An attractive place to settle

The industrial period of the mid 1800s brought thousands of migrant workers to the North-East, anxious to develop their skills and make new lives for themselves and their families.

The industrial period of the mid 1800s brought thousands of migrant workers to the North-East, anxious to develop their skills and make new lives for themselves and their families. The all-embracing nature of the region's people means that this has never really stopped. We take a look at some of the most significant migratory patterns.

At the height of the Industrial Revolution, Britain was a prosperous country. It possessed coal and iron and the shipping and finance required for its development. The North-East was particularly favoured in its share of that growth.

Employment prospects were high. There were direct shipping lines between the ports of the Tyne, Wear and Tees to Hamburg, Danzig and Rotterdam - and above all, Britain was a free country. Once the pioneers had paved the way here they were followed by their families and friends. And it was against this background that the North-East Jewish communities developed.

The 1930s brought an influx of German immigrants to the region who were encouraged by government grants to set up small factories for light industries on the likes of the new Team Valley Trading Estate.

A certain Zachariah Bernstone had arrived in Newcastle in the late 1870s from Lithuania. On his arrival, he set about making a living as a glazier and picture framer. He was also a part-time pedlar trading in gas mantles. Eventually he settled in Gateshead and tried to make a living there in 1881 and is generally believed to be the first Jew to settle in Gateshead.

His motives in those early days were not necessarily to set up a new congregation, but rather to escape from the established Jewish community in Newcastle with what he regarded as its anglicised ritual. Before long he brought over members of his family from Russia to join him, as well as other orthodox friends who wanted to continue to live a Jewish life of strict orthodoxy in England. He was anxious to form a minyan of worshippers - 10 males - so that they could found a congregation, which they did in 1883, known as the Chevra Torah.

By the middle of the 1920s Jewish shops began to multiply in the Askew Road area of Gateshead. Those who had succeeded in their credit businesses now entered the more prosperous field of wholesale haberdashery and drapery. The Jewish people now moved on from their former residences in the Askew Road area to the newer district of Saltwell Road and Coatsworth Road near to Saltwell Park.

The Gateshead Community founded by Austrian, Lithuanian and Polish settlers was the basis upon which the later German immigrants were to build. The arrival of Hitler led to a displacement of Jewish scholars who settled in the only town in Britain which could offer them the orthodox environment and respect for Jewish culture which they required - Gateshead.

On June 14, 1931, the present Yeshiva (college) was established and developed quickly into the leading Torah institution in Europe.

The newly-opened Team Valley, with its vacant sites, was also an ideal spot for developing businesses and many German Jewish firms restarted here in the middle of the decade prior to the Second World War. Using their experience in manufacturing, they quickly succeeded in building up thriving concerns which employed hundreds of jobless North-East workers. Also, with the profits that were reaped from these business ventures, the new German immigrants took much of the increasing financial burden of running the Yeshiva off the shoulders of the established community.

In 1841, Consett in County Durham was about to become a boom town. Below the ground was coking coal and blackband iron ore, nearby was limestone - the three ingredients needed for blast furnaces to produce iron and steel.

If the steelworks figured large in Consett's history, the other key strand that has contributed to the town's personality is Irish immigration. From the earliest days of the Consett Iron Company in the 1840s, it attracted itinerant workers from Ireland, many of whom settled in the town. Although people came from all over Ireland to settle in Consett, the majority came from the northern counties, particularly County Tyrone.

Consett's Irish heritage is noted today in its high Roman Catholic population - St Patrick's RC church, for example, has the largest Catholic congregation in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.

The steel industry in the Derwent Valley was initiated by immigrant German cutlers and sword-makers from Solingen who settled in Shotley Bridge, the original home of Wilkinson Sword, during the 17th Century.

In 1847, Irish immigrants seeking work at Consett Ironworks and at nearby collieries clashed with locals in a three-day confrontation that became known as The Battle of the Blue Heaps, after the slag tips on which it was chiefly fought. Order was only restored when the army was sent from Shotley Bridge. The Blue Heaps was the residue left from the ironstone workings in the immediate area.

The disturbances were between the Catholics and Protestants who were from different areas and backgrounds and had divided into two groups over religious intolerance and petty jealousies.

The actual battle took place after a build-up of resentment between Irish newcomers and those who were already settled in the area.But, once resolved, the community settled down to a more tolerant existence.

That tolerance extends these days to the Czech waiter, the Slovakian artist and the Lithuanian tailor who are now happily working in the North-East and are all, in the main, thriving and contributing to our social and economic diversity and to our prosperity.

The imaginary Polish plumber who once struck fear into the hearts of British workers has been revealed to be a more vibrant and complex creature. According to the Home Office, the most common occupation for the new arrivals is not plumbing or bricklaying, but "administration, business and management".

The number of Eastern Europeans working in the North-East has increased five-fold over the past two years with more than 47,000 migrants now registered to work in the region. And a good proportion of them have settled in Derwentside, with Consett in particular a favoured destination. Outside Newcastle, it now has the largest pocket of Polish workers in the North-East.

International Cuisine, based on the town's Hownsgill Industrial Park, can count 43% of its workforce who originate from Eastern Europe - mainly Poland - among its 500-strong workforce. The company, which began in 1988 with 14 staff, supplies ready meals to the nation's supermarkets.

One Consett primary school has even produced a Polish version of its parents' brochure following an influx of new starters over a short period and Catholic churches across the region report swelling congregations.

Transport company Go North East now employs 100 Polish bus drivers from first starting to look towards Poland in March 2005 after it had difficulty recruiting in the North-East.

South Shields has been home to a Yemeni community since the 1890s. The main reason for their arrival was as seamen in British merchant vessels. Similar communities were founded in Hull, Liverpool and Cardiff. Around the First World War there was a shortage of crews due to the demands of the conflict and many Yemenis were recruited to serve on British ships at the port of Aden, then under British protection. At the end of the war, the Yemeni population of South Shields had swelled to around 3,000.

But once ashore in South Shields, the Yemenis often had trouble finding accommodation through racial discrimination and as a result, one of them, Ali Said, opened the first Arab Seaman's Boarding House in August 1909 in the Holborn riverside district of the town.

However, disputes over jobs led to resentment that in 1919, fuelled one of the first race riots in the UK. The end of war saw the start of a campaign of racial violence and discrimination designed to drive the Arabs out of the town. It culminated in a dispute over jobs which sparked a riot when hundreds of white seamen clashed with Arabs at Mill Dam. Eight Arabs were sent to prison for their part in it.

In 1930 another dispute broke out over working practices which the Yemeni seamen felt to be discriminatory, leading to further rioting. This time the police dealt harshly with the Arabs, using their batons on them. Fifteen Arabs were jailed and deported, including Ali Said who had spoken out about injustices but hadn't actually taken part in the riot itself.

After the Second World War the Yemeni population declined, partly through migration to industrial areas such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Sheffield. Today, the Yemeni population of South Shields numbers around 1,000.

The movement of labouring people both within the Italian peninsula and abroad has been a traditional mode of life from time immemorial, with many of them settling very well in the North-East. Regions of origin include the valleys around Como and Lucca. People from Como were skilled artisans, making barometers and other precision instruments, while those from Lucca specialised in plaster figure-making. Others were organ grinders, ice cream makers, confectioners and shop-keepers - and the Mincella families, the Dragones, Reays and the Marcantonios (Mark Toney) soon developed highly-regarded businesses.

There had been no organised migration of people from the Indian sub-continent and China to the North-East before the Second World War. However, tiny numbers of sailors, students and professionals had been entering Britain since India's first contact with the Empire. Most of the early Chinese arrived as seamen, but now both communities are well established in the region with a significant proportion contributing hugely to our prosperity and wealth of culture.

After the First World War, some 19,000 wounded Belgian soldiers arrived in Britain, with another 240,000 refugees scattered across the whole country. Most of them were repatriated but some small enclaves of Belgians, such as around Birtley and Chester-le-Street, remained.

This adoption - though not always smooth and trouble-free - emphasises the welcoming nature of the North-East and its indigenous people. The region has benefited and is all the richer for it.

endsCaptions:175 toneyMark Toney celebrating 100 years of business in Newcastle.175 yemenA Yemeni immigrant being led away after the South Shields riots.ends all


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
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Newcastle United Editor
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Sports Writer