Eliza Head and Mabel Head, 1902. © Bristol Record Office Ref No 43650/7/21 (1/4)
Unknown family, c1900s. © Butetown History and Arts Centre (2/4)
Two women and two children, date unknown © Glamorgan Record Office (3/4)
Unknown family, c1916. © Butetown History and Arts Centre (4/4)
Though immigration into Britain is often seen as a late 20th century phenomenon, people from minority ethnic backgrounds have long been a part of British society, with evidence of their settlement going back to Roman times. As the 20th century unfolded, Britain was still the world’s largest empire and many people from its colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and the Middle East – as well as other parts of the world – had come to the country to work, study or visit. Often coming alone, lots of these people had relationships and families with white Britons.
Though the ethnic minority population could be found throughout the entire country, the majority settled in port cities where many married into local families. By the 1920s, interracial couples and families were commonplace in many dockside neighbourhoods such as Canning Town and Limehouse in East London, Toxeth in Liverpool, Holborn in South Shields and ‘Tiger Bay’ in Cardiff.
Over the course of a few generations, their descendants largely disappeared into the population of the cities. It has been estimated that one in five Britons has a black ancestor from the 17th or 18th centuries.