National identity

A topic of debate that continues to ebb and flow as it has done over decades and centuries, what it means to be British has been determined by myriad contemporary factors; with the 1920s following the First World War and Race Riots of 1919, debate about nationality and citizenship demanded significant attention. Claudius, Hilda and Said are just three examples of how contemporary thinking marginalised certain people; click each image or link to find out about the story behind it.

A greyscale illustration of Claudius Smart, on a pink background. Claudius is facing the viewer, wearing a suit and tie.Claudius Smart

The merchant seaman from Liverpool

Read the heartbreaking story of Claudius Smart, a merchant seaman who, despite being British, residing in Britain, with his British wife, felt like ‘a stranger among strange people’.

Meet Claudius Smart

A greyscale illustration of Hilda Toyokawa, on a pink background. Hilda is wearing a shirt dress.Hilda Toyokawa

The woman who lost her nationality

Hilda’s story sheds light on the legal status and personal identity of women in the 1920s; immediately stripped of her British nationality upon marriage to a Japanese man, she faced a fight to have the injustice overturned.

Meet Hilda Toyokawa

A pencil silhouette of a man; no image was available to the illustrator of 20 People of the 20s, so the silhouette is an artist's impression, on a pink background.Said Mohamed

The seafarer and coffee shop owner

Said’s story intertwines heavily with the changing political landscape of the 1920s, as contemporary administrations looked to tighten up what it meant to be ‘British’ in the wake of the 1919 Race Riots.

Meet Said Mohamed

What is 20 People of the 20s?

20 People of the 20s is a project where staff members at The National Archives have researched a story of someone from the 1920s. From family members and First World War service personnel, to famous performers and politicians, we hope these stories will encourage you to explore the breadth of experience in 1920s Britain. 20 People of the 20s is part of 20sPeople – our season to mark the release of the 1921 Census, connecting the 1920s and the 2020s.  Find out more here.

20sPeople Banner - Pink banner with face composite, one from the 1920s and one from the 2020s with a logo saying We are 20sPeople