Some immigrants to Britain have become so much a part of British life and culture, that it is hard to imagine Britain without them. They’ve settled in so comfortably and become so accepted, that we tend to forget how recently they or their families entered the country.
A German Musician
What could be more English than that favourite staple of British choral societies; Handel’s Messiah; or Handel’s Zadok the Priest; played at every British royal coronation for over two hundred years. We may over-look the fact that George Frideric Handel, who arrived in London in 1710, was a German economic migrant; albeit one talented and fortunate enough to find favour with the monarch of the day. It helped that the monarch in question was a fellow-German; George Louis, Elector of Hanover, who became George the First.
A Swiss Wordsmith
The first Thesaurus; that useful reference tool for all writers in English, first published in 1852; was the work of Peter Mark Roget, son of a Swiss clergyman. A doctor trained as a Doctor, Roget; 1779-1869; also conducted scientific experiments, and designed an improved type of slide rule.
An Ingenious Prince
Prince Albert, German consort to Queen Victoria; herself descended from the German Hanoverian Georges; famously gave Britain the Christmas tree; so obviously a symbol of Christmas today that we take it for granted, forgetting that it was once a Continental novelty. Prince Albert also gave us those most British of institutions; the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum
A Curator Revolutionary
A political refugee from his native Italy; Antonio Panizzi, 1797-1879, designed the iconic dome of the British Museum Reading Room; where Karl Marx, another European refugee from political persecution, did much of his reading. Panizzi eventually became the Reading Room’s Curator and librarian. He took British citizenship in 1832, and in 1869 was knighted by Queen Victoria.
A Painter, and a Poet
Another first-generation Italian immigrant; the musician Gabriele Rossetti, had famous children. One was the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Dante’s younger sister Christina (1830-1894) wrote the poem that has become a well-loved Christmas carol; ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’; sung every year throughout the land.
An Indian Reformer in Britain
What would the housebound elderly do without that most British of institutions; Meals on Wheels: The delivery of cooked food to pensioners’ homes was first pioneered by Dr Harbans Gulati, who came from the Punjab in 1920, hoping to work as a doctor in London. Dr Gulati’s Indian medical certificate was not recognised in Britain, and he worked for six years in unskilled jobs, while training to qualify for a second time. He became a Conservative county councillor; later resigning over the Conservatives’ lack of support for the newly founded National Health Service. He then joined the Socialist Medical Association. He died in 1967.
An Austrian Impresario
What would Britain’s musical and cultural life be without Glyndebourne for Opera, or without the Edinburgh Festival. Rudolf Bing, a refugee from Nazi-controlled Austria, was the first director of the Mozart festival at Glyndebourne, and founder and first director of the Edinburgh Festival, when it was launched in 1947. He became a British citizen in 1946.
Two Ad Men and a Patron of the Arts from Iraq
The Saatchi advertising firm is almost a household name: The images and slogans of M & C Saatchi on screens and billboards, form the background of all our lives. Charles Saatchi and his brother; Iraqis of Jewish background; were brought to Britain by their father as young children. Charles Saatchi is also known as an art collector, founder of the Saatchi Gallery, and patron of the Young British Artists group, including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
A Pakistani Philanthropist
Sir Anwar Pervez, now in his mid-seventies, was the son of a Pakistani farmer, who came to Britain at the age of 21 and went on, in 1976, to found the Bestway cash-and-carry firm, whose outlets can be found in so many British towns. Sir Anwar has also created the Bestway charitable Foundation, which donates generously to schools in deprived areas of Britain.
A World-famous Female Architect
Everyone knows about the stunning Aquatic Centre that was home to the 2012 Olympics. How many know that the Centre was the work of an Iraqi-born woman; Zaha Hadid; a UK citizen, whose architectural designs have won awards all over the world. Known for major public commissions, like the BMW Building in Leipzig and the MAXXI art museum in Rome; Hadid is the only woman ever to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize for architecture.
A Future Archbishop of Canterbury?
When British missionaries first travelled to Africa to save the souls of so-called ‘black heathens’, they almost certainly never imagined that Africans would one day find a role in Britain, watching over the souls of British churchgoers. Yet The Most Reverend and Right Honourable John Sentamu; Archbishop of York and Primate of England, born in Uganda in 1949, who made a successful career there as a barrister and judge and only left when forced out by the dictator Idi Amin, became a strong favourite for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church.
Next time the press gets busy stirring up hostility to immigrants and asylum seekers, it might be helpful to remind ourselves how much both these categories of people have given to Britain over the years. Without ‘economic migrants’ like Anwar Pervez and Handel, or ‘asylum seekers’ like Panizzi and John Sentamu; our country would be poor indeed.