Current Research in Digital History

James Perry

Geo-Locating Census Micro-Data
Segregation, Clustering, and Residential Behaviours of Migrant Communities in London, 1881–1911

Volume: 1 (2018)


The settlement of foreign-born migrant communities in London has received considerable scholarly attention. Using the recently released Integrated Census Microdata, this article contributes to the literature as it argues that individualised mapping processes can reveal distinct settlement patterns within migrant communities. Furthermore, it is demonstrated that migrants were highly mobile entities and that communities continuously underwent radical transformations. Two areas of East London are used as case studies to highlight the different behaviours exhibited by migrant groups during a period of intense arrival and settlement. These neighbourhoods were selected on account of the availability of geo-spatial and census data. After processing in a Geographic Information System, data is explored and mapped to illustrate the concentration and composition of individual properties. Ultimately, this article presents evidence of tight migrant clustering and the gradual spread of migrants as they eventually settle entire streets. The decennial changes highlight some form of interchange. As migrants left one subsection, they moved to another. Although the literature indicated and suggested strong tendencies of residential clustering, this research has demonstrated the complexities of this point and revealed a number of previously unexplored behaviours.

I. Introduction

“We must look to the census as our basic source,” stated Lloyd Gartner, “and almost entirely abandon attempts to derive annual immigration figures from other sources.”1 Gartner’s 1960 emphasis on the census as the fundamental source for studying migration and migrants remains a salient point. Despite the digitisation of new sources concerning immigration into Britain, including Naturalisation Reports, the census remains the most extensive socio-economic dataset for the subject.

Most studies of population mobility and Britain are in reference to those who emigrated, rather than those who arrived. However, with an extensive Empire, the United Kingdom served as the crossroads of the world, with individuals and communities arriving throughout the long nineteenth century. Between 1881 and 1911, hundreds of thousands of foreign-born migrants entered, passed through, and settled into England and Wales. Including the Irish, almost a million foreign-born migrants were residing in England and Wales by 1911, with a much larger second-generation progeny.

Scholars have long noted the spaces of exception where large, distinctive migrant communities formed.2 However, studies have typically relied on registration district geographies as the spatial unit of investigation. The aggregation of populations at this level results in distortions and betrays the complex behaviours occurring at a neighbourhood and street level.3 Current research is attempting to redress this reliance upon amassed population statistics. Through two case studies of Victorian and Edwardian London, this article argues that the individualised geo-locating of households as enumerated in the census is of far higher value when measuring segregation amongst migrant communities. Further, this article demonstrates that with time, migrants were intrinsically mobile and areas of settlement underwent profound transformations.


To explore the segregating behaviours of migrants at an individual household level, two examples are drawn from neighbourhoods in the East End of London. The area is well-known for its popularity with migrants. During the nineteenth century, thousands of Europeans arrived as they escaped military service, oppression, economic depression, and increasingly dangerous conditions. Many came from the Russian Empire. The scale of the migration was extensive. As one correspondent noted:

We are face to face with a new Ghetto, one that has arisen during this generation, vastly greater in area than the old and different in character. It has absorbed the Mint, Whitechapel, and Stepney; it stretches out to Shoreditch, to Hackney, and to Stratford, and even across the river. In many streets in these districts four out of six names over the shops are Polish, German, or Russian, and the remainder are often Anglicized forms of foreign names. There are roads where scarce an English person is to be found, where the common speech is Yiddish, and where the majority of the adults speak only a little broken English. New immigrants settle here, 10, 20, or 30 thousand a year.4

Popular anxieties emerged in light of this migration and growing settlement, including overcrowding, displacement, and competition.5

The neighbourhoods selected are subsections from the Whitechapel Registration district, as highlighted in the map of East London. The subsections are well suited for further analysis. Both experienced changes over time and diverged in their composition. When comparing the areas with George Arkell’s map of Jewish East London, the subsections sit on the boundaries of the Jewish community. The first subsect centres on Underwood Street in the north of the district, which contained 252 residential properties. Located between a series of major roads, subsect one remained well connected. Only Buttress Street led to a dead end. While North Place was an enclosed space, it had an additional small side passage back to Buxton Street. The second subsect is located around Dorset Street, on the district’s western fringes, and was comprised of 272 residential properties. The area included the Tenter Ground Estate and contained a number of lodging houses, shops, and industrial buildings.6 The area was densely populated and its residents suffered from poverty and overcrowding. The estate was essentially a cul-de-sac, and houses were small and cramped. The subsect contained a number of small courts, closes, and enclosed areas, which resulted in the streets becoming an important space for socialising and interacting.7 Although the subsections differed, they are representative of the local area.

A map of East London with an overlay showing subsect one and subsect two

Figure 1. An overview of Whitechapel Registration District of East London with case studies selected. Case study areas: 1) Underwood Street area, 2) the Tenter Street estate.

III. Subsect One

The population of the Underwood Street area underwent profound change during the latter decades of the mid-late Victorian period. In 1881, there was a near total absence of foreign-born persons, with only a scattering of isolated migrants. By 1891, migrant clustering had begun to emerge. Portions of Buxton Street, Underwood Street, and Bakers Row (later Vallance Road), exhibited strong segregating behaviours amongst its migrant population. Yet, large numbers of properties remained solely inhabited by the native-born population. From 1901 onwards, the foreign-born population formed a distinctive residentially segregated area.

Some minor segregating behaviour existed between migrant groups. In 1901, the only two residences with Romanians living in them were situated next to each other on the corner of Buttress Street and Buxton Street. The dominance of Russian migrants and the ambiguity of national identity complicate any further analysis into inter-group segregation.

With the gradual expansion of the foreign-born community in nearby districts, the Buxton Street area became increasingly attractive for migrants. After spreading from its core in Whitechapel parish, increasing numbers of foreign-born migrants lived in adjacent districts and streets. Pressures on the existing housing stock, slum clearances, and the ability to afford more appropriate accommodation drove the migrant population to new areas. However, migrants moved seemingly in tandem with kin and kith groups, and pre-existing social networks.

On the south side of Underwood Street stood five large buildings composed of multiple dwellings, known as the Metropolitan Association Buildings. Throughout the period, the dwellings remained heavily dominated by native-born persons, as did many of the houses in the immediate vicinity. Persistent dominance by native-born persons might suggest a link to redlining, or the unwillingness amongst some landlords to rent to migrants, something to be explored further.

Decennial changes suggest migration into subsect one accelerated in the early 1900s, with North Place becoming a heavily segregated space. In a similar fashion, many houses on Buxton Street changed from being occupied by native-born to foreign-born persons. Crucially, the period 1881–1891 marked the introduction of migrants to the area, which was further amplified en masse in the following decade. The area rapidly absorbed migrants, and clear evidence of congregating can be observed in the map of 1911. Within thirty years, the neighbourhood underwent profound changes, with the population radically changing in composition.

A map of subsect one in the year eighteen hundred and eighty-one

Figure 2. A scattering of migrants around the area. A small collection of properties were either uninhabited or the household records have been lost.

A map of subsect one in the year eighteen hundred and ninety-one

Figure 3. A number of households dominated by Russian born persons begin to emerge. A small collection of properties on North Place are unavailable.

A map of subsect one in the year nineteen hundred and one

Figure 4. Entire rows of houses are beginning to be dominated and almost entirely composed of foreign-born migrants, almost exclusively Russian born persons. Two properties with Romanian immigrants are found side-by-side. Some rows of houses remain dominated by native-born persons.

A map of subsect one in the year nineteen hundred and eleven

Figure 5. Large numbers of properties are now dominated by foreign-born persons, again, mostly Russians. Some properties and buildings remain devoid of migrants, but the area is now heavily comprised of immigrants.

IV. Subsect Two

The northern aspects of subsect two served as an isolated non-Jewish community. One of those streets, Dorset Street, has been described by Fiona Rule as the ‘worst street in London’ and was a notably transient space, with many lodging houses and poor slum housing.8 Running north from Dorset Street was Little Paternoster Row and two small-enclosed courts. Crimes, including murder, frequently occurred.9 The socio-economic composition of the population differed, as did the birthplaces of migrants, with a Dutch community present in subsect 2, and a predominantly Russian migrant community in subsect 1.

Segregation within the extent of subsect two was strongly evident in 1881. As illustrated in the maps of subset 2, at the time of the census in 1881, Little Paternoster Row was almost entirely composed of persons hailing from Poland. Meanwhile, Emery’s Place had a sizeable concentration of persons born in Holland. As time progressed, an increased number of native-born households emerged, which suggests either a return of native-born persons or second generation migrants establishing new households.

By 1911, a sizeable proportion of the remaining foreign-born population is residing in a cluster on one-side of Freeman Street. Overall, many properties became devoid of foreign-born persons in any of the households, undoubtedly as older migrants died or moved away, and were replaced by second-generation migrants or other native-born persons. A large number of properties retained a mixed composition in the absolute numbers of migrants, but they become increasingly outmatched by exclusively native-born residences.

Evidence exists to suggest a link between subsection one and two. In 1897, a group of over twenty Eastern European migrants were arrested at the home of a Bernard Green at 4 Underwood Street for illegal gambling. As was noted, ‘All were described by the police as foreign Jews, natives of Russian and Austrian Poland.’ The apprehended all gave addresses in Spitalfields, which included streets in subsect two.10

A map of subsect two in the year eighteen hundred and eighty-one

Figure 6. The population is incredibly mixed with a scattering of households dominated by persons born in Holland. Some native-born dominated households can be found across the subsect, but there is a tendency for them to congregate in the northern elements. A number of properties had no-one living in them, a sizeable number being in the southern elements.

A map of subsect two in the year eighteen hundred and ninety-one

Figure 7. The number of native-born households continues to expand in the north aspects. Some households dominated by Russian-born persons are beginning to emerge in and around White’s Row. Meanwhile, the number of empty properties decreases.

A map of subsect two in the year nineteen hundred and one

Figure 8. Russian dominated households are scattered around the subsect. Mixed households remain the most frequently occurring household type. Fewer properties in the north are returned as dominated by native-born persons.

A map of subsect two in the year nineteen hundred and eleven

Figure 9. A large swell of native-born persons displaces and replaces many of the mixed households. A number of Russian dominated households exist, but there is a significant shift in the proportion of foreign-born persons. A scattering of households composed of persons born in Holland remain in the area.


Communities underwent profound changes; at times within a brief space of time. As Richard Cohen has noted, many Jewish migrants moved from ‘slow-moving’ contained communities to immense urban centres.11 The disorientation generated by their new environment likely enhanced the motivations to cluster together.

Within the two case studies, native communities reacted differently to the new arrivals. In the case of subsect one, migrants quickly displaced the native-born population in places, but it was limited to clustering behaviours, which expanded over the decades. In rows of houses such as Buttress Gardens, or in the eastern element of Underwood Street, properties remained overwhelmingly populated by native persons. Meanwhile, in other areas there was a near total absence of any native-born persons, being almost solely composed of migrants and their British-born kin. In contrast, subsect two revealed a complicated system whereby migrants and natives lived in proximity to each other. Extreme occurrences of segregation took place in isolated sub-streets, alleys, and closes.

A key finding is that subsect one rapidly gained a large migrant population and exhibited strongly segregationist behaviours. Meanwhile, subsect two began to lose its first generation migrant population. Similarly, the alleys and enclosed spaces of subsect two began to be populated and dominated by native-born persons, possibly as the migrant population moved on to other nearby areas. In their study of Vienna, Harriet Freidenreich has demonstrated that diverse migrant groups pursued different models of assimilation, with Galician Jews being far more segregated than other communities because of their distinct characteristics.12 A more extensive comparative analysis between migrant communities and geographical areas will reveal how typical the behaviours are.

To a certain extent, segregation was self-imposed. For many new arrivals it was necessary to be in proximity to unskilled work opportunities.13 There was also a religious and cultural dimension, with the need to be near to a synagogue and other institutions. It is now clear that the community was far from static with significant intercensal movements occurring. In the case of the Jewish Eastern Europeans, as David Newman has noted, new migrants often supplemented the existing communities.14 The constant stream of new arrivals contributed to the fluctuations on the border of the predominantly Eastern European migrant community. However, work remains to be done to establish whether these behaviours were comparable to that of other major cities, including New York, Paris, or Chicago.

Ultimately, the individualised approach to residential segregation offers a far greater degree of insight into the activities and composition of migrant communities. As demonstrated in these two case studies, aggregated analyses can mask localised experiences. While certainly more work, the level of detail in individual household geo-location is profound, and reveals distinct behaviours that we would otherwise fail to recognise.


Bermant, Chaim. London’s East End: Point of Arrival. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1975.

Carter, H., and S. Wheatley. “Residential Segregation in Nineteenth-Century Cities.” Area 12, no. 1 (1980): 57–62.

Cohen, Richard I. “Nostalgia and ‘return to the ghetto’: a cultural phenomenon in Western and Central Europe.” In Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth-Century Europe, edited by Jonathan Frankel, Steven J. Zipperstein, 137–190. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Freidenreich, Harriet Pass. “Natives and Foreigners: Geographic Origins and Jewish Communal Politics in Interwar Vienna.” In Jewish Settlement and Community in the Modern Western World, edited by Ronald Dotterer, Deborah Dash Moore, and Steven M. Cohen, 117–131. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Press, 1991.

Gartner, Lloyd P. “Notes on the Statistics of Jewish Immigration to England, 1870–1914.” Jewish Social Studies 22, no. 2 (1960): 97–102.

The Lancet. “Report of the Lancet Special Sanitary Commission on the Polish Colony of Jew Tailors.” May 3, 1884, 785–832.

Lloyd’s Illustrated Newspaper. “Raids on London Shops: A Baker’s Party.” June 13, 1897.

Newman, David. “Integration and Ethnic Spatial Concentration: The Changing Distribution of the Anglo-Jewish Community.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 10, no. 3 (1985): 360–376.

Rule, Fiona. The Worst Street in London. London: Ian Allen, 2008.

“The Tenter Ground Estate.” In Survey of London, vol. 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, edited by F. H. W. Sheppard, 242–244. London: London County Council, 1957. Accessed 15 May 2018. British History.

The Times. “From A Correspondent. Alien London To-Day.” March 16, 1911.

The Times. “The Murder in The East-End.” June 20, 1901.

Data Sources

Schürer, Kevin and Edward Higgs, Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) Names and Addresses, 1851–1911: Special Licence Access, [data collection], UK Data Service, (2015), SN: 7856. Accessed 1 February 2018.

Data Access

The data used in this project is subject to stringent conditions of use and a special licence access must be secured to access the detailed records. Special arrangements are required to ensure that commercial sensitivity is protected. Data is held by the UK Data Service and access can be acquired through application. Further information can be found on the UK Data Service website.


  1. Gartner, “Notes,” 102. 

  2. Bermant, London’s East End, 122–123. 

  3. Carter and Wheatley, “Residential Segregation,” 57–58. 

  4. The Times, “From A Correspondent.” 

  5. Bermant, London’s East End, 147–148. 

  6. Sheppard, “The Tenter Ground Estate,” 242–244. 

  7. Lancet, “Report,” 817–819. 

  8. Rule, Worst Street

  9. The Times, “The Murder in The East-End.” 

  10. Lloyd’s Illustrated Newspaper, “Raids on London Shops: A Baker’s Party.” 

  11. Cohen, “Nostalgia,” 131. 

  12. Freidenreich, “Natives and Foreigners,” 118–120. 

  13. Bermant, London’s East End, 161. 

  14. Newman, “Integration,” 365. 


James Perry, Department of History, Lancaster University,, ORC ID logo0000-0002-7424-1259