The bid by some residents to cleanse the streets of London of “invaders” – be they asylum
seekers, refugees, immigrants, or foreign visitors – is not a new phenomenon which is explained in a new exhibition. Edward I expelled all Jews in 1290.
The church had previously banned money lending in the Middle Ages, so England’s small Jewish community thrived by making money available to the king – who taxed them heavily in return.
Then in 1218, Henry III had ordered them to wear an identifying badge. Stories of their supposedly murderous and even cannibalistic rituals spread and many Jews were killed in riots.
When Edward took the highly popular measure of banning them all, through the Edict of Expulsion, England became the first country in the world to legislate against an entire race. Jews did not return for almost 400 years. More than 150,000 arrived in Victorian London, fleeing persecution by Tsarist Russia, with Nicholas II herding them into ghettos on the Polish border.
In 1905, the Manchester Evening Chronicle wrote “the dirty, destitute, diseased, verminous and criminal foreigner who dumps himself on our soil and rates simultaneously, shall be forbidden to land.”
Arthur Balfour’s government passed the Aliens Act that August, imposing the first ever immigration controls. It was repealed in 1919. These are two of the turning points in history described in a new exhibition, No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain, which is opening on September 20 at the Migration Museum at The Workshop, Lambeth High Street.
The EU referendum and ongoing Brexit negotiations have sparked debate about our relationship with the world and uncertainty about the future movement of people to and from Britain.
But Brexit is far from the first pivotal moment in this country’s migration story.
Other turning points are the first East India Company voyage to India in 1607, to the Rock Against Racism movement of the late 1970s, to the number of people defining themselves as mixed-race in the 2011 census.
Each moment is explored through a combination of personal stories, commentary, photography and art from established and emerging British and international artists and contributors.
These moments are presented as starting points to enable visitors to explore themes and stories about migration, and to encourage conversations about moments that matter to them.
Sophie Henderson, director of the Migration Museum Project said: “Brexit is currently the centre of attention, but Britain has faced many moments throughout history which have had a major impact on the movement of people to and from these shores.
“No Turning Back explores seven of these moments. Some brought people together. Others moved people apart.
“All had a profound effect on individuals who lived through them – and on the country as a whole.”
Barbara Roche, chairwoman of the Migration Museum Project, said: “No Turning Back encapsulates what the Migration Museum for Britain that we are creating is all about – providing a cultural space for exploration of how immigration and emigration across the ages has shaped who we are today as individuals, and as a nation.
“Britain’s migration history is as complex as it is long, with generation after generation facing challenges, sometimes acceptance and sometimes hostility.
“Against the current backdrop of fierce national debate, the need for exploration of this important theme that connects us all could scarcely be greater.”
The Migration Museum, The Workshop, Lambeth High Street, SE1 7AG. www.migrationmuseum.org