The Projects

Migrant Histories is a series of ongoing interdisciplinary projects that seek to build new understanding of what it was like to be on the move in Georgian Britain and Ireland (c. 1714-1837). The projects take an interdisciplinary look at migration and includes scholars working in social history, law, digital history, geography, and historical linguistics. This multi-faceted view of the history of migration provides new perspectives on the forces that shaped migrant and local experience.

Today we often think of migrants as people from afar – usually international. Immigrants were also major players in Georgian Britain, with thousands of Irish people in particular arriving each year, a large black population that arrived in one way or another via the slave trade, as well as scores of sailors from Europe and further afield landing temporarily in ports such as London, Bristol, and Liverpool to conduct their trade. But migrants also come from closer to home. Internal migrants were in many respects more important than their international cousins, because they were the mobile labour that fuelled the factories, peopled the growing cities, and shifted excess rural labour. They forged and followed channels up and down the country, blending cultures and belief as they went to create the Britain that we know today.

Eighteenth century Britain had set up a number of institutions to manage these flows of people in ways we might today find surprising. Generally these institutions sought to manage the poor when a migrant’s plans went wrong or it looked like they might come to be a burden on the adopted parish’s rate payers. The laws of settlement placed considerable restrictions on freedom of movement for millions of Britons at the bottom of the social scale. And the vagrancy laws expelled thousands of poor individuals from their adopted homes, forcibly shifting them back from whence they came.

By seeking to understand these institutions of migration, as well as the international immigrants and internal migrants, these projects are building our knowledge of migrant experience and local responses. In the process we gain new insight into the complete story of migration and community in the British archipelago.


Irish London (1750-1820)

The Irish London Project captures the Irish experience in the decades leading up to and following the Union of Irish and British Parliaments (1801). These were the metropolis’ first ‘British’ Irish men, women and children. This new marriage of nations attempted to bring together two very different cultures, divided by religion as well as a long history of war, conflict, and too often: English domination. By looking at the ways the Irish in London experienced the city differently, and indeed the same as the local population, we gain valuable insight into integration and segregation of migrant communities. For more detail on this project, see the Publications.

Project Team: Adam Crymble.

Vagrant Lives (1770-1786)

The Vagrant Lives Project used a remarkably detailed account of vagrant removal to revise our understanding of poverty and mobility in eighteenth century London. Using the invoices submitted to the county of Middlesex by Vagrancy Removal Contractor, Henry Adams, the project team was able to map the place of origin of thousands of London vagrants who were arrested on the streets of the metropolis in the late eighteenth century. These invoices included the names, places of settlement, and details of the removal process for each person who came under Adams’ charge. These bills therefore form a unique class of records that had never before been fully exploited by historians, and that provided us with a remarkable new perspective on patterns of internal migration at the lower ends of the social scale. For more detail on this project, see the Publications.

Project Team: Adam Crymble, Adam Dennett, Louise Falcini, Tim Hitchcock.