In the period 1815–1870, several thousand British workers and engineers went to the continent for work purposes, playing a decisive part in European industrialisation. Workers emigrated because they could market their skills at good value; or because their British employers sought to make the most of their technical lead by setting businesses up abroad, and by producing on the continent, they could avoid protective tariffs.
Which social and cultural factors enabled British capital to flow to continental and indeed global enterprise, British skills to shape labour processes overseas, and British male and female labourers to seek and find overseas employment? This introduction to the Special Issue raises a series of questions on these flows. It asks what numbers went to the continent, in comparison with the large flows to the US and the British World. It addresses the legislative and economic aspects of these labour migrations and tries to relate these to the discussion on the supposed ‘high-wage economy’ of the British industrial revolution. It also focuses on the practicalities of migration. Last, it is also interested in the cultural, religious and associational life of the British migrants, as well as in the relations with the local populations.