Britain in the World
Events gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Events of 1901
Moving to Britain

Exodus from eastern Europe
It has been estimated that some 2.7 million Jews migrated west from eastern Europe between 1881 and 1914. Many were seeking work or a better standard of living. Others sought to avoid compulsory military service or persecution. The assassination of the Russian czar in 1881 was followed by a series of campaigns (pogroms) against Jews in the Russian empire: Jews were forbidden from settling on or owning land outside towns or moving between villages, and restrictions were placed on their entering higher education or the professions.

Listen to a sound recording Listen to a family's story of departure and arrival.

Follow this link to the Schiffenbaum family's census return.

Follow this link to another immigrant.

For more on emigration from eastern Europe, link to the - opens in a new window Hamburg Emigration Lists database.

To search for Jewish immigrants into London between 1896 and 1914, link to - opens in a new window The Poor Jews' Temporary Shelter database.

Immigrants arriving in London - link to an enlarged version

Immigration into Britain

With increasing numbers of immigrants, especially Russian, Austrian and Polish Jews, arriving in Britain, immigration had come to be seen as a serious political issue by 1901. Some politicians and publicists were quick to denounce it as a threat, and even as an 'alien invasion'. The British Brothers' League - a forerunner of the National Front and the British National Party - was founded in the East End of London in 1901.
S.Forde Ridley, MP for south-west Bethnal Green in London, claimed that 90,000 'aliens' (foreigners) had settled in the country in the first nine months of 1901. He had no real evidence for his statistics, however, as no official record was kept. In fact, it has been argued that the majority of those entering through British ports were en route for the USA, South Africa and other destinations. The historian V.D. Lipman estimates that the number of Russo-Jewish immigrants actually settling permanently in this country between 1881 and 1905 was about 100,000.

Restricting immigration
At this period, before the introduction of formal passport controls, there was little to prevent anyone settling in Britain, although if they became destitute, they might be pressurised to move on or even effectively deported. The anti-immigration climate of the time, however, led to the setting up in 1902 of the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, whose report resulted in the 1905 Aliens Act. This Act gave government inspectors the power to exclude paupers, unless they could prove that they were entering the country solely to avoid persecution or punishment on religious or political grounds or for an offence of a political nature. When the Liberals came in to power in 1906 they did not repeal the Act, but neither did they rigorously enforce it, and the number of actual exclusions was relatively small. The precedent had been set, however, for a century of increasing legislative controls on immigration.

Immigration in the census

The 1901 Census Report noted that 'the highest proportion of Foreigners to the total population was in London, where it reached 30 per 1,000. It should be noted, however, that although these Foreigners were scattered throughout the Metropolis, a very large proportion, equal to 40% of the whole, were enumerated in the Borough of Stepney' (east London). Only 13 towns or cities had a foreign population of more than 1%. These included Manchester (2.2%), Tynemouth (also 2.2%), Cardiff, South Shields, Leeds, Grimsby, Hull, Liverpool, Swansea and Bournemouth.

Follow this link to east London in the census.

Government views of immigration - link to an enlarged version

The Royal Commission on Alien Immigration heard evidence the numbers of immigrants had been under-reported in the census returns. This was partly because some landlords did not want to reveal how overcrowded their properties were, and partly because fears of possible conscription and of state authority meant that some immigrants did not want to be registered. (Similar concerns were voiced in the 1960s about the under-recording of people from the Caribbean in the census returns). For the 1901 census, the Jewish Board of Guardians had the census papers translated into Yiddish, and a Jewish committee sent out representatives to help householders complete their forms.

Old Friends and Enemies? The Problem of Isolation The Empire Moving to Britain The South African War Censorship Methods of Barbarism?