Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom with its robust economy and official English language became a magnet for Lithuanian migrants after 2004 when Lithuania joined the European Union. Some 100 000 Lithuanians left their homeland for the UK - more than ever to any single country except for the pre-WW1 migration to the USA.

However, unlike the Lithuanian-Americans, the Lithuanians of the UK are not building massive Lithuanian schools and churches - for now at least. However, there is Lithuanian heritage in the UK: it has been created by much smaller groups of 1880s-1950s emigrants who chose what was then British Empire over the USA for their new lives (such a migration was cheaper). Back in Lithuania (then ruled by the Russian Empire) ethnic Lithuanians faced discrimination, had their language banned, lacked any industrial jobs, while males could have been conscripted for many years.

Exact figures of Lithuanians are hard to get as the British census asks for broad racial categories rather than ethnicities (Lithuanians are among "Other Whites").

Lithuanian heritage in London and its suburbs

Most of the UK Lithuanians live in the capital London (40 000 - 80 000) where they make up ~0,5% of the population. There is no Lithuanian neighborhood there, however, although the traditionally poor East London has somewhat larger Lithuanian populations. The Lithuanian St. Casimir church is also located there, having been constructed by pre-WW1 immigrants in 1912. New Lithuanian migration saved it as a viable parish. London also has a historical Lithuanian cemetery where (among others) some famous interwar Lithuanian diplomats are buried (Soviets did not permit them back home). Today however Lithuanians are buried in all cemeteries.

The Lithuanian parish of London owns a farmstead-hotel in Headley Park suburb since 1955 (Guildford GU35 8TE). Lithuanian holidays are held here, with Pentecost being the most important.

Lithuanian heritage in Scotland

Prior to the World War 1 some 8 000 Lithuanians lived in Scotland. Most of the adult males worked in the coal mines of North Lanarkshire near Glasgow. The Mossend district of Bellshill town there still has a Lithuanian Social Club (79A Calder Road). Since 1904 the nearby Holy Family church has Lithuanian mass. Lithuanian priests (especially Gutauskas) who once made this possible have a cross and a monument dedicated to them. Pre-WW1 Lithuanians sought to build their own church like their brethren in the USA were doing. However, the UK of the era was far less tolerant and the local bishop prevented establishing ethnic churches. Bothwell cemetery still has Lithuanian graves that look very British: with long descriptions of birth and death dates, additional information. The areas top pilgrimage site, the Carfin grotto, has a Lithuanian inscription in addition to other languages.

Lithuanian shrine and cross in Scotland. ©Paul Lucas.

Unfortunately, the pre-WW1 Lithuanian community in Scotland had a rather terrible fate. There was still no independent Lithuania therefore, as BBC notes, Lithuanians were "Russians" to the government and "Poles" to most Scots. The founder of Labour Party Keir Hardie denounced the import of these "Poles from Russia" (i.e. Lithuanians). In 1917 Britain signed a deal with Russia forcing the Scotland's Lithuanian males to serve the Russian army. ~1200 have been sent away, some found Russian Empire already collapsed, but few were able or wanted to return to Scotland. As Lithuania gained its independence in 1918 some established their lives there, others perished. The diminished Lithuanian community in Scotland has been somewhat rejuvenated ~1950 by refugees from Soviet-occupied Lithuania. Like elsewhere in the UK post-2004 migrants now form the majority of Lithuanians in Scotland.

Lithuanian Social Club in Mossend. Google Street View.

Among the pre-WW1 Lithuanians in Scotland was the infamous communist Vincas Mickevičius Kapsukas. Having failed to promote communism in Lithuania ~1918 he was accepted into the "Soviet pantheon" after the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania (1940) and even had a town named after him there in 1955 (which the local people voted to rename back to Marijampolė immediately after the democracy returned ~1989).

Lithuania-related places elsewhere in Britain

Other British locations never had Lithuanian communities large enough to leave massive heritage. The actions of modern Lithuanian emigrants are not yet visible in stone. Such a massive community made it possible to establish commercially viable Lithuanian Sunday schools, a small shop chain "Lituanica". However "Lituanica" stores also have Polish and Russian adverts and sell various Eastern European goods. When there are no Lithuanian neighborhoods with a concentrated Lithuanian market such multi-ethnic orientation is a necessity for a profitable business. Lithuanian shops, stores, bars, and schools are all operating in rented premises, Lithuanian mass is held in non-Lithuanian churches. Should this continue it is likely that after the Lituanity will start its inevitable decline (Lithuanian kids born in Britain are already assimilating) and the institutions will start closing down this massive community will leave little heritage.

Lituanica store under a railroad in Birmingham. Google Street View.

British laws aren't especially convenient for Lithuanians. Lithuanian is not allowed as a medium-of-instruction at schools (except for special Sunday schools). Discrimination of Lithuanians and other Eastern Europeans isn't regarded as seriously as discrimination of, for example, Black immigrants. There is also less government support for Eastern European minorities culture.

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London, England, United Kingdom

London houses the largest ethnic Lithuanian population outside the Republic of Lithuania numbering 40 000 - 80 000 (0,5% - 1% of all Londoners). Most of them immigrated after 1990 (independence restoration of Lithuania) and especially after 2004 (Lithuania's accession to the European Union).

Lithuanian community in London is, however, much older than most other immigrant groups there. Oldest building associated to it is the St. Casimir Roman Catholic church built in 1912. Somewhat reminiscent of a multi-storey building the church is smaller than the Lithuanian American churches of the era as the majority of emigrants used to leave for America at the time. Still, the docks and factories of what was the world's largest city between 1825 and 1925 attracted some Lithuanians. The church is in East End (Bethnal Green) where immigrant communities used to settle and still settle (now the area is more populated by people from Africa and Indian Subcontinent).

St. Casimir Lithuanian church in Bethnal Green. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In 1955 the parish acquired a large countryside house southwest of London (Guildford GU35 8TE). Now known as Headley Park Hotel this location still celebrates Lithuanian holidays the traditional way (especially the Pentecost).

Since 1963 London has a Lithuanian cemetery or, more correctly, a Lithuanian zone in the old St. Patrick Roman Catholic cemetery (Langthorne Road, Leytonstone). Some 200 Lithuanians have been buried there including ambassadors to Great Britain Bronius Balutis and Vincas Balickas whose bodies were precluded from repatriation by the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. Today Lithuanians are buried in various London cemeteries, however (and in St. Patrick's outside the Lithuanian sector).

Modern Lithuanian community has not built any buildings or monuments but founded numerous live institutions. Multiple newspapers and magazines circulate (largest newspaper is the weekly "Tiesa" which may be found free of charge in central London). There are Lithuanian shops, restaurants (sometimes shared with other Eastern European communities). The language is taught at Saturday schools while Lithuanian newspapers are full of adverts for Lithuanian legal offices, dentistry, and other services. There are also Lithuanian clubs such as the London City Lithuanian Club dedicated to Lithuanians working in London's financial heart. In addition to the old Catholic parish, a new Lithuanian Christian church was established meeting at Methodist premises.

Lithuanian restaurant Smiltė in northeastern London suburbs. Google Street View.

Basketball (Lithuania's national sport which is dubbed "second religion") is also well represented. British-Lithuanian Basketball League (BLKL) was established in 2007 in East London. Now it has some 20 teams (some named after Lithuanian cities and famous professional teams) and multiple sponsors. All games are played in an arena at Dagenham Parsloes Avenue RM9 5QT, tickets are not free. Among the reasons to establish their own league was the ban on loud fans in British leagues. In Britain football is where the most active fans go while Lithuanians typically enjoy basketball the same way: with chants, screams, painted faces and even drums. Brits, however, view basketball differently (some Lithuanian fans who were arrested in 2012 London Olympics for loud chants learned this the hard way).

While the number of London Lithuanians increased greatly after 2004 the participants in official Lithuanian community did not increase. The new immigrants of diverse groups (temporary students, permanent blue collar and white collar employees) typically integrate more thoroughly into London society as a whole, speaking good English. Some of them do not feel such loyalty to the Lithuanian nation as the earlier immigrants feel.

United Kingdom census of 2011 revealed that most Lithuania-born people live in East London: 8348 in the borough of Newham (where they comprise 2,7% of total population), 4028 in Barking and Dangenham (2,2%), 3500 in Waltham Forest (1,3%), 2827 in Redbridge (1%), 1979 in Greenwich (0,8%), 1332 in Lewisham (0,5%). Total number for London was 39 817 (0,5%). Even the British local councils, however, doubt these statistics and believe that the true number of Lithuanians may be twice as large; among the reasons of underrepresentation is the pressure of landlords on immigrants not to complete census forms. Additionally, the census counted place of birth rather than ethnicity so it includes Lithuania-born Russians and Poles but excludes ethnic Lithuanians born abroad.

Thanks to the large emigrant community London is the most easily reached foreign city from Lithuanian airports. There are 5 to 7 daily services by planes of some 180 seats. They are operated by low-cost carriers offering return tickets for prices less than 100 Pounds. Coupled with a flight time of under 3 hours it is common for London Lithuanians to frequently visit their original homeland. They do that during vacations and major holidays as well as for medical, cosmetical, spa and similar services (such services are much cheaper and sometimes of better quality in Lithuania).

Click to learn more about Lithuania: London, United Kingdom 1 Comment