Contact between Britain and India began in 1600, when Elizabeth I granted the British East India Company permission to trade in South Asian spices and silks. India came under the direct administrative control of the British Empire in 1858.
There was considerable traffic back and forth between the two countries. Indian sailors, Lascars, were employed on board British ships on short-term contracts. British families returning from India brought Indian domestic servants such as ayahs, or nannies, to London.
These workers were often discharged from service on arrival in London. Many were left destitute until the next ship sailed back to India, and their plight caused public concern.
The Strangers' Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders in Limehouse provided temporary accommodation for stranded Lascars until its closure around 1935. Under London City Mission administration, the Ayahs' Home was relocated to Hackney from the City in 1900. It remained there until its closure around 1942.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Lascars and ayahs were part of a diverse South Asian community in London that included merchants, doctors, lawyers and students.
Wealthier Indians sent their sons to be educated at British public schools and universities. Mahatma Gandhi, one of the 20th century's great political leaders, studied law in London.
From the 1920s, Sikhs from the Punjab settled in London's East End and made a living selling goods from door to door. East London's first Indian restaurant opened in 1920.
Amongst those who became involved in the campaign for Indian independence were M.P.s Dadabhai Naoroji and Shapurji Saklatvala, and Krishna Menon, who also launched the Pelican Books imprint with Allen Lane.
Dr Chuni Lal Katial was one of a generation of Indian doctors who came to London between the wars. He became Britain's first Asian mayor in 1938 and was the driving force behind the Finsbury Health Centre.
Indians made a huge contribution to both world wars. Nearly 1,500,000 Indian soldiers fought in Europe on the Allied side during the First World War; this increased to 2,500,000 during the Second World War.
The 1947 Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan saw renewed Indian migration to London. New arrivals included qualified teachers, doctors, ex-Army officers and rural farmers. Some managed to find employment in their specialist areas. For many, the labour shortages of a nation engaged in post-war reconstruction determined employment. New migrants often settled in areas where white labour was scarce, for example many Punjabis settled in Southall in West London.
During the 1960s, 70s and early 80s, the Indian people who came to London were not only from India. They also arrived from other countries such as Africa and the Caribbean as well as South Pacific Islands such as Fiji.
Africanisation policies in East Africa resulted in the expulsion of British-passport-holding South Asians from Kenya in 1968 and from Uganda in 1972. Although entry to Britain was difficult, many settled in London and established businesses.
Large numbers of Indian Londoners are in professions such as medicine and law. Others are successful entrepreneurs. Figures such as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Meera Syal and Krishna Guru-Murthy have made their names in arts and the media.
According to the 2001 census, just under 440,000 Londoners are Indian or of Indian decent, representing the capital's largest minority ethnic group. Half of the total are Sikhs from the Punjab, while the remainder are mainly Hindus from Gujarat.
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