Throughout the nineteenth century, economic migrants arrived in Britain from Germany in search of work. Usually single men from rural districts, the new arrivals headed for London looking for openings as tailors, waiters, bakers and clerks. The 1861 census returns recorded around 16,000 Germans in London. The 1911 census returns show this figure had risen to around 27,000. By the late nineteenth century the German diaspora in London had established schools, churches, unions, shops, hospital and social clubs – including a German branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association or YMCA. With the outbreak of the First World War entirely altering how Germans were viewed and treated in Britain, their story of arrival and settlement has never received the attention it warrants from historians. This selection of advertisements from 1901 offer a reminder of a time when the Germans were a significant minority presence in London, possessing a range of spaces within which to drink, shop, read, eat, learn and socialise with their fellow countrymen and women.
With thanks to Luke Parks for sharing his unpublished MA thesis with me, ‘Integration or Alienation? London’s German Community 1901-1918,’ Open University, January 2013. Thanks, too, to Bishopsgate Institute for allowing me to reproduce these images from ‘Fuhrer durch London’ (1902) from the London Collection, Bishopsgate Library and Archive.
Every year the Adventurers History Club visits a town outside London for a summer residential. The aim is to provide young Londoners with a wider understanding of British history, cultures and buildings. Since 2009 the group has explored the sights in and around Arundel, Peterborough and Cambridge. This part of the club’s activity has been possible thanks to annual grants from the Bishopsgate Institute and Foundation small grants scheme.
On Wednesday 19 June the group travelled to Bath in Somerset. A series of unfortunate events meant the journey took far longer than anticipated. Day One was spent on delayed tubes and stationary trains and the planned walk around the city on arrival had to be postponed. Instead we just had time to find something to eat and shoehorn ten young adults into a dormitory room approximately 10 foot by 12 foot in size at the YMCA before bed. No wonder some Adventurers needed to power nap the next day.
On Thursday 19 June, we walked the short distance to the Roman Baths. All agreed this was one of the most impressive places we had ever visited as a group. As one member expressed it: ‘it was the best of everything that’s old combined with the best of everything that’s modern.’
The site itself was extraordinary. It would be difficult not to make much of a space where an unusual natural phenomenon (hot springs) meets an incredible historic happening (here are impressive examples of Roman construction and engineering, together with two-thousand-year-old artefacts showing an entirely different way of life in Britain). All the same, enormous credit must go to the those responsible for the site interpretation. The balance between text, objects, inter-actives and re-enactment was perfectly realised. Care had gone into every detail; the audio commentary was illuminating and informative, staff were professional and welcoming – and the view from the Ladies’ toilets was unexpectedly dramatic.
The visit had set the bar high for the remaining trips of Day Two. See the next Adventurers post to find out whether the American Museum at Claverton House and the bell tower at Bath Abbey were able to hold their own against the Roman Baths.