Design for Great Exhibition wallpaper (catalogue reference: BT 43/288 (78974))

08 May 2013

The records of thousands of 19th century immigrants to Britain are now available to search and download online. The collection, which covers the period 1801 to 1871, includes records relating to more than 7,000 people who applied to become British citizens under the 1844 Naturalisation Act, as well as a small number of papers relating to denization, a form of British citizenship that conferred some but not all the rights of a British subject.

Applicants were required under the act to present a memorial to the Secretary of State at the Home Office stating their age, trade and duration of residence. These papers are now available online for the first time.

They include a rich mix of individuals from across the world, including a large number of immigrants from French and German states, as well as Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Spain, Russia, Poland, Sweden and the Italian states.

The majority settled in London, establishing immigrant communities, such as 'Little Italy' in Clerkenwell, which still exist today. Many Italian immigrants were ice cream makers, plasterers, confectioners, restaurateurs, and shop keepers, while many German immigrants settled in the East End of London working in the sugar refineries and in the meat and baking trades.

The upheaval caused by the European revolutions of 1848 caused an upsurge in political exiles, while the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park in London in 1851 attracted pioneers of industry from across Europe as the country embarked on the industrial revolution. 

You can read more about the series on The National Archives' blog and search the records in Discovery, our catalogue.

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