Singhs and the Kingdom

Historian Peter Bance charts 150 years of the Sikhs in Britain through photographs

For more than three years, he had been turning the pages of dusty old albums, searching attics and going through countless archives to cull out a selection of images to tell the stories of eras gone by. Researcher, historian and antiquarian Peter Bance has compiled all those images in the form of a coffee table book, The Sikhs in Britain: 150 Years of Photographs, to document the contribution of Sikhs to the British society, right from the mid-nineteenth century to present day.

With as many as 200 historical photographs, out of which 70 percent have been sourced from private collections, Bance hopes his book will preserve the rich history for generations to come. "It's inspired by a small feature that I wrote on the early migration of Sikhs, which made me feel that it was a wider subject worth visual presentation, with minimum text," he says. While searching for images, Bance says he met many people who opened new windows to the lives of these migrants and their successes and achievements in the UK.

The Sikhs were the first community to migrate in large numbers from the Asian sub-continent to Britain. The images, which have been captioned precisely, take the readers through the four major periods of migration the '30s, the post-war period, the '60s and the '70s. "Sailors, soldiers and students were the early settlers and the migration was male-dominated, with families joining in a few years later," says Bance.

He has presented some endearing images to depict their years in the foreign land make-shift places of worship in the early years to the grand gurudwaras of today; visiting royalty and nobility from India, starting from Maharajah Duleep Singh to visitors from the first families of Patiala, Kapurthala, Nabha and Jind; Sikhs during the world wars and the usual portraits of marriages, social life and religion. "During my research, I found the '30s really absorbing, for here were the early settlers, who were rooted yet willing to make changes for a better life and stand up for what they thought was right," says Bance, whose own family came to Britain in the early '30s.

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