London's Smaller Communities

For centuries, people have been coming to settle in London from all over the world. New arrivals formed communities based on shared ethnicity, nationality, or religion. Some communities have large representation and are well established: the West Indian, Chinese and Irish communities, for example. Others are smaller, such as the Japanese, or less visible, such as the Traveller community. The groups described here are just some of London's smaller communities.

Some communities in London are transient. Many North Americans come as temporary residents to study or work, but the number of permanent migrants is quite small. There are also large Australasian and South African communities. Although increasing numbers are staying to pursue long-term career goals, most young visitors from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa stay for a year or two at most. These communities have made their presence felt in London. A free-media industry has grown to publish papers for ex-pats. West London, particularly Acton and Hammersmith, is well known for its Australian theme bars such as the Walkabout chain, and shops that stock popular New Zealand groceries and South African newspapers.


A more obviously transient community are the Travellers. The two main groups in London are the Romani and the Irish. Groups of Travellers have been camping seasonally around London for centuries. In the 18th century, fields at Seven Dials hosted a regular winter community. In Lambeth, Gypsy Hill remained a popular stopping place into the 19th century. Travelling communities were often traders and came to buy and sell at fares around London. The annual harvests, particularly the Kent hop-picking, brought many groups to stay on farms on the outskirts of London.

Economic changes in the 20th century made some of the traditional trades obsolete, and many old stopping places disappeared during urban development. Campaigns for official Traveller sites began in the 1950s, and during the 60s and 70s groups fought for equal access to education and health care. In the late 1960s, a major permanent site was established in Hainault and in the 1976 Race Relations Act, Travellers were recognised and protected as an ethnic minority.

By the 1980s, many Traveller families were running their own businesses, operating rides at fun fairs around the capital. One of the largest is the August bank holiday fair on Hampstead Heath. However, Travellers are still marginalised. A lack of available land means they are often restricted to outer London areas such as Haringey, which has a large Irish Traveller population.

Bookmark with:

  • What are these?