• The Observer


Poles are now the second-largest foreign-born group of people in the U.K., with numbers at a record high following Poland’s accession to the EU 10 years ago. But the history of Poles in Britain goes back much further.

1500s: Polish migration to Britain begins.

1795: Polish state disintegrates, causing migration to pick up.

1867: First Polish chapel and Polish center established in London.

1918: Polish migration begins to tail off. Only 758 Poles arrive in the U.K. between 1919 and 1931.

1940: Exiled Polish government moves to London during the World War II, along with thousands of soldiers and airmen. Polish pilots join the RAF and fight in the Battle of Britain.

1945: About 250,000 Poles stay in Britain, refusing to return to communist Poland. A new surge of anti-Polish feeling leads author George Orwell to warn of a “new anti-Semitism.”

1947: The Polish Resettlement Act is passed by the British parliament, offering British citizenship to more than 200,000 former troops and their families. Many Polish clubs are established during this time.

1951: Polish population of the U.K. reaches 162,339, according to the census.

1968: Poland’s communist government expels about 30,000 “undesirables,” mainly students, many of whom come to the U.K.

1981-82: Poles forced from their homeland after the imposition of martial law in the Solidarity era move to Britain.

1990s: Polish emigration intensifies after the fall of communism.

2004: Poland joins the EU. Britain, Sweden and Ireland allow Eastern Europeans immediate rights to work; 13,000 Poles are expected, but in fact around 1 million Eastern Europeans — mainly from Poland — arrived.

2014: Three years after the 2011 census puts Britain’s Polish population at 579,000, the Polish envoy to the U.K. says immigration to the U.K. has peaked.

“This huge wave of people who came to EU countries trying to get well-paid jobs is over now. There are more opportunities in Poland. We have had huge economic success, wages are higher and there are more jobs, so I think this is over,” said Witold Sobkow.

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