Legitimate concerns?

There’s been a lot said in the last few days about migrants – how they should be listed and categorised, how people’s “legitimate concerns” over influxes of labour should be heard, how funding should be changed so we don’t have to invite so many, say, doctors to work here.

I am not a migrant in these terms. I grew up in a small village in rural Hampshire. I moved to the big city, London, aged 19, and to the Black Country aged 29. I have stayed within this country my whole working life. Yet I am a migrant, and it would be foolish to imagine otherwise. I moved to London to grow my opportunities for work, culture and life in general, settling into a huge metropolis with all its attendant urban characteristics. I moved away from London as an economic migrant, unable to afford to live there any longer and moving to somewhere where I hoped I could make a better living. I got a job at the University of Birmingham, presumably meaning that someone else, someone local, didn’t.

This puts me within a mobile population which dates back before the imagined golden era of the 1950s, before the Industrial Revolution. My subjects in Wolverhampton came there from across the world. The map below shows their countries of birth in the 1851 census – the large majority in England, of course, but also from France, Italy and Germany (and this was before some of the major waves of immigration from those places); America and Canada; the growing British Empire (India, Australia, Jamaica); exotic places like Madagascar, Turkey, Liberia, Indonesia.

World_1851Wolv.jpg

Birthplaces in the 1851 Wolverhampton census

But we can drill down too. 3,763 of the 49,798 were born in Ireland (and it should be remembered that Ireland was part of the same country at the time). 44,229 were born in England – but where? Of those that ICEM can trace, we can produce a map here too.

1851Wolv counties.jpg

Birthplaces within England in the 1851 Wolverhampton census

The most are from Staffordshire, unsurprisingly – this includes 22,189 born in Wolverhampton itself (although go back just a generation or two and a very different picture will emerge). But apart from that, hardly a county is unrepresented. Rural Shropshire sent 4,691, and Warwickshire and Worcestershire both sent over 1,500. Mining areas like Yorkshire, Lancashire and North Wales are there. Even migrants from the big city (represented by Middlesex) – just like me.

I think encouraging people to dig into their own family history could be a really crucial thing in combating the idea that just because someone is born somewhere else, they shouldn’t have the same right to work, live, study or whatever. We are all migrants, if we look closely.

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6 Responses to Legitimate concerns?

  1. Pam Archer says:

    Excellent article, Simon, thought provoking – thanks!
    Pam

  2. Pedro says:

    “We (All men) are all migrants, if we look closely.”

    The statement is very hard to falsify.

    • I think it’s part of human nature to move around… thankfully I’m a historian not a Popperian scientist.

      • Pedro says:

        Far greater minds than myself, not only regard Popper as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, but also a social and political philosopher of considerable stature. I do not subscribe to the idea that you have to be a “historian” to inquire into History, any more than the idea that inquiry into medicine, police, law and other areas must be undertaken by those within the discipline.

        Popper’s parents were of Jewish origin, and being a migrant himself, I am sure he would have had something to say on this issue.

  3. Oh, I agree! I wasn’t sure whether your original comment was an agreement or disagreement with the premise of the post. I certainly agree that history ought not be limited to those describing themselves as professional historians, or anything like that – I’m very much opposed to disciplinary boundaries in general, whether that means trying to draw a strict line between history and geography, for example, or ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’, whatever those terms are worth.
    I probably wouldn’t try to practise my own history along too scientific lines though – you could argue that all history is un-falsifiable.

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