If you go back far enough, local history becomes the story of successive migrations to the area we now call Huddersfield. On another page we set out 3000 years of population change, from the Bronze Age down to the Norman Conquest.

The Norman occupation from 1066 brought major changes in landownership but little alteration in the demographics of the area, and this situation prevailed for several centuries, with only the occasional reference to the presence of any migrants in this area. An exception was the record in the seventeenth century of a Huguenot family from France settling in Saddleworth.

But industrial growth from the late eighteenth century brought changes, and the first arrivals of those we still recognise today as minority ethnic communities. First to come were small numbers of migrants from Ireland and Scotland. Irish immigration on a larger scale began in the 1840s, before the great famine, and continued thereafter. The Great Agricultural Depression of the 1870s and 1880s caused a flow of migrants from Lincolnshire and East Anglia to industrial areas.

The development of the chemical industry brought German chemists to Huddersfield and Italian migrants came and produced ice cream. Jewish migration to Yorkshire grew in the 1880s following pogroms in Russia and a small Jewish community existed in Huddersfield for some decades.

During the First World War over 300 Belgian refugees found temporary sanctuary in Huddersfield. Between 1937 and 1939 Huddersfield provided a home for a group of Basque children, refugees from the Spanish Civil War. During the Second World War a prisoner-of-war camp at Stirley Hill housed German and Italian prisoners, some of who remained in Huddersfield after the war.

In the immediate postwar period significant settlement of migrants from eastern Europe began. The largest group was Polish, consisting of political emigrants, soldiers and airmen and displaced persons. They were allowed to settle in Huddersfield, together with Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians who were in a similar position. At about the same time a significant number of Ukrainians, many of them displaced persons, settled in this area.

In June 1948 the SS Empire Windrush brought the first group of migrants from the Caribbean, eight of whom settled in Huddersfield. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, migrants from Pakistan and India came to work in the textile industry. In the 1970s women from the subcontinent began to arrive and substantial communities developed. At about the same time some Chinese families started restaurants and takeaways in this area.

The most significant recent migration into Kirklees came after the inclusion of Poland, Lithuania and other eastern European countries in the European Union in May 2004. At the same time a significant Kurdish community began to form in Kirklees. Asylum seekers came to this area and in 2010 Kirklees became a Town of Sanctuary.

Recording the Heritage

These more recent minority ethnic and religious groups are under-represented in our local history, and this is something HLHS is keen to correct. We took the initiative in proposing a Kirklees Heritage Forum, which has conducted an extensive audit of what to date has been done in this area. The results of this audit are available as a PDF (last updated in July 2019). Further research and writing will be encouraged, in association with the University’s Centre for Visual & Oral History Research (CVOHR). The Society itself is now regularly featuring talks and articles on the migrant communities in our talks programme and annual Journal.

But much of the history of these communities remains unrecorded. Memories are fading and written and visual records are disappearing. There are so many topics which could be investigated, so many documents and photographs which should be saved! What have been the experiences of South Asian, East European and African-Caribbean communities in the fields of education, employment, sport, music? Have the histories of the establishment of churches, temples mosques, accounts of the celebration of Irish, Caribbean, Muslim festivals, been written? How and when did Asian and African-Caribbean shops, restaurants and cultural centres come to be established? What contribution have these communities made to the musical, artistic and literary achievements of Kirklees?

Anyone interested in supporting the objectives of the Forum please contact Bill Roberts at <bill [at] roberts04.plus.com> We’ll be delighted to hear from you!