1896677206While characterized by a generally smaller migration flow than that to overseas destinations, the number of Scots who made their way to towns and cities within the British and Irish Isles is significant, reflecting the long tradition of Scottish mobility that began to extend beyond the borders of Scotland on a more significant level in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. England was the most obvious destination choice for the increasingly mobile Scots: with only a shared land border separating it from Scotland, the opportunities south of the border—which ranged from work and trade opportunities to the availability of potential partners for marriage—were ample. Ireland too, particularly the north of the country, offered similarly easily accessible avenues for those Scots seeking to relocate to a place in relatively close proximity to Scotland. As famous Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson—a well-travelled Scot himself whose words reflect his own experiences of living abroad in Europe, the United States and the South Pacific—argued:

It is not only when we cross the seas that we go abroad … A Scotsman may tramp the better part of Europe and the United States, and never again receive so vivid an impression of foreign travel and strange lands and manners as on his first excursion into England.

Despite the levels of Scottish mobility within the British and Irish Isles, the near diaspora tends to be forgotten in scholarly discussions of the Scottish diaspora. In part this is the result of the near diaspora’s relative smallness, and the complexities surrounding the assessment of the movement of people from Scotland to England, Wales and Ireland. For the early phase of that movement, from the sixteenth through to the early nineteenth century, the number of Scottish migrants is difficult to establish precisely given the lack of statistics for border crossings. This problem was amplified by the Scottish near diaspora’s relative transience, with many a Scot arriving as a seasonal worker, as well as the absence of discrete records for the period prior to the taking of national censuses. As a result, scholars have explored other indicators that may point to the number of Scottish residents in particular locations. Langford, for example, has used records of the Westminster General Dispensary to establish that, between 1774 and 1781, a little more than 8 per cent of its male patients, and 4.6 per cent of its female patients, had been born in Scotland. While useful as a general yardstick for the number of Scots resident in London at the time, such statistics remain limited in terms of the light they can shed on overall migratory streams and settlement patterns. It is only with census statistics, particularly from the 1841 census onwards, that a clearer picture emerges.

Flinn estimates that, in total, 748,577 Scots migrated to other parts of the British Isles between 1841 and 1931. Taking general population increases over time into account it is clear that the vast majority of them migrated to England. Prior to the Union of 1707, however, a separate and distinct migration took place to Ireland, bringing significant numbers of Scots to the north as part of the plantation of Ulster. What the Plantation also reveals is that, though divided from Scotland by water, the north of Ireland was easy to reach, particularly by Scots from the south west of Scotland. Flows of both people and goods were significant and, most importantly, they were two-directional within what we might suitably call the near diaspora world of the Irish Sea. Migration flows to Ulster certainly remained strong. Between 1881 and 1911, for instance, the overall increase in the number of Scottish-born residents in Ireland is largely down to increases in Ulster. Of the 4,995 Scots who arrived in Ireland between 1881 and 1891, over 90 per cent settled in the north.

The number of Scots who made it to Wales was always small, with migration patterns shaped by the availability of work on Welsh coalfields—a trend that led to the concentration of Scots in Glamorgan; the early twentieth century, however, also saw the impact of the steel industry. What the comparatively small migration figures for Wales highlight is that the movement of Scots within the British and Irish Isles followed the rhythms of labour opportunities in particular areas. This characteristic is documented too, therefore, in the regional breakdown of Scottish settlement in the near diaspora. In 1911, 321,825 Scots lived in England and Wales. Nearly 28 per cent of them lived in London and the surrounding counties, about 24.5 per cent resided in Lancashire and Yorkshire, with northern counties being another principal destination with at least 19.3 per cent.

These geographic distribution patterns remained very similar over the ensuing decade, confirming that the relative proximity of the northern counties to Scotland was an important factor in the migrants’ destination decision, particularly when coupled with what the 1931 census report identified as ‘the industrial attraction of the Tyne and Tees areas’. Generally, and over time, the industrial centres of England exerted the greatest pull, with visible signs of the Scots’ presence emerging. In Barrow-in-Furness, for example, so-called Scotch Flats were built by Dundee-based Smith & Caird in the early 1870s. And it was also at the end of the nineteenth century that Scottish cultural traditions permeated strongly, for instance through Highland Games such as those held in Hebburn in 1883 (see photo at the top, for more have a look at this piece in the Shields Gazette).

Scotland’s Near Diaspora
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