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At the dawn of the twentieth century, the labour needs and opportunities of the British Empire saw the steady growth of a non-white population settle across Britain itself, and from the highlands of Scotland to the coasts of Cornwall—and all the cities, towns, suburbs and rural locales in between—could be found a range of people drawn from Empire and beyond.
This population was diverse in both its racial and ethnic constitution, as well as its occupation: it contained not only the more typical settler populations of sailors and soldiers, but actors, musicians, students, doctors, vicars, barristers, journalists, aristocrats, politicians, diplomats, composers and business owners, labourers, cabinetmakers, colliers, firemen and fishermen amongst a myriad other professions (see also Green 1998, 2000).
Within the range of views expressed on this topic—that include aversion and hostility as well as apathy and indifference—is a strand of thought that clearly positions Harry and Meghan’s relationship and the ‘growth’ of mixed-race couples and people on Britain’s streets as a ‘new’ normal that is as illustrative not only of modern Britain’s racial diversity but of its increased racial tolerance.3 Yet, interraciality in Britain has much older, wider, and diverse roots.
As scholars such as Habib (2008), Onyeka (2013) and Kaufmann (2017) have painstakingly revealed, mixed-race relationships, families and people in Britain are documented as early as the sixteenth century:4 in 1578, for example, Captain George Best commented that he had ‘seen an Ethiopian as black as coal brought to England, who taking a fair English woman to wife, begat a son in all respects as black as the father’ (cited in Newman 1987, p. Across the centuries, contemporary sources repeatedly demonstrate not only the presence of racial mixing and mixedness but often its commonality.
In particular, the concept of ‘ordinariness’—‘the conventional, the normal, the natural, the everyday, the taken for granted’ (Silverstone 1994, p.
994)—makes itself visible not only in the about her experiences working in the 1950s’ East End of London, she talks about the great difficulty that men faced before DNA testing in knowing for certain that any children were theirs—unless, she says, the child was of a different race: If a husband happens to be fathering another man’s child, he is not likely to know and, as they say, “what the eye does not see, the heart does not grieve over”.
Belcham (2014), for instance, has detailed the longstanding and wide-ranging racial mixing that has occurred in Liverpool for centuries, as have Little  (1972) and Llwyd (2005) regarding the Cardiff area.
Similarly, Lawless (1995) has documented a vivid picture of a long settled mixed Arab and white community in the Holborn district of South Shields, while Wong (1989) and Seed (2006) have brought to attention the historic interraciality between the Chinese and white Britons in Liverpool and London’s Limehouse respectively.
Rather, the history is an entanglement of multiple discourses, of different and perspectives, many of which offer challenging and competing viewpoints and understandings, most notably when they are rendered by those who are themselves in or from interracial families.
Recognising the extent of this occupational and geographical spread is important in highlighting that not only was there a deeper embedding of people of colour in everyday British life during this period than is often commonly assumed, but that it simultaneously created a substantive ‘contact zone’ (Pratt 1992).
As such, numerous white Britons and people of colour found themselves engaging in what Lamont and Aksartova (2002, p.
108) complained that in ‘every country town, nay, in almost every village are to be seen a little race of mulattoes, mischievous as monkeys, and infinitely more dangerous.’ Furthermore, as the British Empire expanded, so too did the diversity of interraciality at home as abroad.
The emergence of relationships in the nineteenth century, for example, between newly settled Chinese and Lascar5 men—often sailors, who had settled in areas of London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow and other port cities—saw some white women dubbed with monikers such ‘Calcutta Louise’, ‘Lascar Sally’ or ‘China-Faced Nell’ due to their interracial relationships (Caballero and Aspinall 2018, p. In addition to the presence of children produced via working-class relationships, Britain also frequently became home to the racially mixed sons and daughters of wealthy colonists—such as Dido Belle, Jane Harry, and James Tailyour—who, as revealed in Livesay’s (2018) fascinating research, were often sent to the metropole to be educated or integrated into British society, an occurrence also depicted by contemporary novelists, including Austen (1817, ).
Yet, as discussed previously, racial mixing and mixedness were not uncommon in Britain before mass immigration in the 1950s very visibly placed the issue of interraciality into the mainstream.8 In Canning Town, a few miles east from the heart of the London Docklands where Worth was a midwife, a visible interracial population had previously attracted national attention in the 1930s, when the had featured them in its ‘expose’ of the racial mixing occurring in an area called Crown Street.