ON THE surface West Cumbria may seem untouched by immigration. It has even held up recently by the British National Party as one of last “all white, all English” bastions of the United Kingdom.

But even the most cursory of flicks through the history books shows that West Cumbria has always been a place to which people have come to work or to set up business.

And their contribution has been massive, particularly in the creation of industry and jobs.

The Romans came, the Vikings came and so did others bringing with them not only their culture but, in many cases, jobs and security for the people already living here.

Workington, the largest town in West Cumbria, has long been seen as a place of economic migration.

People have come here from all over the UK - northerners, southerners, the Welsh, the Cornish and the Scots to work the steel factories, the coal mines and the tin plate works.

We have brought people from the other side of the world and given them jobs and housing in return for their prowess at rugby league or cricket.

Cleator Moor is nicknamed little Ireland because of the number of Irish immigrants who found new homes there during the potato famine and helped the town to grow and prosper.

Immigration to the Cockermouth area started as early as the 13th century. In fact, if your name is Parker, Dodgson, Jenkinson, Dickson or Stoddart, your name is probably a derivative of the surnames of the many German settlers who, along with the Dutch, came to Cockermouth to the iron and coal mines.

Even then they took jobs - but, as now, they were only taking the jobs that could not be filled locally.

And what did they bring with them?

The brought prosperity. By filling jobs and expanding industry and paying taxes and using services, they all shared in the growth of the region as a whole.

They brought their customs and culture. The Workington Musical Festival is called the Eisteddfod because it was started by the Welsh immigrants.

The Rosehill Theatre, in Whitehaven, a jewel in the cultural crown of the region, was started by Sir “Niki” Sekers of West Cumberland Silk Mills.

Then there was the food. As West Cumbrians have travelled and got used to other cuisine, people have moved into the area to provide us with the food we want - especially Chinese and Indian.

The food and hospitality industry owes much to immigrants.

Italy provided us with Sammy Romano who started off as a waiter and saved all his tips. He was associated with Briery House Hotel in Workington and the Trout in Cockermouth.

Sammy became part of the social scene.

Fellow countrymen John and Philip Tognarelli who introduced us to a piece of heaven when they opened the first ice cream business in Workington, on Bridge Road. They still have a cafe in town.

Strangely, even the immigrants we might have had cause to hate became friends of a sort.

The people of Aspatria, Cockermouth and villages in between were exposed to the Italian and German prisoners of war in the Moota camp.

Local people all have memories of friendly encounters - a prisoner making a toy for a child, a local woman slipping confectionery to a prisoner, their art and their attendance at local churches.

Some, of course, stayed in the area after the war, married local women and became West Cumbrians, too.

Economically the impact of immigration on this area has been huge.

It would be hard for anyone in West Cumbria to justify a statement that “foreigners are taking our jobs.” That is because a vast number of people have been employed by “foreigners” who have started businesses.

Some had started businesses offshore and chose West Cumbria for expansion or as the site of their British operations.

But many came as lone immigrants. Among them were European Jews fleeing from the Nazi regime. Some came with nothing, while some already had the means to establish themselves quickly.

But however they got here, they brought hope and employment and prosperity. To a large extent, they also brought us an example of how to work and live.

We are bound to leave someone out but when the BNP wants to keep England for the English, when it wants to peddle its message in a part of West Cumbria where many immigrant workers have been recruited recently, we would do well to remember some of the area’s best known “foreigners.”

Frank Schon and Fred Marzillier were two Viennese Jews who left Europe to escape Hitler.

They set up Marchon Products Ltd in an office in London in 1939

The blitz forced them out of the capital to West Cumbria and their first factory was a garage at Schon’s home in Hensingham. Operations were transferred to the Kells site in 1943.

The company employed 2,500 staff and built the Marchon Sports and Social Club in 1977.

Tomas Bata, from Zlin, Czechoslovakia, chose Maryport as the most northerly outpost for his shoe empire, operating a factory at Grasslot from 1940 to 1980.

One of the town’s biggest employers, it had 2,000 staff and is held in such affection that a group of ex-workers agreed to star in a documentary two years ago when they were filmed visiting Bata’s birthplace.

Hornflowa, the old button factory on the Glasson Industrial Estate, Maryport, was the second largest button factory in the UK and employed up to 400. Set up by a Mr Krauss, it was said to have the best working conditions of any factory in the area. Dr F M Herzberg was managing director from 1943 to 1958. He came to this country in 1939.

Cumberland Childwear in Maryport employed up to 300. Austrian Maxwell Steiner was a key figure in its setting up in Maryport.

Nicholas (Miki) Thomas Sekers came to West Cumbria from Hungary in 1937 along with fellow Hungarian Tomi de Gara, to set up his famous silk business.

New Balance was formed by William J Riley, an English Immigrant in Boston, Massachusetts, USA in 1906.

The company chose Lillyhall, Workington, for its UK base, and later moved to Flimby where it still operates.

Fischer and Porter was started in America by Germans and brought to Workington in 1947 and employed 420 people.

This is not a definitive list by any means but it is a small picture of what immigration has done for West Cumbria.

It proves quite simply that welcoming foreigners to this area has helped us to grow culturally and economically.