[T]his month London’s first French language terrestrial radio station starts broadcasting to the capital’s 400,000 native French speakers as a reminder of their own culture, but why are so many French institutions based around South Kensington?
It’s a subject that has perplexed me for years, if not decades and here I feel I might need some help.
London is often said to be a conglomeration of villages each with its own identity, but also within our City – as with its villages – are islands of immigrant settlements each with their own economic, social and cultural identities.
But here’s the question I would like answered: What attracts ethnic, religious or cultural groups to live in particular areas?
For instance why have the Chinese moved into Chinatown; why are a few streets at the north of Stamford Hill the home to Europe’s largest Hasidic and Adeni Jewish communities. The Greeks frequent Green Lanes and why would you find Little Lebanon, with its large Arabic population along the southern stretch of Edgware Road.
When I first started working in London my company was located in Clerkenwell known then as Little Italy, there was to be found an Italian delicatessen, restaurants serving pasta and pizza, an Italian church, it even had (and still does) an Italian driving school, presumably to teach you Italian driving skills.
Earls Court is known as Kangaroo Court due to the large number of antipodeans students in digs there.
The Irish once populated Kilburn while the Whitechapel Road supports an almost exclusive population of Muslims.
For while I can understand later arrivals setting up home near people of their own ethnic mix for language, security or cultural reasons but what makes the first settlers adopt a particular area?
For the large Afro-Caribbean community in Brixton David Long in his book The London Underground suggests:
During the war a series of deep level air raid shelters were built designed in such a fashion they could eventually be linked up to form a super underground railway, but lack of money after the war meant this scheme was abandoned. So in 1948 the Clapham Common Deep Level Shelter became briefly home to several hundred Commonwealth citizens who arrived on the SS Empire Windrush, laying the foundations for nearby Brixton’s Afro-Caribbean community.
So why have different divergent communities decided at random to live in different areas of London, any theories are to be welcomed.
I am indebted to Lucy Inglis for her map of London, her site Georgian London was voted History Website of 2009, on it will find more information than seems possible to amass on what London was like to live in during 18th Century.