Saturday 28 November 2015

Londinium, the multicultural metropolis

London - founded by the Romans, conquered by the Saxons and Normans, developed as a commercial centre by Italian, Flemish, and Baltic traders - is a multicultural metropolis, a truly international city with 100 different languages spoken in almost each of its boroughs (via). In the past, immigration brought new life styles, foods, music, ... The mix of different cultures is not new, "London always was a city of foreigners" who become an essential part of British culture. In fact, for "much of its history the percentage of Londoners born outside the capital was actually far higher than today" (via); 37% of its current population is foreign-born (via).

According to the 1981 census, for instance, more than one in six were born outside the UK (mainly in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean). This characteristic of London, however, did not start in the 1980s but much earlier. In his book "A City Full of People", historian Peter Earle states that around 1700, "a clear majority of Londoners had not been born in the capital" but in France, Spain, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Germany, Southern Europe, ... Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and in other parts of England (at the time, people from Cornwall, for instance, were perceived as "foreigners"). About 150 years later, under Queen Victoria, London was still a multicultural city. In the 1840s alone, 50.000 people arrived from Ireland fleeing the famine and by 1850, London's Jewish population had increased to ca. 20.000 leaping to 120.000 in the following fifty years. By 1800, there were several thousand Africans living in London and more and more people from South East Asia settled in the city (via).

Even in its early Roman days Londoners were "just as cosmopolitan and diverse" as they are today. According to new DNA findings, gladiators in London circa 50 A.D. may have come from North Africa and different parts of Europe. The cosmopolitan nature of ancient London may have drawn on people from all over the Roman Empire and it seems that London "hasn't changed all that much in character" (via).
"But the findings serve as a reminder that the past often looked very, very different from the all-white panoramas built in the years since. Especially somewhere like London, a crossroads from its very beginning." (via)

"And so today's fears of a multicultural capital are myopic, because that is exactly what London always was, during the centuries of greatness when it became the top city in the world." (via)

- interesting: The ethnic population of England and Wales broken down by local authorities, The Guardian, 2011, link
- all photographs of London by Inge Morath (1923-2002) via, copyright The Inge Morath Foundation - Magnum Photos, courtesy 'Clair Gallery, last photograph by Inge Morath (street corner at World's End, 1954) via; fog photograph taken in 1954, all the others in 1953