Germanic migration

Until 1871 the German speaking people were independent principalities belonging to separate kings or electors. Allegiances and borders changed according to religion, land ownership and family squabbles. From the 1700s entire villages and towns were burned and many people were tortured. The towns and villages were attacked, ransacked and the populations left destitute. Norman Davies names this a ‘continent in turmoil’, from c1770 to 1815.

The almost simultaneous conflicts that were the causes of nearly continuous turmoil which plunged many populations into despair and poverty were:

· The War of the Austrian Succession 1740 – 1748
· King Georges’ War 1744 – 1748 (for supremacy in America Colonies)
· American Revolution/War of Independence 1775-1815
· Seven Years War 1756 -1763
· French Revolution 1789 – 1799 and subsequent wars 1792 – 1797
· Napoleonic Wars1799 – 1815 (Austria, Britain, France, Prussia)
· Failed 1848 revolution, desire to escape enlistment in any armies
· Crimean War 1853 – 1856 (British, French, Russia Ottoman Turks)

Thus German refugees fled from a disrupted Europe. They fled from the social and economic unrest, seeking peace and the freedom of religious and political views. Many from these warring nations, the displaced and the poor, fled to North America where the new American colonies, thirteen in all, were being founded by French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and British Empires.

Many were left stranded by lack of funds after they reached England. The poorer immigrants took the longer, more complicated but cheaper routes to the ‘new’ worlds, which was through southern England in the main. By 1709, 15000 German speaking people from the Germanic provinces had arrived in Great Britain. Some became ‘stuck’ and stayed. Other newcomers were part of those imported workers in specialised industries that settled and were assimilated into their new locations. London’s Whitechapel and Aldgate were largely populated by a working class German community which is evidenced by the numerous German names.

By 1763 the St George’s Lutheran Church in Little Alie Street, Aldgate opened to serve German sugar bakers in the East End. It only closed its doors in November 1996. The St George’s German School and the Alie Street Boys and Girls Infants School were in operation from 1828 to 1917. The buildings now belong to the Historic Chapels Trust. Stepney & Whitechapel in London were also heavily populated by German-born sugar bakers/scum boilers. The German Hospital at Dalston in Hackney provided a free medical treatment service for London’s poor, regardless of their backgrounds.

In 1709 there was an influx of the Pfalz, poor Germans, who travelled through Rotterdam and then to London. By the winter of 1709, there were 30,000 ‘Poor Palatines’ on Blackheath and in Greenwich and Lewisham in London. Some were shipped out to New England and some to Ireland, some stayed in London. More than 15000, including Catholics, were returned to Germany.

The Industrial Revolution, the invention and discoveries of new technologies, steam power and other modern inventions that worked the land by machines, forced family members off farms and from other businesses to seek employment elsewhere. Economic downturns caused war, famine and competition (as in mining) for resources, added to the European upheavals. Simultaneously this modernization, such as steam engines used in boats and trains, hastened the process of migration.


King George III, born in 1738 in London, was the first Hanoverian prince born in England and not in Europe. The son of Fredrich Louis, from the House of Hannover and the Prince of Wales and Princess Augusta of Saxe –Gotha, he reigned from1760 to 1820. George III married Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenberg Stretlitz. He had the support of the English loyalists and their sentiments on wars and reigned over the greatest period of imperial British expansion.

Both his forebears, George 1 and George II had valued Hanover over England and had made that clear to Parliament. George III though, fancied himself English by virtue of his birth and German by virtue of his inheritance.

During his later years he is thought to have suffered from dementia and his son George IV became regent. At this time William Pitt, the younger, was Prime Minister, between 1783 to1801 and again in 1804 to 1806.

When George III ‘lost’ the Colonies in America, internal political changes brought about by the unification of the 13 colonies also had ramifications.

The old Religious problems still caused people to flee, mainly Protestants, and the Lutherans blended well with Presbyterians and Calvinists. The economies collapsed after so much war and needed to be paid. Wages were low and there was a 50% rise in the cost of living (potatoes, rye, clothing).

Socially, these societies were in change. The status in society, or the change in status (loss of land, money, housing) all led for a need for new immigration policies. Some were speculators and some adventurers.


During the 1700s many (and mainly) Protestants (Lutheran, Reformed, Calvinist) migrated to England, especially to the South East of England. With the king being Protestant, the royal entourage would have been like minded and needed places to worship. As Catholics had a better reception in traditional Catholic European countries, they tended to find Catholic places when they emigrated. The locations of church building would indicate the places where the majority would have lived and settled.

Churches were founded in the sea ports where merchants, seamen, military men and the families were settled, or where craftsmen and industries were booming. The Hamburg Lutheran Church opened in Little Trinity Lane in London in 1669. It was moved to Dalston, Hackney in 1870 and the German Hospital was next to it (records are held at the Guildhall Library).

The German Church of St Mary Savoy opened in 1697 and was moved in 1771, to be a Huguenot Chapel in Dutchy Street. It was demolished to make way for the Waterloo Bridge in 1816. It then moved to Hooper Square in Aldgate. The German School was attached in c1708, as well as a ‘Poor House’. By 1816 – 1887 the building and site became a railway goods yard so moved again to a purpose built church in Goulston, Whitechapel in 1887. Ironically, it was destroyed in WWII by Hitler’s bombs.

Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, founded the German Lutheran Chapel Royal in 1700 for her husband, Prince George of Denmark. It was Queen Anne who secured the Protestant succession for the peaceful handover of the crown to the Hanoverian Prince George Louis who became George I. The West End, Kensington and Kew Lutheran churches were considered to be for the aristocracy.

In 1812 the German Catholic Chapel in London was established. The parishioners came from Catholic Germany, the Rhine land, the Palatinate, Baden and Wuettenberg. Those German speaking people that did well, together with newer incoming middle class refugees, moved into better suburbs and established new churches such as the Camberwell Evangelical church in 1854, the Islington Lutheran Church in 1856 and the Sydenham Evangelical Church in 1875 which is now the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Evangelical church.

Communities in England and Wales saw a large influx of German miners from Augsburg in 16th Century. Cumbria in the north of England, Cornwell in the South West of England and South Wales were all affected. Keswick and Coniston in the Lake District both had large German groups which were absorbed into the community. The sword makers from Solingen, the German state of Westphalia, came to Shortley Bridge Co. Durham in the late 1860s to make blades for the British army.

Scotland also has records dating from 1884 that list members of the German Protestant Church of Edinburgh. The church was established in 1869.

In Ireland, the first German Lutheran church was in Marlborough Street, Dublin and was established in 1697. It was moved to Poolbeg in 1725. There is evidence of many ‘irregular’ marriages in two of the baptism and marriage registers of the Rev. Schultze during 1806 to 1837. These marriages came from different religious groups as well as the intermarriage of native Irish and German speaking people. Roman Catholic Germans easily melded into Irish Catholic families as the form of service was the same and it was held in Latin. German Lutherans took longer to assimilate but still had the same outlook on life as did the poorer Irish. A whole, separate German Lutheran community had disappeared through assimilation with their hosts by 1850. In 1930, Dublin returned to holding German services again.

Delightful Dukkie

© Delightful Dukkie 2007


Palatine German Immigration & Genealogy

Little Germany, New York

German immigration


Germans in Britain since 1500 by Panicos Panayi. The Hambledon Press 1996.

German Immigrants in Britain during the Nineteenth Century 1815–1914 by Panicos Panaya. Berg Publishers, 1995.

Little Germany: Exile and Asylum in Victorian England by Rosemary Ashton. Oxford University Press, 1986.

German Settlement in Queensland in the 19th Century