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Leicester Special Collections



An article about Indian and West Indian boys in school, 1961

While the number of migrants who arrived in Leicester during the period 1945-1962 is small compared with more recent decades, the impact of people arriving from the old Empire/new Commonwealth was noticed and commented on.

After the war, many people from Eastern Europe were stranded in the UK as they had no homes to return to in a Europe that was soon to be divided by the ‘Iron Curtain’ and the Cold War. There were also a few German and Italian prisoners of war who stayed in the country after the war. When India was partitioned in 1947 some people decided they had no future in the new regime and decided to try their luck in the UK. In Ireland and the Caribbean there was little work and advertisements promoted the idea of moving to Britain where there were shortages of labour and plenty of work.

People came to Leicester because it was prosperous. For the Irish there was already a settled community in Leicester dating from the 19th century, and the 1951 census reported that there were 3,102 Irish-born people in Leicester. There were also 1,029 people from the USSR and 1,002 people from Poland; in 1961 the Polish represented nearly 14% of the city’s foreign-born population.[1] The 1951 census also counted 700 Asians among a total of 1,500 people from the ‘New Commonwealth’ in Leicester. In 1961 the Caribbean population in Leicester was 1,347 people born in Jamaica or ‘other Caribbean countries’ and the total number of people from the Commonwealth was 4,624.[2]

The stories of how all these people settled in Leicester have been told in the links below. For most people the experience was one of entering a culture different from their own and having to adapt in the face of friendliness from some and outright hostility from others. From the necessities of finding a job and a place to live through to the common courtesies of everyday life, for many people it was a struggle to be accepted in a country where individuals and institutions could be unhelpful.

The following links take you to a few of the oral history recordings about migration on the My Leicestershire History website.

Dzidra Pumalis talks about arriving from Latvia in 1947 as part of the European Voluntary Workers Scheme (the EVWS was actually a number of schemes whereby continental Europeans were invited by the British government to work in the UK immediately after World War II) -

Alice Coker talks about moving from Jamaica to Birmingham in 1961, and then to Leicester -

Elizabeth Greasley talks about moving from Ireland to Birmingham in 1947, and then to Leicester -

Many people settled in the Highfields area of Leicester. This was once a prosperous area but by 1945 it was becoming run down, parts of it suffered from bomb damage, and many large houses had become multiple occupancy. Cheap rents and poor conditions made a convenient first port-of-call for the new arrivals.

Although people often arrived with the intention of only staying for a few years, many decided to settle for longer and communities started to establish organisations and societies. A Polish Saturday School was started in Highfields in 1954 and an ex-serviceman’s club in 1956, while a Ukrainian community hall on Westcotes Drive was used from 1958. An Indian Film Society started in 1955. The first African-Caribbean cricket team started in 1948 and became the West Indian Sports & Social Club in 1957. The first mosque was established in 1962, the first gurdwara in 1966, and the first Hindu temple in 1969.[3]

In October 1961 the Leicester Chronicle ran a series of articles about migrant groups in Leicester. The headlines covered ‘Leicester’s Indian Invasion’ (“There are nearly 2,000 Indians and Pakistanis in the city”), ‘The Swiss – a quiet people who enjoy life’, ‘The patriotic Poles who keep tradition and language alive at a Saturday morning school’, ‘Life is a serious thing for the young Germans, but they know how to have a good time’, and how Dale School was tackling the language problems of new migrant children. Of the 40 Indian and West Indian boys at the school, 12 boys from India were having to learn English, while Tom Daniel, from Montserrat, was top of his class in English (see the article at the top of this page).

The Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 was introduced to impose immigration controls in response to growing concerns about the perceived high levels of migration. In retrospect, the number of migrants who arrived in Leicester up to 1962 was tiny compared to those who came later. However, this ‘first wave’ of post-war migrants helped to lay down the foundations for those who came later and can rightly regard themselves as trail blazers in the story of the multicultural Leicester of today.

Link to Lynda Callaghan’s Irish in Leicester blog -
Link to Leicester’s Windrush Project website –
Link to Jewish Voices website -
Link to ‘From There to Here’ video (Irish migration into Leicester) -

Further reading online:

Migrant memories, migrant lives: Polish national identity in Leicester since 1945 by Kathy Burrell (2002)

Moving Here (a good website about migration into the UK featuring people from Leicester) -

Life at Melton Mowbray Polish Refugee Camp 1957-1958 by Dr Urszula Szulakowska -

Polish resettlement camps in England 1945-1970 (includes five in Leicestershire) -

The Polish Camp at Burton on the Wolds by Joan & Peter Shaw -

From the Belgrave Road to the Golden Mile: the transformation of Asians in Leicester by Pippa Virdee (2009) -

Further reading:

Immigration and the emergence of multicultural Leicester by Joanna Herbert in ‘Leicester a Modern History’ edited by Richard Roger & Rebecca Madgin, Carnegie Publishing Ltd., 2016, Chapter 4

Leicester in the 20th Century edited by David Nash & David Reeder (1993). Immigration placed in different contexts throughout the book.

Urban narratives: Italian and Greek-Cypriot representations of community in post-war Leicester by Kathy Burrell, Urban History 32:3

From Immigrants to Ethnic Minority by Lorna Chessum, Ashgate (2000) - the African Caribbean story in Leicester.

[1] Immigration and the emergence of multicultural Leicester by Joanna Herbert in ‘Leicester a Modern History’ edited by Richard Roger & Rebecca Madgin, Carnegie Publishing Ltd., 2016, Chapter 4, pp.335-337.

[2] ‘From Immigrants to Ethnic Minority’ by Lorna Chessum, Ashgate, 2000, p.6 and ‘Leicester in the 20th Century’, p.187.

[3] Information on societies and groups from ‘Leicester in the 20th Century’, pp.183-193. Also from the Leicester Chronicle 6th October 1961, p.20.