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The pages in this section focus on the migration to Britain of the Romans, the Vikings, Africans and Afro-Caribbeans, South Asians, members of EU countries, and asylum seekers from conflict zones in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

For other migration histories, see pages on

Bangla mobility

Chinatowns

Migrant Manchester

Religion and identity

Migrant foodways

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Home | Migration histories

Moving People Changing Places

Although there are fascinating migration histories the world over, the focus here is on the UK.  Who migrated to these islands?  When did they come and why?  What impact did they have on British culture and society?

As the story of migration to Britain unfolds - from the Romans to contemporary arrivals from the European Union - several key issues are discussed. Look through the pages for information on:

  • Race and racism
  • The archaeology of migration
  • Gender and identity
  • Slavery
  • Colonialism
  • Sanctuary and refugees
  • Labour and economic migration

Migration histories


People have always migrated, whether to fulfil needs or in search of a better way of life.  Their movements have had an impact on societies and environments back home and in the new location. 

Every country has its own migration history, its story of both emigration - of those who left - and immigration - of those who arrived. Most countries are made up of diverse people who originated from a variety of places in different periods. People have been on the move throughout history. They have crossed natural boundaries such as mountains, rivers and deserts, as well as national borders. They have travelled as families and communities as well as individuals, and have carried their habits, customs and culture with them.

Migration histories go beyond these initial journeys to explore the social, cultural, political and economic consequences of population movements. They show how societies have been shaped by newcomers in interaction with existing settlers, and how new relationships - between individuals, groups and nations - have been formed.

Holyhead ferry
A poster for the London and North Western Railway advertising the service between England and Ireland via Holyhead, 1907 © National Archive

New research techniques have provided novel insights about the Viking diaspora and our relationship to it.  By focusing on those parts of the British Isles most settled by Scandinavians, researchers have been able to learn more about their impact using DNA and surname analysis on modern populations.  A study in the Wirral and West Lancashire showed that, of men with old-established local surnames, 50% of those tested in the Wirral had a Y-chromosome match in Scandinavia.  The percentage for West Lancashire was 30%.  Although this didn’t guarantee Viking lineage for any of the individuals tested, it provided further evidence of Scandinavian legacy in this part of the UK.