Whether fleeing from tyrany or simply in search of a better life, immigrants have been coming to Barnet for centuries, write Times Group historians PERCY REBOUL and JOHN HEATHFIELD

The arguments about economic migrants are not new, although it is often forgotten that such migrants have not always come from abroad.

At the end of the Napoleonic wars, for example, thousands of foot-loose ex-soldiers, many of them Irish, tramped through the villages and towns of Britain looking for work.

The same was true after the wholesale enclosure of land in the 18th and 19th centuries which eventually forced large numbers of agricultural workers into the towns.

Work meant wages for food, shelter, clothing and, in the days before the welfare state, survival itself. Work was literally a matter of life or death.

In medieval times, it was the religious houses that tended for the needs of the sick and the poor but, with the closing of the monasteries by Henry VIII, new laws were framed which placed the burden of the unemployed on the parish, the money for which was paid for out of rates.

Ratepayers wanted to pay as little as possible: they were reluctant to allow migrants to settle and often paid for them to be moved to another parish. As an encouragement' to move on in Elizabethan times, sturdy rogues' were whipped before being sent on their way.

Totteridge found a slightly more civilised way in 1793, when the parish accounts record: "Pressing two vagabonds 2s 0d (10p); for conveying them to Hertford £2 1s (£2.05p)." The men concerned were pressed' into the Navy, a practice which was more usual in ports but not unknown in places within reasonable distance from the London docks.

Pregnant women were potentially a source of double expense, particularly when the baby they were carrying was illegitimate.

They could be moved back to the father's place of settlement', assuming the father could be found. Friern Barnet records, for example, state: "1744, Nov 17; gave a big bellied woman to go to Finchley 6d (2p)".

More humanely, they record: "Gave a lame man with a child a night's lodging 6d." Soldiers or their wives on their way to report for duty were given a special pass entitling them to claim from the parishes through which they travelled. Thus, Totteridge records state: "Gave a soldier with a pass 6d," and "gave a woman with a pass on her way to join her husband 6d." Perhaps we should remind ourselves that economic migration is a two-way affair? Over the centuries, millions of our own citizens have emigrated to the USA and the Commonwealth. In 1874, one of our newspapers advertised, free passage for platelayers, navvies, mechanics and outdoor labourers wanted in New Zealand'.

History goes round in circles.