UWE to write history of Bristol's ethnic minorities

Issue date: 31 May 2005

Issue date: 31/05/05

The history of immigration in Bristol from medieval times to the end of the twentieth century is to be written by academics from the University of the West of England. UWE’s School of History has been awarded £120,000 of a £3,374,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of a £6 million project called ‘England’s Past for Everyone’, co-ordinated by Victoria County History at the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research.

The Bristol history, provisionally titled ‘Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities in Bristol c1000 – 2000’, will focus on the themes of ethnic diversity and civic identity. Fourteen other volumes dealing with histories of other localities are planned throughout the country, but the Bristol project is the only one to look at ethnicity.

The two-year project will begin in June, and will be led by Madge Dresser and Dr Peter Fleming of UWE’s Regional History Centre. As part of the project, an interactive website will be set up to encourage input from members of the public.

Madge Dresser said:

“We are hoping to reach out to a wide audience and plan to post drafts of the research on the website to invite comments. We want to examine ways that the established host community in Bristol responded to foreign immigration from medieval times to the end of the twentieth century. For example, to what extent did the local elite treat the rural English poor differently from foreign migrants and their Bristol-born descendants? And what were the experiences of the incoming groups – from Welsh, Irish and Jews in medieval times to Poles, Afro-Caribbeans, South Asians and Somalis in the late 20th century?”

The researchers are looking forward to receiving information and oral histories from the public, and will be assisted by a team of volunteers to help document the findings. They are hoping to chart the relationship between Bristol’s majority population and those from ethnic minority groups during the past millennium; to find out what coping strategies the different groups used to survive; and to consider the way in which Bristol’s particular experience has been shaped by national and global factors.

According to Peter Fleming:
“Medieval Bristol had strong links with Ireland – Bristol played an important part in the English settlement of Dublin - and with Wales. In their turn, the Welsh and the Irish, along with the Jews, constituted important minorities within the town’s population. Welsh burgesses were particularly prominent in Bristol’s local government in the early Tudor period. In fact it is likely that Bristol has never had a very stable population, given that for much of its history it was the largest provincial port in the country. Even in the Middle Ages, most Bristolians were probably only second or third generation Bristol-bred.”


Editor’s notes

1. The Bristol project is being co-ordinated by UWE’s Regional History Centre. For more information on the Centre, contact director Dr Steve Poole or visit http://www.humanities.uwe.ac.uk/regionhistory/index.htm

2. The project leaders have published extensively on the history of Bristol. Previous works of include:
• Madge Dresser: Slavery Obscured: the Social History of the Slave Trade in an English Provincial Port, Continuum Press, 2001
• Phillip Ollerenshaw & Madge Dresser (eds) The Making of Modern Bristol, Redcliffe Press, 1996
• Peter Fleming and Kieran Costello (eds) Discovering Cabot's Bristol: Life in the Medieval and Tudor Town, Redcliffe Press, 1998

3. Further information on Victoria County History and the England’s Past for Everyone project can be found at http://www.englandpast.net

Back to top