 13,000 German migrants called the Palatines formed what became regarded as Britain’s first refugee camp.

They spoke different languages and belonged to different churches and became a curiosity for thousands of Londoners of the period.

Most hoped to travel on to Carolina in the New World, after promises of work and prosperity, but in the end only a few made the trip to North America, and many returned to Germany.

Olusoga meets Dr. Brodie Waddell from Birkbeck at the University of London, who is an expert on this period.

This short film is from the BBC series, Migration.

Teacher Notes

Key Stage 3

This short film tells a very clear, accessible story that could be used when looking at Early Modern social history and the Poor Laws; or at Britain’s relationship with Europe after the ‘Glorious Revolution’; or at attitudes to religion.

It is a quick way in to understanding many things about England - politically, economically and socially - at that time.

It is a human story that has strong contemporary echoes today.

Students could debate the authorities’ actions at each stage of the story.

Key Stage 4

This story can be compared with other European Protestant migrants: Huguenots and Walloons.

  • Why were the Palatines treated differently?
  • Was religion a major factor, or poverty and economic usefulness?

This story can prompt discussion of issues still current today:

  • Were they refugees or economic migrants?
  • Why did the authorities initially want them, but later change their attitude?

If the film is stopped halfway through, students could be asked what the response of the authorities was likely to be and why, before discovering what it was.

Students could research what happened to those who went to America, and to Ireland.

Links can be made with later migrants - Irish and East European Jewish - who also hoped to go on to America but ended up staying in Britain.

Curriculum Notes

This short film is suitable for teaching history at KS3 and KS4/GCSE in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Fourth Level and National 4 and 5 in Scotland.

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