Hearing that a small group of far-right racists are planning a march in Ipswich this weekend, I thought I’d remind myself of Suffolk’s history of incoming migrants. We exported a lot of people over the years too, of course, via convict ships, voluntary emigration and the “overpaid, oversexed and over here” USAAF who were stationed all over the county during the Second World War and took a lot of Suffolk women back to the United States as “GI Brides.”
Ipswich has had a thriving port since medieval times and as a consequence has always been a place of entry and settlement for migrants. It was known as a welcoming place for incomers, many of whom settled in the town. As an example, from a brief look through the records of the 1901 census of Ipswich, there were more than 20 Italians, 13 people described as French subjects, 64 people who had been born in Ireland and one Russian. Many people in Ipswich will be descendants of these and other immigrants. Since then, there have been significant arrivals of people from the West Indies, the Indian sub-continent and most recently from Eastern Europe, all adding to the vibrant and cosmopolitan nature of the town and enhancing its culture.
Without immigration, there would have been no Jason Dozzell or Keiron Dyer playing for Ipswich Town Football Club, no Emeric Pressburger (who is buried at Saxtead near Woodbridge), the Hungarian refugee who, with Michael Powell, made brilliant films such as A Matter of Life and Death, One of our Aircraft is Missing and The Red Shoes, no Aspall cider (the Chevallier family were originally from the Channel Islands), no Ickworth House (designed by Italian architect, Mario Asprucci, and two Italian craftsmen, Casimiro & Donato Carabelli, were brought over to live in Little Saxham and create the frieze that runs around the dome, no Peter’s ice cream (produced by Ipswich’s Zagni family). Perhaps the Aldeburgh Festival would not have survived as its success was very much the result of the work of its artistic director from 1956 to 1977, Imogen Holst, daughter of the composer Gustav Holst and of Swedish, Latvian and German descent. There are, of course, countless other examples. I have chosen just three more, all eminent people whose families came here from other countries and either settled in Suffolk or lived there for for some time.
Edward Ardizzone, the artist, was born in French Indo-China in 1900, and was the son of Auguste Ardizzone, an Algerian-born, naturalized Frenchman of Italian origin, and his wife, Margaret. Ardizzone spent his childhood in East Anglia, including an idyllic period at his grandmother’s house in East Bergholt from 1905, which he described in his autobiography. Unfortunately he was sent to be educated at Ipswich School where he was bullied so badly that his memories of the town were tainted for the rest of his life. He’s best remembered for his illustrations in children’s books, including The Otterbury Incident and Stig of the Dump, but he also drew a great deal that was inspired by his boyhood memories of the rougher part of Ipswich, including a famous sketch of two women fighting one another outside an Ipswich pub in about 1912.
The Ipswich Society placed a blue plaque on the front of 44 Fore Street, Ipswich in memory of Cor Visser, a Dutch artist who spent much of his life living in Suffolk. Attracted by his love for sailing and, presumably – like many painters who settle in East Anglia – because of the landscape and the light, he arrived in 1937. Many of his watercolours are of the River Orwell. He was the official war artist to the Dutch Royal Family during the Second World War and his works are in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as well as in various British galleries, including in Ipswich. He died in 1982.
Sophia Duleep Singh (full name: Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh) was born at Elveden Hall in 1876, the daughter of a Maharaja and his first wife Bamba Müller, who was of German and Ethiopian descent. Sophia and her sister Catherine were suffragettes and she was a member of the Pankhurst’s militant suffragette organization, the Women’s Social and Political Union. She spent most of her life fighting for minority rights, including as a leading member of the Women’s Tax Resistance Campaign which argued that women should withhold paying taxes until they were given the vote. You can find more information about her by visiting the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website (and most public libraries will offer you free access).
The whole agricultural economy of East Anglia has been based on using the toil of travelling people (many of whom would have had Romani or Irish ancestors) and migrant labourers such as the Eastern Europeans who are still working on the land to this day. It’s worth reminding ourselves sometimes that none of us are – to use the gloriously funny words that Galton and Simpson put into Tony Hancock’s mouth in The Blood Donor, in which he indignantly answers June Whitfield’s question about his British nationality with the assertion that he’s “one hundred per cent Anglo-Saxon with perhaps just a dash of Viking… .”
I doubt that it’s possible to find someone in East Anglia who has a family tree that is exclusively made up of indigenous Britons and many of us, thankfully, have people in our family from all over of the world. It’s good for our health both in terms of genetics and in the huge number of migrants who have come here, temporarily or permanently to work in the NHS, for example – and as the OECD [links to the Daily Telegraph] has reported recently it’s good for our economy too.