Indian London

Indian London

Contact between Britain and India began in 1600, when Elizabeth I granted the British East India Company permission to trade in South Asian spices and silks. India came under the direct administrative control of the British Empire in 1858.

There was considerable traffic back and forth between the two countries. Indian sailors, Lascars, were employed on board British ships on short-term contracts. British families returning from India brought Indian domestic servants such as ayahs, or nannies, to London.

These workers were often discharged from service on arrival in London. Many were left destitute until the next ship sailed back to India, and their plight caused public concern.

The Strangers' Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders in Limehouse provided temporary accommodation for stranded Lascars until its closure around 1935. Under London City Mission administration, the Ayahs' Home was relocated to Hackney from the City in 1900. It remained there until its closure around 1942.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Lascars and ayahs were part of a diverse South Asian community in London that included merchants, doctors, lawyers and students.

Wealthier Indians sent their sons to be educated at British public schools and universities. Mahatma Gandhi, one of the 20th century's great political leaders, studied law in London.

From the 1920s, Sikhs from the Punjab settled in London's East End and made a living selling goods from door to door. East London's first Indian restaurant opened in 1920.

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