England is suffering from an internal brain drain – and it’s centuries old

Watford Gap, where north meets south. Image: G-Man/Wikimedia Commons.

In recent years London has been a magnet for graduates. As the Centre for Cities’ report The Great British Brain Drain showed, the capital was particularly attractive to the highest achieving graduates.

But a recent paper shows that far from being a recent phenomenon, this migration of higher skilled people south has been going on for centuries Gregory Clark (University of California, Davis) and Neil Cummins (London School of Economics) tracked rare ancestral names (e.g. northern surnames such as AinscoughBirtwistle, and Calderbank, and southern names such as Northcott and Vanstone) across the entire population from 1837-1973. By matching the data with the detailed genealogy of 78,000 people with such names, they were able to look at the skills, migration patterns, and life outcomes of people in England since 1800.

Strikingly, the research found that the flow of skilled people southwards is centuries old, with four particularly interesting results:

  • Northern surnames are much more likely to move south than the reverse, with 40 per cent of northern surnames located outside the North by the 1970s, compared to just over 10 per cent of southern surnames.
  • These northern migrants were then much wealthier at death across 1892-1980 than those who stayed home.
  • Wealthier northerners were more likely to move south – 36 per cent of people from affluent northern families in the sample moved south from 1780-1929 (compared to less than 20 per cent of people from either average or poor families).
  • Accounting for wealth, northern migrants were still more likely to be higher skilled, have more years in education and have been more likely to go to university than either southerners or northerners that stayed put.
  • As the UK economy continues to specialise in ever more knowledge-based activities, skills relevant to these sectors are likely to become ever more important. This means that the ability of the north to retain skilled workers, and reverse what is a centuries’ old pattern, will be important to its future economic performance.

Of course, the availability of high skilled jobs will be a crucial determinant of this. If the government’s industrial strategy is to address the lack of high skilled jobs in the north, then it needs to address the barriers that hinder the ability of the region generally, and its cities specifically, to attract such activity.

In our recent briefing Why don’t we see growth up and down the country? we set out the central role ‘place’ plays in attracting business investment, and show what barriers the industrial strategy needs to address. This is part of a series of briefings looking at the issues the government should tackle in the strategy in order to boost growth in cities, from using clusters policy to encourage innovation, to evaluating the impact of public sector relocations on local economies.

Anthony Breach is an economic analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared. 


 

 
 
 
 

A warped mirror: on gentrification and deprivation on London’s Caledonian Road

The London Overground crosses Caledonian Road. Image: Claude Lynch.

Capital cities are, more often than not, a focal point for the stark divide between rich and poor – places where the most economically deprived meet the most economically empowered. In London, these divides can be more than stark: they can be close, even intimate, and there are districts where crossing the street can be like entering a different world. One such street is the Caledonian Road.

Known local as “the Cally”, Caledonian Road runs for about a mile and a half, from Kings Cross to the Nags Head junction in Holloway, and was built in 1826 to provide a new arterial route to the north from the West End. At first, developments on the road were sparse; among the first notable buildings were the Royal Caledonian Asylum, which gave the road its name, and H.M. Prison Pentonville.

For some time, the northern half of the road was seen as far removed from central London, which stymied development. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th century residential development really got going. By the time Caledonian Road station opened on the Piccadilly line in 1906, the area was flush with Victorian terraces.

These, though, mainly lay on the eastern side. To the west, the proximity of King’s Cross prompted the development of heavy industry, particularly the clay kilns that were helping to build Victorian London proper. The divide had begun:  the east side of the street, the area known as Barnsbury, was notably quieter and calmer than the west side. Ever since the 19th century, the ‘V’ formed by Caledonian Road and York Way has been known for a high incidence of gang violence and social problems.

As in many parts of London, the end of the Second World War brought a chance to start from scratch. Many of the slums to the west of the Cally had been bombed to smithereens, and those that remained still lacked gas and hot water.

But this was the era of municipal dreams: Islington council cleared the slums and constructed the Bemerton Estate. Instead of reflecting the industrial history of the area, the estate reflected Barnsbury back at itself, treating Caledonian Road as some sort of warped modernist mirror. The square gardens of Barnsbury were reimagined as the spaces between the highrises of Bemerton, and this time, they were actually square.

The estate was immediately popular, its open design prompting a renewed sense of community in the west. But it didn’t last.

Square gardens on one side, not-so-square on the other. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric

As far back as the 1950s, Islington had already become synonymous with gentrification. Forty years later, before moving to Downing Street, Tony Blair’s London residence was Barnsbury’s leafy Richmond Crescent. House prices in the area have gone through the roof and now Barnsbury is mainly home to a the professional elite.


At the same time, though, Caledonian Road’s warped mirror has given Bemerton the exact opposite: in spite of attempts to rejuvenate it, downward spiral of deprivation and antisocial behaviour have blighted the estate for some time The promise of inviting square gardens and communal living has been inhibited by crime and poverty; the gardens lie empty, while those in Barnsbury thrive.

The disparity of wealth across Caledonian Road is regrettable. That’s not just because it speaks to a wider segregation of London’s rich and poor – a phenomenon exemplified last year by the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington & Chelsea, the richest borough in Britain. It’s also because, in the Bemerton Estate, planners had thought they saw an opportunity to offer more Londoners the idyll of square gardens and leafy streets, often reserved for the richest.

It might be too much to claim the estate as a failure; events such as the Cally Festival aim to bring together both sides of the road, while other council programmes such as Islington Reads help to foster a greater sense of neighbourhood.

Road should never divide us; rather, they should unite those who live on either side. The spirit of Caledonian Road should cross the gap – just like the railway bridge that bears its name.