4000 Miles to Home: Beginnings

May 6, 2015 Bradford Civic Society

4000 Miles to Home: Beginnings

Sarwan Singh. The first wave of migration was male dominated, as a form of experimentation, and for the men to travel and earn money. Socially, these men would have lived together in the social and ethnic groups they knew. This allowed a common identity and practices to survive and offer strength in numbers. Those who were academic, or had greater linguistic or cultural knowledge became informal social leaders.

Part I: Beginnings.

“The arrival of Punjabis into Britain has been documented since the Victorian era, yet, the mass migration of people post Indian Independence in 1947 was due to the opening of Commonwealth markets combined with the search for new life and opportunities. Britain represented a previous ruling power, and also a major ally, as Punjab and the Sikhs in particular had enjoyed positive relations with the British following the Anglo Sikh wars, and were some of the primary recruits into the Armed Services. However, the region had also witnessed the brutality and violence of Partition in creating new boundaries, the concept of new beginnings had been forced upon the peoples, and the desire to have control over that would also have informed their decisions.

“Taking from my own stories and history, it was possible to document the travels of a family where the migration patterns followed in the typical male only preserve, to then incorporate the family, and build foundations for economic change and growth. The primary economic desire brought with it the social adaptations, which became the cultural marriage of these immigrants to the region and country.”

‘Pakhowal’. This is the sign of the village that Sarwan Singh left in order to bring about greater opportunity. Located in the Hoshiarpur district, the village itself still continues and thrives as a largely agricultural base today.

“The main aim of the vast majority of the Punjabi migrants was to earn a living, and earn sufficient amounts to offer remittances back home to build their land holdings. This began to change as the 1962 Commonwealth Act served to limit the number of migrants from those territories into Britain. The need to ‘beat the ban’, saw many migrants, and Punjabi’s as forerunners to request that their family members also come over, initially to take advantage of the work options and higher rates of pay. My Father is representative of these generations who sought better conditions, and also became married to the culture and the country, finding their home.

“As this exhibition shows, the groupings of the migrants tended to preserve their ethnic and social groupings, establishing the social orders they had in India. It would not be uncommon for many to remain in the groups representing the geographical proximity they would have as neighbours in Punjab, and wherever possible within familial relation groups.”

Bibi Parkash Kaur. The arrival of women helped to establish structure to the migration and also develop the family. The elders within this community would again become informal leaders who would help new female arrivals source work, and also to help them ingratiate culturally.

The married unit. Sarwan Singh and Bibi Parkash Kaur.

Family Unit. The family became a more visible unit following 1962. The picture here is from 1961, and follows the arrival of Akbal Singh Kang and his brother with Sarwan Singh and Bibi Parkash Kaur into 53 Mildred Street, Bradford.

Education. Akbal Singh Kang pictured in a class photo aged 11 in Barkerend. The arrival of Commonwealth immigrant children and their incorporation into the education system was one of a challenge due to the linguistic barriers that existed, but within the initial run of children, they were not separated. Classes and lessons designed for non – English speaking students came later as a specialised service to deal with the newly arriving immigrants.


Next time: We see how those who’d travelled so far adjusted to their new surroundings in 1950s Bradford.