VCH Explore

Explore England's Past


The grave of Scipio Africanus (d.1720) servant to the Earl of Suffolk

Few communities are static as people have always moved in search of better land or employment. England has always had diverse ethnic communities and internal migration has been an engine for economic and social change down the centuries.

Internal migration brought surplus rural populations to towns looking for work, a trend which accelerated with the Industrial revolution as thousands flocked to the new textile mills and to the mines, especially in the north of England. People from Ireland, Scotland and Wales also came to England looking for work as labourers on the canals and railways or in the clothing industry. In the later 19th century young men from rural areas like Exmoor were attracted to the relatively good wages to be earned in the South Wales coalfields and craftsmen and traders also moved to the new industrial towns to supply the needs of the industrial workforce.

In the 17th and 18th centuries a few enterprising people migrated to America and wealthy families established plantations in the Caribbean. By the 19th century Australia, New Zealand and Canada also attracted pioneering families in search of a better life or land to farm. Some parishes, burdened with poor relief, encouraged emigration with subsidies and paid passage, although it was often the better workers who left. Few communities were untouched by migration and many families had relatives overseas by the 20th century.

Merchants became involved in the slave trade in the 18th century and often brought black servants back to England as did wealthy families with plantations in the new world. Refugees from persecution and poverty in Europe from the 16th century onwards were joined in the 20th century by people fleeing dictatorship and war. Workers from the former British Empire made their way to England, first to the ports and later to London and industrial cities after the Second World War.

Theme Items

In Jacob's Well Road a small rock-cut chamber with two stone steps contains a wellhead.

Somalis have come to British ports as seamen since at least the 19th century, but their presence in Bristol cannot be documented before1950.

When Ahmed Duale first arrived in Britain in 1991, he thought the war at home would be over in a few days, but as he observed, ‘everyone I knew was

The March, 1963

Surviving tax returns for Bristol identify resident alien (foreign) taxpayers for the 1520s, 1540s, and the period from 1571 to 1590.

The 1851 census can help us to identify parishes inhabited by first-generation immigrants.

Oral testimony is a means of identifying issues or events that might otherwise go undocumented.  Those who come to this country to seek a new life

In 1851 there were only 13 Dulverton people in Wales, mainly wives and servants, but by 1891 there were 102.

In the period 1532 to 1552 a total of 3,139 apprentices were registered, of whom 766 came from within Bristol, and 456 from Wales.

While numerically insignificant, the existence of Black Bristolians is important to document, as they bridge the gap between what we know about the