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Polish Residents in Scotland

A Statistical  Sourcebook based on the Census of Scotland, 1861-2001

Edited by

Jim Lipka



The ageing and dwindling Polish born community enumerated in the 2001 Census of Scotland is firmly rooted in the large scale settlement of Poles in this country as a result of the Second World War and its aftermath.   With the current expansion of the European Union, there will almost certainly be a fresh wave of Polish economic migration to Scotland that will, depending on the numbers involved and their demographic make up, either rejuvenate the existing community or, quite possibly, as has happened several times in the past, create totally new demographic patterns of Polish settlement in Scotland.   The changing nature of Scotland's Polish communities over the last two centuries has to a large extent reflected the successive waves of political and economic emigration from Poland.   The history of Polish emigration in the 19th and 20th Centuries can be characterised as having six distinct phases: *a  


Early pioneers before the Partitions of Poland;


Political emigration - Polish patriots, including leading politicians, scholars and artists, forced to seek refuge abroad after disasters from the Kościuszko Uprising of 1794 to the suppression of the 1831 and 1863 Insurrections;


Mass economic emigration in the period before the First World War (1870-1914);


Economic emigration during the Second Republic (1918-1939);


Emigration during and after the Second World War.


Emigration following the declaration of Martial Law in Poland in December 1981.


The late historian, Dr. Leon Koczy has estimated that, of the Polish exiles who sought asylum in Britain during the Great Emigration following the failure of the November Uprising of 1831, around 110 found their way to Scotland. *b  However, it is only in 1861 that Poles first appear in the Census of Scotland. At that time, Poles, along with other aliens, were a relatively insignificant element in a rapidly growing population.   As late as the 1871 Census of Scotland, foreigners were being lumped together with lunatics and imbeciles in the published statistics.   During the last decade of the 19th Century, there was a growing awareness of a large scale migration of aliens into Scotland.   In the intercensal decade from 1891 to1901 the number of aliens in Scotland rose sharply from 8,510 to 22,627 - a rate of increase that was seven times the increase recorded in the previous intercensal decade.  "The excessive increase of foreigners during the period 1891 to 1901 is found to be largely due to increases in the numbers of Italians and of Russians and Poles." *c

In the published Census returns for 1891-1911, the nationality of Poles appears in the format Poland (Russian).  The Census of 1911 provides the following justification: "Russians and Poles, though tabulated separately, are better considered collectively, because persons belonging to Russian Poland might equally truthfully describe themselves as Russians or as Poles, and confusion might, and almost certainly would,  arise if they were dealt with separately."  *d   By 1911,  Russians and Poles collectively formed the largest alien group in Scotland, amounting to 11,032 or 45% of all foreigners enumerated.  (Those classed as Russians also included a large proportion of ethnic Lithuanians)

In the period up to 1891,  the Poles enumerated in Scotland are to be largely found in occupations traditionally associated with Jewish migrants to the UK, and in many cases will have been the victims of anti-Semitic pogroms rather than Polish political émigrés.  However, by the 1891 Census, we begin to see traces of the mass economic migration that was to occur over the following decade as Poles start to appear in significant numbers in occupations related to iron manufacture and as general labourers, but, as yet there were few in mining occupations.

If we exclude, for a moment, the fin de siecle mass migration of Poles, Russians and Italians into Britain, the late 19th Century Polish community in Scotland can largely be characterised as predominantly Jewish, city based and occupied in commerce and a small range of non-industrial crafts and trades - tailoring, watches and jewellery and the fine arts.  In the two decades preceding the First World War, the mass economic migration of Poles to Scotland created new communities where the men were mainly employed in mining and iron and steel manufacture.  While the Polish population of Glasgow grew significantly during this period, the majority of Polish migrants were now to be found in the small towns and villages of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire.

During the intercensal period 1901 to 1911, the number of foreigners enumerated in Scotland showed an increase of more moderate proportions. The total increase of 2,112 foreigners was approximately the same as the increase of the period 1881 to 1891.  However, the number of Poles enumerated in 1911 showed a significant increase - from 3,189 to 4930. Since this increase of 1,741 in Poles enumerated in 1911 is matched by a corresponding decrease in the number of Russians (down 1082) and Germans (down 870) compared to the 1901 Census, it would appear that the intercensal increase of Poles enumerated in 1911 can, to some extent, be accounted for by a growing national consciousness amongst Poles already in Scotland, rather than to new migrants.

By the time of the 1921 Census of Scotland, the Polish population had dropped dramatically to less than a quarter of the 1911 figures.  It is not clear whether most of the economic migrants of the two decades preceding the Great War had returned to the newly independent Poland or had migrated elsewhere, but, by 1921, the number of Poles occupied in mining occupations had dropped from 2,019 to 85, and those in metalworking from 448 to 44.  The  table below showing the year of entry to the UK of Poles enumerated in the 1931 Census reveals that there was relatively little migration to Scotland during the years of the Second Republic.   By 1931, the Polish community in Scotland again resembled the pre-mass migration 19th Century Polish community - largely city based (predominantly in Glasgow) and mainly employed in commerce or as proprietors or craftsmen in clothing and furniture manufacturing  businesses.

The Polish communities of 21st Century Scotland have their roots firmly embedded in the settlement of Poles in Great Britain during and after the Second World War.  Leon Koczy recalls the very day on which this phase of Polish settlement in Scotland began.  "The twenty-second of June 1940 is a memorable day in Polish-Scottish relations.  Why?  Because on this very day around 250 Poles, evacuated from France to Great Britain, landed in Glasgow.  Others soon followed, and soon the whole of Scotland was covered with army camps." *e

Of the many thousands of Poles who were stationed in Scotland either during the Second World War or in the Polish Resettlement Corps in the late 1940's, relatively few were to remain.  By the time of the 1951 Census,  the vast majority of the 150,000 Poles who had chosen to remain in Britain had gravitated towards London and the South East.  Although the Poles settled in Scotland were a tiny proportion of the British Polish community, they made up a substantial proportion of Scotland's alien population.  In 1951, the 9,151 alien Poles in Scotland made up 32.5% of the total of 28,194  foreigners enumerated in the Census.  Ten years later, even after a significant number of Scotland's Poles had become British subjects, the 64% of Poles who retained alien nationality were still the largest group of foreigners in the country, constituting some 22.9% of the 22,610 total number of alien residents enumerated. *f

The location of the camps housing Poles in Scotland during and after the Second World War, and the restrictive employment policies pursued in conjunction with the Polish Resettlement Corps program all combined to produce a unique settlement pattern for Scotland's post-war Polish communities that has persisted relatively unchanged through to the 21st Century.  While the settlement pattern for other foreign born residents in Scotland largely approximates to that of the host population, the Polish communities in Scotland are more broadly dispersed, with proportionately large Polish communities in less populated regions such as Tayside, Fife, Central Region and the Scottish Borders.

The occupational distribution of the Poles who settled in Scotland after the Second World War was, at least in the early years, largely influenced by the  industrial placement policies associated with the Polish Resettlement Corps, which attempted to direct the Poles into those jobs that held little attraction for the native population.   In the 1951 Census, 54% of alien male Poles were enumerated in agriculture, mining and quarrying, personal service and unskilled occupations, as compared to 24.7% for the male population as a whole.   69.4% of alien Polish women in paid employment were to be found working in personal service occupations or in the manufacture of textiles or textile goods, as compared to 34.6% of the total female working population.  61% of alien Polish males were to be found in occupations that were in long term decline (compared to the 1931 Census figures).

The figures for the occupational distribution of Polish born residents in Scotland for 1961 were, unfortunately, only based on a 10% sample of the population.  However these figures do provide an interesting comparison of the occupational distribution of alien Poles and Poles who have taken British nationality   There appears to be a noticeable correlation between nationality and occupational  status.   For example, around 40% of alien Polish males were employed in agricultural, labouring and construction and personal service occupations, as compared to only 17.5% of Polish males with British nationality.  On the other hand, 21% of Polish males with British nationality were employed in professional and technical, administrative and sales occupations, as compared to under 8% of alien Polish males.

The Polish born resident population enumerated in Scotland in 2001, while still displaying a similar settlement pattern to the Polish born population enumerated in 1951, is greatly depleted in numbers and largely made up of the elderly. 82% of Polish born males in Scotland are now over retirement age. Unlike the Polish male population who largely settled in Scotland prior to 1950, a significant proportion of Polish females in Scotland arrived here in the years after 1950, resulting in a lower average age for females.  Only 48% of Polish born females were recorded as being over the female retirement age of 60, but many of those recorded in the 16-59 age group will be rapidly approaching retirement.  With the freeing up of the UK employment market to the new member counties of the European Union, no doubt, many thousands of Poles seeking a Third World lifestyle will already have their bags packed in anticipation of a move to Scotland.

Polish Born Residents in Scotland: 1861 - 2001

    All Polish Born     Polish Born Aliens
Year   Male Female   Male Female
1861       53 15  
1871       118 51  
1881   255 143     200 111  
1891   388 213     323 153  
1901       2196 993  



    3130 1800  
1921   609 455     463 377  
1931   549 409     387 280  
1951   9113 1490     8017 1154  
1961   6609 1134     4156 718  
1971   5410 1065      
1981   4094 989      
1991   2704 919      
2001   1576 924      

Note - in the 1891, 1901 and 1911 figures Poles are defined as Russian Poles.



Year of Entry to UK of Poles Resident in Scotland in 1931

Year of Entry  Male Female M ale Female
    % %
Before 1882 10 9 2.7 3.4
1882-1887 10 3 2.7 1.1
1887-1891 29 14 7.8 5.3
1892-1896 30 11 8.1 4.2
1897-1901 65 41 17.5 15.5
1902-1906 73 49 19.6 18.5
1907-1912 41 37 11.0 14.0
1912-1916 63 49 16.9 18.5
1917-1921 13 24 3.5 9.1
1922-1926 16 16 4.3 6.0
1927-1931 22 12 5.9 4.5

1931 Census of Scotland: Vol. 2. Table 49.



Year of Entry to UK of Poles Resident in Scotland in 1971

Year of Entry 



M ale Female
    % %
Before 1940 225 100 4.5 9.5
1940-49 4860 555 92.5 54.0
1950-59 90 180 1.5 17.5
1960-71 86 195 1.5 19.0

1971 Census of Scotland, Usual Residence and Birthplace Tables, Table 14.




*a - Leon Koczy, Kartki z Dziejów Polsko-Szkockich,  Nakładem Społeczności Polskiej w Szkocji, 1980, p8.

*b -  The first five phases of this schema are taken from Euzebiusz Babiński, Poles Abroad, Chap. 5 in Poland: a Handbook, Interpress Publishers, Warsaw, 1977, pp 145-173.  The political emigration of the early 1980's, while fully deserving to be counted as a distinct phase of political emigration from Poland, had a negligible numerical effect on Scotland's Polish community.

*c - Census of Scotland, 1911, Vol. 3, p  XIII.

*d - Census of Scotland, 1911, Vol. 3, p IX..

*e - Leon Koczy, op. cit.. p.3.

*f - Census of Scotland, 1961, Vol. 5, Table F, p XX1.

The research upon which this publication is mainly based was financed by a stypendium from the Polish Government that enabled me to study and carry out research at the Instytut Badań Polonijnich of the Jagiellonian University, Kraków from 1980-1982.




Section 1 -  Regional Distribution of Poles in Scotland

Part 1: 1871 - 1931

Part 2: 1951 - 2001


Section 2 - Age and Marital Status of Poles in Scotland



Section 3 - Occupational Distribution of Poles in Scotland

Part 1: 1881 - 1891

Part 2: 1901 - 1911

Part 3: 1921 - 1931

Part 4: 1951 - 1961