British Migrants in the Kingdom of Saxony and Saxons in London, c.1850–1914

It may seem counter-intuitive that, three months after the outbreak of the First World War, British people were allowed to walk completely free through the streets of Dresden.1 But a look at the history of the British community in Saxony shows that there had been a special relationship between British migrants and the Saxon locals long before this conflict. Only when reports of the arrest of Germans in Britain (and especially of the conditions of imprisonment there) reached Germany did this relationship take a turn for the worse.


My Ph.D. project investigates this history of British migrant groups living in the Kingdom of Saxony and of Saxons living in London—their background, their encounters, and their conflicts—though in this post I will focus on Britons residing in Saxony.2

Who Were the Migrants? The Social Structure

Data for the British people who lived in Saxony are printed in official statistical documents published by the Königlich Sächsisches Statistisches Landesamt (KSSL), held in the State Archives of Saxony (SAoS), and in the correspondence of British diplomats in Saxony with the UK Foreign Office, held in The National Archives (TNA). The number of Saxons living in London can be found in the British censuses.

Chart based on my own research. Sources: English censuses 1851–1911 (digital on Ancestry.com); TNA FO 215/11; ‘Die Volkszählungsergebnisse von 1832 bis 1910’, in Zeitschrift des KSSLs, 61/1 (1915), 28–9.

Although traces of both these migrant communities are much older, the first specific data in the sources can be found in 1851.3 Summarizing the chart above, one can see that the group of Saxons in London was small and rose slowly but steadily until 1901. The number of Britons in Saxony grew a lot faster until the foundation of the German Empire in 1871. After that it stagnated for a decade (presumably because of the ‘Panic of 1873’, the rise of living and travelling costs, and local reasons) before it reached its peak in 1895. International tensions ahead of the Great War eventually led to a decrease in migration.

While Saxons in London were mostly craftsmen and clerks, the Britons are described as a group of mainly wealthy young women who came to Saxony to study music and the arts.4 A rare ego-document telling us about life in Dresden can today be found in the Women’s Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).5 I was granted access to the collection of Kathleen D’Olier Courtney,6 who described her life in Dresden during her visit to a girls’ school in 1896. Her letters describe topics ranging from schoolmates, accommodation, and timetables to cultural activities, Anglican church services, and leisure. In an early letter she cited the school’s owner: ‘Fraulein S. [Schlösser] says that without the foreigners, Dresden would be a village.’7

Where did ‘Foreigners’ and Locals Meet? Contacts and Encounters

Of course, contacts were common and took place in every part of life. Church parishes and especially their charitable activities played a distinctive role in this context. From 1836 onwards, when Britons applied to the Saxon authorities for permission to hold services, we can document an Anglican Community.8

All Saints’ Church Dresden, in Volker Helas, Architektur in Dresden 1800–1900 (Dresden, 1991), 73. Artwork in the public domain, photograph provided by Wikimedia Commons.

In 1869 a dedicated church was built on a site furnished free of charge by the city council of Dresden. Construction was funded by Henriette Göschen.9 Being aware of the importance of religious communities, I headed to the London Metropolitan Archives, where I found a translation of the licence agreement alongside a large amount of correspondence from the congregations in Dresden and Leipzig. Further clerical sources can be seen at Lambeth Palace Library, where I discovered information about all the chaplains that served in Saxony. In conclusion, these documents will help me to analyse the organization of the parish and its contacts with the local community in Saxony.

Associations were another field of encounters. Nadine Zimmerli has shown that in Dresden, the Stranger’s Protection Society (founded in 1877) and the Anglo-American Club (founded in 1858) functioned as meeting points for ‘foreigners’ and Germans.10 We should add sports clubs, which become known to the Saxon public at the latest in 1874 with an athletic competition. Local newspapers reported not only that these activities were totally new to the Germans, but also that British men later competed in events organized by the gymnastics movement.11 For example, John Smith Gilderdale, the Anglican chaplain in Dresden, was Honorary President of the Dresden Football Club, a fact that emphasizes the significance of church communities as ‘contact centres’.

‘Wettspiele des englisch=amerikanischen Fußballclubs in Dresden’, Illustrirte Zeitung, 62/1608 (1874), 316.

What Conflicts Occurred between Locals and Migrants?

Conflicts, finally, are the central issue of my doctoral research. Recent studies point out that conflicts are not necessarily negative, but serve as triggers of social change.12 For me, they are an indicator of the level of relations between migrants and locals, as well as the intensity of the quarrel itself. They allow us to gather information about how the conflict progressed and strategies for resolving it. But most importantly, they help us learn a lot about the individuals involved—their motives, attitudes, and living conditions.13 This is why I pursue an everyday history approach, focusing on the so-called ‘normal people’ who came into contact with migrants.

One short example will illustrate my method and conclude this brief preview of my Ph.D. research. In February 1906, Hermann Görner, a turner from Glashütte, contacted the Saxon foreign ministry with a claim against the company Kley Brothers in Liverpool.14 The document stated that Görner had delivered ‘wooden handles for dies or stamps to the value of . . . £ 16.50’ in 1904 but was not paid. Görner’s personal circumstances are described, too: his situation was ‘highly sad’ because his family, with its eleven children, lived in poverty due to the father’s illness. The letter also noted that ‘the behaviour [of Kley Brothers] can hardly lead to friendly sentiments towards the English people.’ The British Minister Resident Viscount Hugh Gough subsequently wrote to the ‘Chief Constable [in] Liverpool’ asking for an inquiry.15 Two weeks later, the answer resolved the issue: ‘Messrs Kley Brothers of this City are a respectable firm . . . The handles, however, were of a very inferior quality . . .’ The company added ‘that on a previous occasion Görner supplied handles which were not up to standard sample [sic], and they then told him that goods of an inferior quality would not be accepted in future.’ It turned out that Görner had withheld this part of the story, and so he did not receive any money.


The featured image shows and extract from ‘Wettspiele des englisch=amerikanischen Fußballclubs in Dresden’, Illustrirte Zeitung, 62/1608 (1874), 316.

  1. SAoS, 10717 Foreign Ministry, Nr. 2278, Charles Alfred Moore [chaplain of All Saints’ Church Dresden] to police chief Paul Köttig, 24 Oct. 1914: ‘For since the outbreak of hostilities . . . British subjects have been treated with the utmost courtesy and consideration by the Officials who have done all in their power to safeguard us from unpleasantness or any undue restrictions of our liberties. In Dresden . . . men of military service age have been permitted to go about unmoles…’ []
  2. I want to thank the German Historical Institute London for granting me this scholarship and for its support, especially during a pandemic that has made so many things we took for granted not long ago much more difficult. I really appreciate the commitment of the staff who supported me and gave me so much valuable advice. []
  3. For the first request by the English government for the number of British people living in Saxony, see TNA, FO 215/11. []
  4. For example: Ralf Richter, ‘Die Geschichte der “englischen Kolonie” in Dresden’, Dresdner Hefte: Großbritannien und Sachsen, 20 (2002), 47–55. []
  5. I only know of one other ego-document written by an American Dentist. See Newell Sill Jenkins, Reminiscences of Newell Sill Jenkins (Princeton, 1914). []
  6. For a short biography, see https://archives.lse.ac.uk/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=7KDC&pos=1. []
  7. LSE, Women’s Library, 7KDC_A_2, Kathleen D’Olier Courtney to her mother, 2 Feb. 1896. []
  8. SAoS, 11125, Ministerium des Kultus und öffentlichen Unterrichts, Nr. 21546. []
  9. Hans-Jochen Freiesleben, ‘Die Anglikanische All Saints Church’, in Landeshauptstadt Dresden (ed.), Verlorene Kirchen: Dresdens zerstörte Gotteshäuser. Eine Dokumentation seit 1938 (Erfurt, 2008), 26–9: Göschen was the widow of a banker and lived in London. []
  10. Nadine Zimmerli, ‘ The Rendezvous of All Nations: Cosmopolitan Encounters in the German City of Dresden Before World War I’ (Ph.D thesis, University of Wisonsin-Madison, 2011). []
  11. Dresdner Nachrichten, 19 Aug. 1874, 1; Dresdner Anzeiger, 25 Mar. 1874, 24. []
  12. E.g. Thorsten Bonacker, ‘Konflikt, sozialer’, in Johannes Kopp and Anja Steinbach (eds.), Grundbegriffe der Soziologie (Wiesbaden, 2016), 174–7. []
  13. The TNA collections concerning Saxony, where such disputes can be found, are too large to be read in full. After conversations with GHIL staff, I decided to concentrate on the collections FO 215 and FO 68, but even these two are too large to review in detail. I decided which documents to study based on the short summaries written on the front of each message. []
  14. For the case, see TNA, FO 215/52, FO 215/53, and SAoS, 10717, Ministerium der auswärtigen Angelegenheiten [Foreign Office], Nr. 3966. []
  15. For brief biographical information about Gough, see http://www.cracroftspeerage.co.uk/gough1849.htm. []

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Christian Schuster

He is a Research Assistant at TU Dresden's Chair for Economic and Social History, where he is working on a Ph.D. project dedicated to English migrants in Saxony and Saxon migrants in London in the nineteenth century.

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