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.
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.
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.