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Seeking Sanctuary (Paperback)

A History of Refugees in Britain

P&S History Social History

By Jane Marchese Robinson
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526739612
Published: 2nd December 2020

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“Seeking Sanctuary” explores the history of people looking for refuge in this country. It starts with those protestant refugees fleeing oppression and persecution from Catholic Spain who ruled the Netherlands in the 16th century. It traces successive waves of peoples in the context of why they fled. At various times this was due to religious persecution, political upheaval, war and ethnic cleansing.

This is a wonderful read and delivers salient facts seamlessly interspersed with fascinating stories that give the reader an insight into the lives of those seeking safety in Britain over the centuries.

From the first Protestant refugees fleeing religious persecution to the recent Syrian crisis there is a wealth of information on why they took enormous risks to gain sanctuary and an insight into how these ‘Strangers’ were received at different stages.

I have often walked past the French church in Soho always meaning to read up on its history and never have but here I learned how Soho in the west end of London became home to hairdressers, jewellers, silversmiths and wigmakers while the east end was where the refugees developed the weaving industry.
We are all familiar with recent stories of people risking their lives in overloaded boats to reach our shores. Although a resident of Plymouth I had never heard of the 3000 Portuguese refugees came to Plymouth in 1828. They fled their home country in overloaded boats due to an ongoing war between Pedro and Miguel who were vying for the throne after their father’s death. While they were in Plymouth, they constructed a stage at the barracks and put on a play and another that was staged at the Royal Hotel and theatre. It was equally fascinating to learn that the author’s children found a Portuguese coin dating back to this time while playing in Devonport close to where the Portuguese were living at that time.

I had no idea that Norwich City Football Club gained its nickname The Canaries from the legacy of the ‘Strangers’ who came to live there and were well known for breeding these melodic birds.

This is an entrancing read, illuminating how life in Britain has been influenced and enhanced by those who arrived, often with nothing except their skills. Our lives have been made richer by the weavers, chandelier makers, and wig makers of Soho to name a few. I read this book in one sitting and wholeheartedly recommend it to you.

Babs Horton, author of A Jarful of Angels and Recipes for Cherubs

About Jane Marchese Robinson

After graduating from Birmingham University in Economic and Social History Jane spent some 30 years as an advocate for marginalised groups including the homeless, people with disabilities and mental health problems and latterly refugees. She had always loved writing but it wasn’t until 2010, when she finished working full time, that she could become fully committed and undertook the MA in Creative Writing at Plymouth University. An historical novel set at the time of the Boer War ensued. On discussion with Pen and Sword this became the basis for an historically researched book “Tracing Your Boer War Ancestors: Soldiers of a Forgotten War”. The book was published in 2016 and kindled interest in a subject which had been much overlooked.


The present book “Seeking Sanctuary, a History of Refugees in Britain” has been inspired by the work Jane undertook with refugees and asylum seekers in Plymouth as well as a personal discovery. It was only after her mother’s death in 2004 that she delved into her grandmother’s history and found that she had been one of the 250,000 Belgian refugees who fled here when the German army over ran their country in 1914. Uncovering her grandmother’s history meant learning about the fascinating story of those thousands of refugees who sought sanctuary here in the First World War.

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