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Immigration, race and local media: Smethwick and the 1964 general election, Rachel Yemm

The article begins with an introduction to the topics at hand, stating that in 1964, a previously unknown small town on the outskirts of Birmingham became famous worldwide due to “the anti-immigrant election campaign and subsequent victory of Conservative candidate and local man, Peter Griffiths”. The drastic 7.2 % swing to Conservatives as well as Patrick Gordon Walker’s loss of the seat he had held in Smethwick since 1945 demonstrate the extent of the racial tension within this town. Yemm argues that this was as a result “of strong links between local politics and local and regional media, which, working together, could successfully exploit local concerns about the impact of immigration on neighbourhoods and streets”.

The second section of the article deals with the town of Smethwick. Yemm mentions that the town was a popular place post-war for immigrant who were in search of employment in the manufacturing industry, and by 1964, the immigrant population was approximately 4,000 out of a population of 68,000. Competition within the area was focused on housing, with 4,000 people on the waiting list for a council house in 1961. It was within this context that Griffiths stood for election in 1964, gaining 16,690 votes against Labour’s 14,916. Yemm argues that it was the local and regional press, such as The Telephone, that led to this result. The Telephone created the impression that the rise in disease within Smethwick was due to the lack of sanitation of immigrants. Although the national press was also contributing to this narrative, however they emphasised the need for medical inspection upon entry to Britain, whereas The Telephone focused on the unsanitary living conditions of the immigrants.

As stated previously, housing was a notable issue in relation to race in Smethwick, as locals were concerned that immigrants were being offered council houses before British people, and often had a sense of entitlement in terms of who deserved a house more. In 1961, a rent strike led by local council tenants occurred, following the event of a Pakistani family being awarded a council house after their house was demolished as part of the slum clearance which took place in Smethwick. While reporting, ATV opened with shots of rundown houses, which was then compared to the clean council houses. Yemm argues that there was a fear that the tidy and respectful Englishness of the area was under threat from immigrants.

Yemm then turns her attention to the 1964 election. All candidates running in the election featured in The Telephone, with Peter Griffiths continuously focusing on immigration and placing emphasis on the housing crisis. Additionally, newspapers such as the Birmingham Post showed support towards Griffiths campaign. The attitude of Smethwick also gained national attention from press outlets such as ITV. Following the election, racial hostility heightened in Smethwick, as many of the myths portrayed by the press were represented through resident’s interviews and social studies.

The article then moves on to discuss the Marshall street plan; a campaign by Griffiths for the council to purchase all available houses on Marshall Street, resulting from fears of it becoming a ‘black ghetto’. The plan received support within Smethwick, with The Telephone continuing to fuel these concerns.

The article lastly discusses the 1966 election, in which there saw a swing back to Labour, with Andrew Faulds winning with a majority of 3,490. Yemm attributes this partially due to the negative attention Smethwick received, leading to many wanting to distance themselves from the racist views. Immigration as a political campaign had also lost some novelty in Smethwick.


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John Stewart, “Angels or aliens? Refugee Nurses in Britain, 1938 to 1942”.

John Stewart’s “Angels or aliens? Refugee Nurses in Britain, 1938 to 1942” analyses the topic of refugee nurses in Britain during the late 1930s until the early 1940s, examining experiences of the nurses as well as the policies that affected them. He demonstrates that transition from the strict attitude towards refugees to the more relaxed approach which increased in 1942.

Stewart begins the article by explaining that the historiography of refugee women remains relatively poor, therefore emphasises the importance of his discussion on the topic. He then goes on to examine the background to the refugee situation, explaining the push factors that led people to leave their homeland. This included those who fled Poland following German invasion in September 1939. Stewart then goes on to explain that before 1938, Britain was reluctant to take many refugees, operating a limited policy on accepting work permits with the number of foreigners per hospital being restricted to 3 percent of staff. In 1938, the policy remained difficult, however, it became more liberal, as Stewart argues. The approaching war problematised the situation, with certain refugees being classed as “enemy”, many of whom were interned in 1940. Some authorities, including the LCC dismissed their enemy alien staff during this year. However, eventually there was a reduction of restraints and altering of attitude towards refugees, partly due to increased sympathy towards refugees, as well concern over the labour market.

The author places emphasis on the fact that refugees were seen as one way of solving the increased demand for nurses during the war, therefore, the guidelines for refugees were relaxed in order to accommodate this. He notes that during mid-1940, the Nursing and Midwifery Department stated that 130 out of 914 trained nurses and midwives were Czechoslovakian, with the remainder of Austrian and German descent. There was some concern among the British that foreign nurses would “crowd out” nurses from the United Kingdom, however a leading article in 1939 explicitly rejected this claim. Furthermore, Stewart goes on to mention pre-war hostility toward refugee medical practitioners. He argues that one proposed resolution for this was to employ female refugee doctors as nurses.

A section of the article is devoted to producing first-hand evidence of experiences during this period, including Miss Powell, who was responsible for the nursing section of the Ministry of Labour’s International Branch, explaining that she was overwhelmed by the large number of aliens who wanted to contribute.

Stewart concludes the article by stating that “the history of refugee nurses in the late 1930s and early 1940s can be seen as an episode which reflected well on both the host community and the nurses themselves”. He notes the changing position of refugee women from low status domestic work to the higher status nursing sector.

Overall, Stewart provides a detailed account of nurses during this period, using an adequate range of primary sources from both government officials and those in the medical field.


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“The English Mistery, the BUF, and the Dilemmas of British Fascism”, Stone

Stone’s article “The English Mistery, the BUF, and the Dilemmas of British Fascism” analyses Fascist groups in Britain, arguing that despite their failure, “the English Mistery shows that fascism was just as much a British movement as it was a continental European one”.

Stone primarily looks at the workings of the English Mistery, which later becomes known as the English Array. He wishes to challenge the traditional view that fascism in Britain was merely an imitation of European fascism that had no impact or influence on British society and history. He begins the article by identifying fascism, using Robert Paxton’s definition of the concept: “a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline”.

Stone then goes on to explain what the English Mistery was, explaining that it was founded in 1930 by William Sanderson. The group defined itself as a school for leadership, committed to salvaging the lost ways of governance, focusing on the concept of service of the English race. Sanderson divided the Mistery into a hierarchy, splitting the group into local kins, consisting of between ten and thirty people. Their aims were “to regenerate the English nation and to recreate a body politic with properly functioning members,” and establish “a sound ethical basis for national politics” built upon “principles derived from the instincts and traditions of English breeds.” Stone also emphasises the explicit racism and extreme nationalism within the group. Members were warned not to enter discussion with immigrants or the diseased. They were also told that the Nordic race is fundamentally different from the Latin races. Furthermore, the group “supports the elimination from public life in parliament or elsewhere of all those Jewish and other alien influences which, however worthy in themselves, cannot fail to work against English instincts and traditions”.

The English Mistery split after much antagonism that began to develop in 1933, particularly due to the clash of Sanderson and, Lymington, another member of the organisation. After the split, the English Array was formed, consisting of the more serious members of the Mistery, and as described by Stone, was more pro-Nazi. Moreover, Stone explains the struggle within this group of wishing to praise other fascist movements yet not wanting to sacrifice their own nationalism. Furthermore, the author mentions the cooperation between the English Array and the BUF, but states that a merger was not an option, due to conflict of leadership, as well as views on the monarchy and the House of Lords.

Stone concludes by arguing that the English Mistery proves that a movement that is distinctively fascist is able to develop in Britain, and demonstrates that fascism is not a completely foreign concept in the British political scene.

Overall, this article contains a coherent article and effectively explains the English Mistery and the issues surrounding the group, while depicting a convincing argument. Stone’s use of primary sources is also an effective feature of this article.

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’To Keep Our Fathers’ Faith…’ Lithuanian Immigrant Religious Aspirations and the Policy of West of Scotland Catholic Clergy, 1889-1914, by O’Donnell

Ellen O’Donnell’s article “’To Keep Our Fathers’ Faith…’ Lithuanian Immigrant Religious Aspirations and the Policy of West of Scotland Catholic Clergy, 1889-1914” details the Lithuanian immigrant struggle to position themselves in Scotland’s religious scene.

O’Donnell acknowledges the devotion of the archdiocesan in aiding the immigrant community, however, argues that the Catholic Church in the West of Scotland “had little sympathy for the ethnic aspirations and outlook of the Lithuanians”. Although the diocesan authorities allowed and organised a supply of chaplains, they were not willing to permit a church for the community, as they were concerned about the threat of Catholic unity in a predominantly Protestant Scotland. Hence, this led to Lithuanian assimilation into the Scottish community.

O’Donnell begins the article by explaining that among the Russian immigrants during this period was a number of Lithuanians who did not yet constitute a distinguished separate population. She then goes on to depict the settlement areas in Scotland for Lithuanians, stating that although they were not large in number, they were concentrated in a few places, including Gorbals and Bridgeton in Glasgow, as well as Coatbridge and Burnbank in Lanarkshire. However, she states that the largest settlement was found in Bellshill/ Mossend. Hence, the majority of Catholic Lithuanians resided in the West of Scotland and therefore became part of the archdiocese of Glasgow.

O’Donnell details the initiative that Lithuanians took in order to access Catholicism in Scotland. They were not satisfied with visits from priests, such as Father James Hughes, and instead desired a chaplain of their own, who lived in Scotland. Many Lithuanians were concerned that the lack of Catholic religious guidance was leading to drunkenness and conversion to Protestantism. O’Donnell explains that the Lithuanian immigrants’ yearning for their own chaplain is shown through the fact they raised money to pay for the priest’s travel to Scotland and accommodation. The priest was given strict limitations in his position, as he was given a short-term contract and was “subordinated to the local parish clergy”.

Following this, in 1902, Lithuanian immigrants in Scotland further desired their own church, primarily because they struggled to understand the English language, arguing that they were not looking for a church that was separate from the mother-church, but rather a service that was spoken in their own language. After the initial requests were denied, a petition was created in 1905, along with details of a gathering of representatives of Lithuanians in Lanarkshire, which noted that many Lithuanians were turned away from churches, or were regarded as second to worshippers from Scotland. However, the clergy of the parishes that dealt with this issue had little sympathy for the immigrants, and the archbishop ruled that the factor of the church and position of the Lithuanian chaplains “did not meet with general approval at the meeting”. O’Donnell states that the possible reason for withholding a church from the Lithuanian immigrants, the Catholic community was the attempt at integration of immigrants in Scotland.

O’Donnell compares the experience of Lithuanian immigrants in Scotland with other immigrant groups in other areas of the world, highlighting that in England, the Polish community were permitted their own church in 1894.

Overall, this article is successful in detailing the Lithuanian experience with Catholicism in Scotland during 1889-1914. O’Donnell uses a number of primary sources as evidence, including marriage records and letters written by priests. She presents a convincing argument and an effective explanation of events during this period.

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“Within Our Gates: A New Perspective on Germans in Glasgow During the First World War”, Ben Braber

“Within Our Gates: A New Perspective on Germans in Glasgow During the First World War” by Ben Braber analyses the treatment of Glasgow’s German community during the period of anti-German violence that occurred throughout Britain.

Braber looks at why the anti-German riots of 1915 did not take place in Glasgow, arguing that we must analyse the events and circumstances locally, rather than make broad assumptions on Britain’s treatment of this issue. He states that the riots did not occur in Glasgow because the desire to “strike out against Germans” was focused on political action and public debate. He also considers that the anti-German issue was overshadowed by other concerns at this time, for instance, the rent strike. Braber believes that the German community that stayed in Glasgow was under immense pressure to denounce Germany and leave their organisations, which overall led to the demise of the German community in Glasgow. He uses attitudes towards Jewish population as a comparison to the British views on the German community during the war. Also throughout the article, he briefly looks at other immigration communities, such as Belgian and Russian immigrants. The author compares the treatment of these immigrant groups with the treatment of German immigrants. Belgian refugees, for example, received a warm welcome, and the “alleged German atrocities” towards Belgium were continuously used as justification for the extreme measures against Germans living in Britain.

The article begins with a discussion of the popular debate around the issue of the deterioration of the German immigrant community, reviewing the arguments of historians such as Saunders and Panayi. Following this, Braber looks at migration as a whole, showing that Germans contributed to British society, working as clerks and waiters, for example. Braber then compares this to Jewish immigrants, highlighting that they often, for instance, worked in retail. The author then goes on to look at the measures that were taken to deal with enemy aliens, such as the Aliens Restrictions Act of 1914, which allowed authorities to restrict their lives and confiscate property, for example. Furthermore, following the sinking of the Lusitania, disturbances took place throughout Britain, including in London and Manchester. Braber lastly looks at the wider context of how the violence against Germans reflected and influenced other responses to war and unrest, arguing that the Glasgow race riots of 1919, for example, resembled the anti-German violence earlier that decade.

Overall, Braber’s article is a useful analysis of Glasgow’s response to the anti-German attitudes that were occurring throughout Britain during the war. The author confidently inserts his own opinion within the context of historical debate, and uses secondary views to strengthen his points. Furthermore, the use of primary sources, such as the Glasgow Herald, aid Braber’s argument by giving first-hand evidence from the period he addresses. Overall, Braber presents a useful and insightful argument.

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“Importing Trachoma: The Introduction into Britain of American Ideas of an ‘Immigrant Disease’, 1892-1906” by Krista Maglen

“Importing Trachoma: The Introduction into Britain of American Ideas of an ‘Immigrant Disease’, 1892- 1906”, written by Krista Maglen primarily argues that trachoma became a significant discussion in the British political and medical scene, and played a role in the 1905 Alien Act: Britain’s first restrictive immigration act. Furthermore, Maglen also contends that increased legislation in America led to the perception of trachoma as a disease carried by immigrants.

The article begins by outlining that migrants have frequently been associated with disease, and their communities in Britain were often perceived as places where disease was prevalent. Additionally, Maglen mentions that little has been written about trachoma’s association with immigrants in Britain and the link it has with America. She does, however, mention that historian Kenneth Collins discusses trachoma and its link to Jewish immigrants in Glasgow at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Furthermore, Maglen explains the importance of the fact that over one million of the estimated 2.4 million Russian and Polish immigrants who settled in America passed through British ports. This is key because America’s immigration legislations restricted the entrance of migrants with disease, which meant that those who were rejected from America were taken back to their last port of departure. Steamships would frequently return migrants to Britain instead of Eastern and Central Europe as it was less distance from America. Therefore, many Brits were not supportive of the ‘undesirable’ immigrants being brought back to live in Britain, thus, the American view of particular diseases as ‘immigrant diseases’ quickly became popular in Britain. In addition, Brits viewed these migrants as not only an economic burden, but also a threat to public health. Maglen emphasises that trachoma was easily identifiable through inflammation and redness in the eyes, therefore making it easy for anti-immigration campaigners to push their agenda due to the disease’s aspect of visibility.

Furthermore, Maglen states that this issue became prominent in the British medical press in 1892 and remained there throughout the decade. Additionally, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration in 1902-03 took evidence about trachoma from ophthalmic physicians, including Francis Tyrrell who stated that “the Jewish people are peculiarly prone to trachoma”. Although it was transparent that immigrants weren’t the cause of trachoma, the final report did not oppose to the categorising of trachoma sufferers as undesirable for entry into Britain. Maglen concludes that the restrictions of trachoma sufferers did not have a significant impact on Britain because trachoma did not generally have a large impact in Britain, and was, for the most part, a concept used by anti-immigration campaigners to further their cause.

Overall, this article is well-written, well-structured and provides a convincing argument. Maglen uses multiple primary sources, such as the evidence of a Medical Officer and ophthalmic surgeon at the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration in 1902, to support her argument, which strengthens the source overall. The article highlights one of the reasons why the Aliens Act of 1905 was introduced and shows how the British perception of migrants was altered by American legislation.

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Paddy and Mr Punch, R.F. Foster

The article “Paddy and Mr Punch” by R.F. Foster primarily focuses on the satirical magazine Punch, and its portrayal of Ireland and the Irish from 1841 onwards. Foster chronologically explains the content of the magazine and how it developed through the context of Irish immigration to Britain. He argues that Punch gives a “varied” representation of the complexity of the Irish presence in Britain during the 19th century. He also maintains that Punch undertook a change in attitude towards the Irish due to the Young Ireland movement, explaining that this movement led to many anti-Irish cartoons and jokes, as the magazine viewed the anti-Union Irish as ungrateful. After analysing many primary examples from Punch itself, as well as the editor of Punch’s letter in defence of the magazine, Foster concludes by stating that Punch’s anti-Irishness was perhaps not due to a belief that the Irish were a sub-race, but instead, the magazine was simply against the violent tendencies of the Young Ireland movement and their bitterness towards the Union.

I believe Foster effectively portrays his argument for a number of reasons. Firstly, the article is written in a formal and coherent manner. Secondly, Foster’s abundant use of primary evidence successfully portrays his points, as he includes detailed descriptions of many jokes that were included in the magazine throughout the years. Foster also analyses some prefaces to Punch issues, which often discuss the affairs that were taking place during the issue’s release. The author also includes images of Punch’s caricatures which allows readers to see real examples of Punch’s work. I found some of the images hard to decipher however that is possibly a technological error. Additionally, the author also strengthens his argument through references of relevant historians, such as Hoppen and Price. It could be argued that the article lacks secondary sources, however, I believe that this style of article, which acts as a case study of Punch, is more successful when dealing with primary sources from the magazine itself.

Furthermore, Foster’s article relates to the topic of Irish immigration during the 19th century as he explains the prominent stereotyping of the Irish as well as the attitude towards Irish immigration that was held by many British people. He notes the Irish famine, which was a significant Push factor for Irish immigration, and effectively depicts much of the media’s opinion on the political and economic turmoil taking place in Ireland during this period. However, it could be argued that Foster does not efficiently explain other opinions of Irish immigration during this time, and instead focuses on one view that, although was popular, was held only by some British people.

Therefore, “Paddy and Mr Punch” by R.F. Foster, to a certain extent, successfully depicts the anti-Irish view many British people held during the 19th century. By analysing the content of the magazine Punch, Foster allows readers to understand the degree of prejudice against the Irish, thus highlighting one of the major aspects of Irish immigration during the 19th century.