Friday 19 July 2013

Multi-ethnic Britain before the Second World War

A lot of nonsense is being written lately about the numbers of non-whites who lived in Britain prior to the Second World War. Quite why people want to create a myth that Britain was always the polyglot society that it is today is anyone's guess, but it is just that, a myth. Prior to the war the history of Britain was a history of the interaction between the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh.

That is not to say that a large empire with enormous trading links with the rest of the world would not acquire people from all over the world, and with that in mind please say hello to the scout troop at St. Paul's Church, Hulme, Manchester in about 1926. My father, Charles Bell, is third from the right on the centre row. Sat in front is a Mr Luis, and according to my dad he hailed from Ethiopia and came to Manchester as a minster and ended up leading the scout troop.The whole of Hulme was rather pleased that the scout troop had a darkie leading it and by all accounts it made them the envy of the city.

Less than a decade later, in 1935 to be exact, an Indian doctor named Buck Ruxton was waiting to be hanged in Manchester for killing his wife and maidservant in Lancaster. Over 10,000 people signed a petition is a failed attempt to save him from the rope, and towards the end of the 1980s I met a very old man from Lancaster who was still upset that Ruxton had ended up having his neck stretched.

"They shouldn't have done it. Morecambe didn't have one but we did," he said to me. 

"Had what?"

"A wog. He were the town wog and they hung him."

So, Manchester had an Ethiopian and Lancaster an Indian, but that does not prove that either city was anything but English with an admixture of outsiders who were treated as curiosities - rather as I was in the semi-rural part of Mexico when I lived there. People quite liked having an Englishman around, and might even have welcomed two or three more, but I doubt if they would have wanted to see the town taken over by us.

The history of this island is fascinating enough without trying to create a pseudo history that will not stand more than a few minutes of close examination.

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