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Migration


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19th century Britain is often imagined as a country on the move: with people moving from the countryside to the newly expanding towns and cities and people migrating overseas to the various colonies of the British Empire. However, although there was some movement, this picture is an overexaggeration.

Most of the migration that did take place was relatively local. People from the surrounding countryside did move into nearby towns, lured by the work and higher wages. But once this initial move had been made, it was very rare for further migration to take place. Miners often moved between different pits but even as late as the 1930s most people married someone from their own locality and settled down there. It was not until the motor car and other forms of motorised transport became more common that movement out of an area became more acceptable.

Perhaps the biggest exception to this was the migration of the Irish. In the late 18th and 19th centuries the population of Ireland was expanding as quickly as that of mainland Britain. However, Ireland did not have a system of poor relief so when famine struck many Irish people had little choice but to migrate. Many migrated abroad to America and Canada but Britain was also a popular destination, with the industrial areas of the Midlands, North and Scotland experiencing the greatest influx. The Irish immigrants found employment building railways, working in the factories and mines and as general labourers.

 

 

Photograph of a mid-19th century train. Click to enlarge.

Photograph of a mid-nineteenth century train that was in service in the North East. (Image courtesy of Durham County Record Office, ref. D/Ph17/1) Click on image to enlarge.

 

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