The French have constituted an important presence in London for several centuries, though with variable degrees of ‘visibility’. Despite their increasing profile and contributions, the complex and evolving dynamics of the relationship between London and its French residents remains little researched.

London landscape at night


Debra Kelly’s work addresses the many ways in which the French presence has contributed to the life of the British capital – from the late 17th to the early 21st centuries − with particular attention to the reciprocal exchanges between people and place. It examines the varied exchanges that characterise the relationship between French ‘exile’, ‘migrant’, ‘visitor’, and focuses on establishing new historical and contemporary evidence.

The research was conceived and directed by Kelly from 2010 to 2013 and has three main components:

  • British Academy-funded workshop/public event series (2011–13)
  • the resulting multi-authored book (Institute of Historical Research Publications, 2013)
  • the ‘London French’ Special Collection digital archive for the UK Web Archive Project (supported by the British Library)

The workshop series facilitated the collaborative multi-authored book and a public dissemination event at the University of Westminster (July 2013).

The research is interdisciplinary and takes an interpretive approach in the search for understanding and meaning in the representations of the French in London and in their motives, experiences, practices and contributions.

The potential of the initial research findings was identified by the project launch at the French Institute in 2010. This public event brought together invited representatives of the French population in London together with other members of the London French community. It led directly to a six-part series on French Radio London about the contemporary French in London and several media interviews. There was also support for the research from the French Embassy and Consulate which readily admits to gaps in data and knowledge concerning the current London French population.

The work is also of interest for: business/professional associations, cultural institutions, government departments dealing with urban migration and social inclusion, public engagement with the City, debates on immigration. ongoing political debate in France around French national identity and countering France’s current brain-drain.


This research, with which I was delighted to be involved, gave us real insight into the experiences of French citizens who live and work in London. For a diplomat, the findings are useful and compelling for understanding the motives, composition and experiences of London's French residents both today and historically.

Professor Philippe Lane, (former) Higher Education Attaché, French Embassy, London


Who's involved

Events and workshops

Project Launch French Institute London, July 2nd 2010

Project Partners Engagement Event 6th May 2011

British Academy Workshop Series

Book Launch and Public Event 2nd July 2013


Conference Papers

Debra Kelly and Martyn Cornick ‘France’s Children at Home in London? Towards a History of the French in London, Metropolis in Flux: Contemporary Cultural Migrations on London’, University of Westminster, June 2010.

Debra Kelly ‘The French in London: Liberty, Equality, Opportunity’, Association for the Study of Modern France Annual Conference, 4-5 Sept. 2013, University of Leicester.

'The London French: Liberty, Equality, Opportunity', Institute of Historical Research Modern French History Seminar, 4th November 2013.

Preliminary Research


Book launch and public event - 2 July 2013: Interview with French Radio London

French Radio London Interviews with Debra Kelly and Martyn Cornick', book launch, 2nd July 2013



Other media

A series of six programmes on French Radio London with Debra Kelly and Saskia Huc-Hepher.

France 24 clip 70th Anniversary of De Gaulle's arrival in London (2010)

Dans la vallée des grenouilles, Le Monde, October 2010

Supported by: British Academy, British Library