As part of the process of a Guild Apprentice becoming a Guildman, each is required to write an essay on an aspect of the City of London or of the Guild which may be of interest to members. Below is that from Apprentice Oliver Yates.

The multicultural nature of the City of London

In his 1998 poem, The London Breed, Benjamin Zephaniah wrote “They came to here from everywhere, ‘Tis they that made the city strong”. Such sentiment continues to ring true in the London today in which the economic, political and cultural elements of the city continue to contribute considerably to modern society. In this essay, I aim to concentrate on, and demonstrate that London’s multicultural nature, which is so often highlighted, is not only a key element in the composition of the city but also an embedded aspect that harks back to the early development of the city itself and will lead us to question what a Londoner truly is.


Britain has been subject to numerous invasions since the Roman invasion in 55 BC with the Scandinavians, Germany, France and many more having not only sailed to British shores but successfully implanted aspects of their cultures into ‘British’ society. The choice of inverted commas here is a recognition of the contested nature of ‘Britishness’ and British values which have been a particular issue long pre-dating the current and sometimes poorly articulated debate. London first developed as a city in the preindustrial era and despite evidence of settlement on the same site, Londinium was firmly established by the Romans around 50AD becoming the capital of Britain for the first time in the second century. The role of the Roman empire in the formation of London as an urban hub is undeniable, although in this period London was identified more as a ‘walled town’ with fragments of the said wall remaining today. Furthermore, drawing on a heavy reliance on its use of slaves drawn from all corners of its Empire it is highly probable (images of Roman coins from the period show the importance of the Thames and therefore of trade and commerce) that Roman London had a diverse range of cultures and ethnicities and therefore embedded a multiculturalism into the city which continues to flourish. There are extant records showing that significant numbers of auxiliary troops were north African and Middle Eastern, not least from the regions that many centuries later, the British and French, using rulers and maps in Whitehall and the Quai D’Orsay carved into modern Iraq and Syria.


Medieval London was similarly diverse but, in the manner of space travel we fast forward to modern times the role of urbanisation and its twin, industrialisation have both accelerated the growth and development of cities around the globe, and London has been pre-eminent in that respect. With the industrial revolution commencing at the end of the 18th century and with the economic dependency it fostered within affected colonies London became a global financial hub in a role that it has yet to relinquish despite the waning of the British Empire. That Empire extended far beyond the red bits on the map with, for example German rails and German engineering providing the infrastructure of many South American railways but the capital coming almost exclusively coming from London. Unsurprisingly its significance and its global status led to an exponential increase in London’s population with a large part of that due of course to migration with the city becoming the biggest city in the world from around 1825.


In this past, short-lived American century London’s role with trade and commerce and the complex development of globalisation with the increased importance of Transnational Corporations have had seismic effects. This has further added to the melting pot of ethnicity and nationality that make London what it is today. The development of a diverse number of cultures many parts of London creates a vibrant and unique dynamic which is unique to the city alone but also the skills and talents which individuals from such communities have given to the city itself in a wide variety of professions (Mo Farah being an example in the sporting domain). The historical reasons which added to the contribution of multiculturalism and led to mass migration are certainly morally indefensible with the role of colonialism the clearest example, therefore, it is necessary to note that in expressing how the multicultural nature linked to these events has become such a strength for the city of London it is by no means an attempt to vindicate the undertaking of such acts.


London today is estimated to have a population of approximately 8.6 million of which around 45% are white (compared to 86% nationally), 37% of its population were born abroad and with over 100 languages being spoken with the expansion of the EU meaning the most recent influx. Such statistics are perhaps not that surprising given the economic importance of London today combined with the increased mobility of the modern world. It is people that ‘make’ cities what are they and this can be seen clearly in London with figures demonstration precisely how diverse a city it is. However, one can see that the roots of multiculturalism woven into the very fabric of the city with the physical nature of London demonstrating the extent of this in the city. One can see, for example, ‘Little Italy’, ‘Chinatown’ and others areas of the city representing the influence of other cultures upon the city. In James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti’s ‘London: The information capital’ figure 1 demonstrates the extent to which years of migration from communities such as the Ireland, Poland, India and Jamaica to but name a few has had on the physical nature of the city with the development of ‘places of worship, specialist food shops and schools’ representations of this physical impact.


I wish to end in quoting another important British figure in former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who stated that “London is a roost for every bird”. In such turbulent political and economic times in which nationality and ethnicity are often utilised as political tools due to them being easier to distort and utilise than many other issues, it is important that the people of this nation remember that the multiculturalism that exists today in London, as well in Britain in general, not only adds gives it strength but is the fundamental essence of our capital.

Figure 1




Barber, P. (2013) London: A History In Maps. London: The London Topographical Society


Cheshire, J and Uberti, O. (2014) London: The Information Capital. London: Particular Books


Farrell, T (2012) Shaping London. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd


Gallardo, C. “London’s Diversity Is One Of The Strongest Attributes Of Its Tech Ecosystem”. the Guardian. N.p., 2017. Web. 6 June 2017.


Hill, D. “The Real Roots of Multicultural London English”. the Guardian. N.p., 2017. Web. 6 June 2017.



Comments are closed.