Devastated by the crippling pain of racist injustice. It was difficult to coin these words because it feels personal. It hurts knowing that despite decades of protesting and speaking out we still have to face issues of systematic racism and white supremacy.
It’s hard to look at what is happening within the United States without pausing to reflect on the synergies with life in the UK. The context and history might be different in places but the trends that mark out the systematic nature of our experiences are almost exactly the same.
Some would argue the differences in this country are significant because its effects are often subtle or insignificant. But my response to that would be ‘Subtle and insignificant to who?’ Anything that results in demonstrable hardship that includes poor mental health and trauma, or the needless death of black people should never be considered anything but a disgrace. We know this is happening in the UK not just because of the many reports into almost every area of British life, but because of the testimony of Black people across the UK who can attest to their experiences.
Within UK LGBT+ communities, black people still have to face unjust treatment in most mainstream LGBT+ spaces. Black LGBT+ people will still have their voices ignored, or spoken over. Black trans people continue to confront more than most – socially, economically and through legislation which fails to protect them.
It’s with this in mind, that allies must remember to utilise the horror they feel for the injustice we’ve seen across the Atlantic, to support in whatever way they can and to address much needed change within our own communities. The outrage felt now must be used to cement long-lasting change, and for that to work our actions can’t just be preformative and they can’t just last for a week.
In light of this, Pride in London will write to the US Ambassador to the UK, Robert Wood Johnson, and to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office to express our dismay. However, we’ve also decided to donate $2,000 to the Black Lives Matter Foundation and we’ll be encouraging all of our partners to support the Black Lives Matter by making donations to non-for-profits working to support the campaign. And lastly, we will commit to continuing in our efforts to listen to, advocate for and platform Black LGBT+ people throughout what we do because Black Lives Matter, Always.
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Windrush Day is a moment of pride and celebration. Today we recognise and honour the generation that came from the Caribbean to the UK after the Second World War.
They played a pivotal role in rebuilding our country, and our city. They made Bristol their home – starting families, building businesses, serving their communities. I think of my own parents who answered the call, my mother who arrived as a 21-year-old to become a nurse in the NHS and my father who worked at Bristol Temple Meads and then went on to help build Broadmead. And it makes me think of the likes of Paul Stephenson, Roy Hackett and Guy Reid-Bailey, whose role in the Bristol Bus Boycott led to the passing of the Race Relations Act 1965 which made ’racial discrimination’ unlawful in public places. Bristol would not be the vibrant, inclusive and dynamic city it is today were it not for people like this. So today we say thank you to them for all they have given us as a city.
But of course Windrush Day is also a day for anger at injustice. For, despite their immense contribution, the Windrush Generation and their descendants have faced discrimination and mistreatment on a terrible scale, such that now the word Windrush is as likely to be associated with the word ‘Scandal’ as anything else. The ‘Hostile Environment’ policy implemented by Theresa May treated people who were legally resident in this country as if they were criminals. It has led to people losing their jobs and their access to basic services, and in se cases even being deported or denied the ability to return to the UK. Of course all of this has led to untold emotional and mental anguish for too many innocent people, including my friend, Jaswha Moses, who died before he could use the British Passport granted to him after years of fighting for the right to be here.
The Government response to this scandal has been nothing short of shameful. Instead of admitting their mistake and doing everything they could to put it right, they have sought to cover it up and get on with business as usual. The Hostile Environment, whilst no longer the official language of government policy, is still absolutely alive and kicking. And the Windrush Compensation Scheme, set up to supposedly make recompense to those who have suffered, has thus far given out just £360,000 to 60 people.
The Windrush Lessons Learned Review, conducted by Wendy Williams, was conveniently published at the moment of maximum attention on the Covid-19 emergency at the end of March. It sets out in gory detail exactly what went wrong, as well as many sensible measures that the Government could take to put things right and make sure that such a scandal never happens again. We must all, therefore, play our part in holding the Government to account for their response to this review. And until that time when our national policy reflects the respect and dignity due to all those who come here from overseas to make Bristol their home, we must mark Windrush Day as a moment to redouble our efforts to fight for change.
Today marks the anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush in 1948, carrying hundreds of people from the Caribbean who had been invited to help rebuild Britain in the wake of the Second World War.
Winrdush Day is an annual celebration of Britain’s Caribbean community and their contribution to life in the UK. In a message to mark the day, The Prince of Wales reflects on his visit to the Black Cultural Archives when Their Royal Highnesses viewed an exhibition on the history of African and Caribbean communities in Britain and met veterans from the Western Indian Association of Service Personnel.
The Prince said:
As we honour the legacy of the Windrush generation, and the invaluable contribution of Black people in Britain, I dearly hope that we can continue to listen to each other’s stories and to learn from one another. The diversity of our society is its greatest strength and gives us so much to celebrate.
On 22 June 1948, hundreds of passengers, many of whom had begun their journeys in the Caribbean, disembarked the ship at Tilbury Docks in Essex in search for a better life in Britain. The MV Empire Windrush and its passengers helped create a richer and more diverse British society and today represent generations of migration from the Caribbean.
Tracee Grenardo, Network Rail’s Windrush ambassador, said: “After World War II, the British government were offering jobs in the service sector including running public transport and the National Health Service; many migrants were recruited on the railways. As a company we, too, want to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants.”
“A symbolic link to our past”
In 2022, a monument commemorating the Windrush generation will be unveiled at London Waterloo, a gateway to Britain for many, including the Windrush generation, most of whom arrived in Britain at Southampton.
A year ago, the government said Waterloo -London’s biggest railway station – had been chosen from a list of potential sites by the Windrush Commemoration Committee.
The government said the committee, chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, would seek to commission and work with stakeholders and designers “to consider how best to create a lasting, fitting tribute to the Windrush generation and their descendants”.
The government said the committee, chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, would seek to commission and work with stakeholders and designers “to consider how best to create a lasting, fitting tribute to the Windrush generation and their descendants”.
Baroness Floella Benjamin said in June last year: “Having a Windrush monument located at Waterloo Station where thousands of Windrush pioneers – including children like myself – first arrived in London, will be a symbolic link to our past as we celebrate our future.
“The committee is determined to build a monument of great beauty and emotional impact which will lift the hearts of those who visit when it’s unveiled. I hope it will inspire pride and a sense of belonging to all those associated with the Windrush story.”
Asquith Xavier, a campaigner for equality
For many, finding work in Britain was hard – and met with racism – despite the government’s invitation to help bolster the country’s workforce after the war.
In the 1960s, Asquith Xavier was among those fighting for racial equality on the railway.
Asquith was already an experienced guard at Marylebone station when he applied for the job at Euston and his case is often seen as a precursor to the Race Relations Act in 1968, which made it illegal to refuse employment to people because of their ethnic background. In 2016, the BBC spoke to Asquith’s family as a plaque was unveiled at Euston in his honour.
Today, the railway seeks to encourage an increasingly diverse employee base across Britain – greater diversity and inclusion lead to fresh ideas, especially when people feel comfortable challenging the status quo.
Cultural Fusion, our black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employee network, is one of six employee networks at Network Rail helping to promote the differences among our people. These differences create better – and safer – outcomes for the company and the passengers we serve.
It’s an important part of Network Rail’s diversity strategy, helping it reach about 40,000 employees. Sharon Salmon, chair of Cultural Fusion, says it aims to create an organisation that embraces equality and diversity, in which everybody feels valued and can excel without limitations.
Cultural Fusion’s membership has grown by almost 20% in the past year to 655 people. It started with just two members in 2013.
Its recent activities have included regular virtual tea breaks for its members, where it encourages discussion about issues such as Black Lives Matter, racism and mental health.
Cultural Fusion’s members are also involved in Network Rail’s Race Matters project, which the company has set up to increase BAME representation across the organisation, particularly in senior roles. This in turn will have a positive impact on our ethnicity pay gap in the long term. You can read more about our ethnicity data, the pay gap and the Race Matters project here.
Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said of the project: “I want to see better representation in leadership positions at Network Rail and we will do this by nurturing the great talent we already have, as well as focussing on a attracting a greater diversity of candidates to work with us…
“We know that diverse teams perform better and have greater innovation because of the variety of ideas and experiences that people from different backgrounds bring; and this is why having a more diverse workforce with inclusive leadership is so important to improving the way we deliver for passengers and freight users.”
The Nottingham-based museum is the only museum dedicated
to preserving Caribbean history, heritage and culture in the UK and its
founders, Catherine Ross and Lynda Burrell, work with national institutions
such as museums, galleries, libraries, archives and universities across the UK,
as well as local communities and grassroots groups, to celebrate the Caribbean
contribution to the UK and explore how British history and heritage can become
more diverse, inclusive and representative.
Museumand’s new book ‘70 Objeks & Tings’ has been
created to tell the story of the Windrush Generation and their descendants
through everyday objects and experiences. Catherine Ross, the museum’s Founder
and Director explained:
“During our travels across the UK we see and talk to hundreds of people every week. Often, some of the everyday objects and references we talk about and share, the things that Caribbeans aged 40 years and up would say are typically Caribbean, are unrecognisable and unknown to younger generations. We hope this book will help them explore aspects of their heritage and culture they may not have discovered before in a fun, intergenerational way, while giving those who lived it a chance to reminisce and retell their stories, keeping our tangible and intangible history alive and at the forefront of our minds.
“Originally, we hoped to run workshops to gather and develop content for 70 Objeks & Tings, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve decided to launch the first section of the book digitally. That way, everyone can download a copy wherever they are and get involved. We’ll be launching future sections very soon and we’re planning to publish a printed version of the complete book in 2021 – when hopefully we can meet and get together in person again.”
The first section of the book is all about food and explores some of the ingredients, recipes, dishes and snacks familiar to Caribbean families in the UK. From the origins of classics like Jerk Cooking and Hot Pepper Sauce, to the inspiration behind favourites like Jamaican Patties and how they’re evolving to suit contemporary tastes.The book also includes a flavour of Caribbean sayings, riddles and songs – with plenty of fun and informative ‘Did You Knows’.
Patrick Vernon OBE, whose successful campaign for 22 June
to be recognised annually as Windrush Day, a national day acknowledging the
migrant contribution to UK society, became a reality in 2018, has welcomed Museumand’s
“70 Objeks and Tings is a fantastic resource as we celebrate national Windrush Day and the legacy of the Windrush Generation since the docking of the Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948. This book will provide fun and intergenerational dialogue with elders who have stories and narratives around these objects.”
You can read the first instalment of ’70 Objeks & Tings’ via Issuu or on the museum’s website at
You can read the first instalment of ’70 Objeks & Tings’ via Issuu or on the museum’s website at http://museumand.org/objeksandtings/
Follow Museumand on social media to keep up to date with ’70 Objeks & Tings’ as well as the museum’s latest news and plans for forthcoming exhibitions and events.
Windrush Day is now officially recognised nationwide and within the Caribbean community, particularly for first and second generation citizens, June 22nd is a day of importance, as it was the first time Commonwealth citizens from the Caribbean, docked at a small port in Tilbury upon the request of the British Government to help rebuild a broken Britain after World War II.
In the wider community, Windrush day is earmarked as a day of importance because the first docking of MV Empire Windrush marks a time in British history where one of the greatest Colonial powers of the 20th Century was forced to accept that despite for all of its power, it was unable to be self-sustainable and that a more diverse and tolerant workforce would be necessary.
Ironically, the ship itself did not begin as a symbol of multi-cultural British pride, instead starting life as a vessel used by the Nazi elite as a cruise ship named the Monte Rosa. On the outbreak of the Second World War, the ship became a Nazi troopship before being captured by Allied forces in May 1945 and subsequently kept by the British who retrofitted the ship for civilian use.
Ultimately, Windrush day shows a shift in the power dynamic that Britain once had over the rest of the world and marks the beginning of its dependence on Commonwealth citizens and migrant workers from across the globe- a state of dependence that has remained since ever since this day in 1948.
It means that MV Empire Windrush has the dubious title of reminding Britain of its own weakness, but a weakness that it has turned a broken nation into one with a collective strength, as Windrush marks a point of origin in which any non-white British Citizen could become a source of national pride.
Take for instance the current Formula 1 World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Before his World Championship winning season in 2008, he became the first British World Champion since Damon Hill in 1996 and since winning his second and third World Championship titles, Hamilton is the first triple World Champion since Jackie Stewart in 1973, becoming only the second Brit ever to do so. Lewis Hamilton is the first Black World Formula 1 World Champion, yet this is not the headline, his British birthplace and citizenship is and Windrush is the reason for it ever being possible.
Now Hamilton himself does not ignore nor deny his Grenadian ancestry, but without MV Empire Windrush, Hamilton is simply the source of pride for one country, rather than the two in which he is claimed as a national icon.
This is a transferrable title beyond those from the Caribbean and the world of sport. Take for instance media personalities such as Idris Elba and John Boyega who claim their African ancestry, but who’s headlines in the mainstream media mark their British citizenship like a birthright.
Windrush has also created a system in which British sports would be a fragile shell of what it is now if it were not for our non-white sporting figures, and whilst none of the teams in events such as Rugby, Football or Hockey are world champions, Britain does and has regularly met and matched the Gold standard at an Olympic level.
More interestingly though, is how Windrush has not taken away from the talent pool of countries across the diaspora. Jamaica has a world beating track and field Athletics team, West African Athletics has a near untouchable long distance running record and outside of sport, Nollywood is the second highest grossing film industry. So whilst it can be argued that Windrush began the equivalency of a ‘brain drain’ in the West Indies and across the Commonwealth, it can also be seen as a way in which the oppressed party in a colonial power dynamic, began a long path to equality through the process of utilising the systems and privileges that were once only available to mainland, white citizens.
Windrush Day is more than celebrating a boat and the people who got off it because MV Empire Windrush is the ultimate symbol of choice. Yes, the tension and paranoia surrounding immigration was hotly contested in 1948, yet the 400 passengers who docked at Tilbury were some of the first people who came to the UK under the power of choice; not through fear of persecution or war, or against their will.
Windrush day is important for it marks the beginning of a transition, from an isolated country with nearly unmatched power but no support, to a country that was broken without it, to a time where cultural division is a mark of its competitive and self-sustained strength, and for that, Windrush Day should be Celebrated.
In the run-up to the Windrush anniversary the vintage images of the men and women arriving in Britain, encapsulated the hopes and expectations of thousands of people who left the Caribbean in search of a better life for themselves and their family. The images were an indication of the long complex and on going relationship between Britain and the Caribbean. Just looking at the images fashion was an important part of Caribbean culture. The images record motivated people coming to Britain to create opportunity.
The 1950s was a decade for youthful freedoms breaking away from the woes and restraint of the turbulent 1940s. The Caribbean islands experienced economic strain; Jamaica saw low wages, strikes and political divide. Britain ‘The Mother Country’ needed men and women to rebuild an economy weakened by the war years. Many Caribbean men and women fought for Britain in the Second World War, many felt they would be welcomed in Britain. The international appeal from Britain to Commonwealth countries must have been a welcome call to those wanting a better life, adventure or both.
“Dressed in an odd assortment of clothes, many wearing ties of dazzling designs, over 450 Jamaicans arrived at Tilbury Docks on the Empire Windrush to settle down in the Mother Country” Thurrock Gazette headline 1948.
Footage filmed by British Pathe show the large white ship slowly docking, bursting with young sartorial cool cats that journeyed to Britain with optimism and charisma. A builder, a carpenter, an apprentice, accountant, a welder, a teacher, a spray-painter, a boxer, a musician, a mechanic, a valet, a calypso singer, a seamstress, a tailor, and a law student – were just some of the occupations of the passengers on board.
A pamphlet produced by the West Indies high commission in 1959 advised Caribbean’s who wish to travel called ‘Going To Britain? – BBC pamphlet’ points out the practical importance of the types of clothing needed cooler temperatures, there were stories of those catching flu, bronchitis and pneumonia.
“Dress For The Cold! We have to say over and over that England is a cold country. This is my third visit here, so when I was leaving home on New Years Eve of 1958, I dressed myself in warm woollen socks and underwear, a serge suit, a sturdy pair of shoes, and I carried my woollen sweater, scarf, and heavy overcoat. I decided not to take any risks with my health.”
In 2016, ‘Stories in a Suitcase’ exhibition by National Caribbean Heritage Museum explored what the Windrush generation may have brought with them to the UK, this included 1950s-1970s mock-ups of luggage. Notice the hot comb, curlers and tongs in one of the cases. Many women and men straightened their hair by coating it with protective pomade and straitening it with a heated metal comb. This technique transformed the tight curls of Afro hair into straight hair with a pomaded sheen. The hair remained straight until it had contact with water; many women wore stylish headscarves which were already fashionable in different ways to protect the hair from the rain.
The ‘50s American movie and garment industry was at its height; the prominence of film stars set the tone for fashion and style. Many desired look-alike copies of outfits, accessories and jewellery worn by the most popular screen idols like Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. Caribbean’s like most western countries, wanted to emulate what they saw on the big screen and recreate the designs.
Mail order catalogue’s like Littlewoods, Freemans and Sears were a veritable wonderland of the latest fashions, including sewing patterns. Popular trends, rounded shoulders, shapely bust lines, closely defined waistlines, and full billowy skirts defined women’s fashions. The tea dress arrived and the shapes were easy to construct, by following the sewing instructions, many taught themselves the necessary skills, running up a dress in a few hours. The electric sewing machine, made sewing easier as it had various stitch features and speeds, neatening and quickening the process. The garments made then were fully lined in true couture style, with quality materials.
Most men wore a cotton shirt with a collar and tie and formal leather shoes. The prevailing suit designs were wool, cut fuller and more comfortable. The fashion must have for Caribbean men was the fedora hat and the two-tone cap shoes. Brown and white leather combined with wool fabric or mixed with suede, embossed leather, reptile or other thick textures. The mixing of smooth and rough textures and shade of colours is very iconic of 1950s men’s shoe style. Daring Caribbean men, inspired by African-American jazz musicians, often wore Zoot suits. It consisted of high waisted, wide-legged trousers, worn with a long jacket.
A generation of dressmakers and tailors have a long legacy in British Caribbean communities. Most Caribbean’s knew or know of a dressmaker or tailor, with the skills to sew a whole outfit. My late grandmother, a full time nurse at the time, was that person; people from church and community would ask for all manner of garments for weddings, conventions, holidays, christenings, the list went on. I remember helping by pinning and tacking garment after garment.
Caribbean style is born of a dynamic blend of cultures formed over hundreds of years, vibrance coupled with poise and a carefree spirit. Fashion for the first Windrush generation was a means of respectability and self-importance; a way to rise above stereotypes, despite this, on arrival many would face alienation and racism at every level. This treatment included not being able to find accommodation, open bank accounts, or secure loans or mortgages. Howard Grey, an amateur photographer in 1962 photographed new arrivals at Waterloo station to capture ‘rowdy’ Caribbean’s causing disruption, instead, he explained his expectation was wrong, he said ‘it was all very ‘English’ and quiet’ as families greeted each other on the platforms.
The visual record of the first Windrush images are an important part of British and Caribbean visual history, a valuable part of our cultural memory. The images capture style and the birth of the Windrush legacy; of integration and struggle. They also serve as a mirror of the times, desires, habits, customs, and mode of living. For many the images are a reminder of the hopes and personal sacrifices made by that generation who were journeying to Britain, for a new life.
Monday 22nd June marks Windrush Day, a chance to honour the British Caribbean community and reflect on this vital chapter in the country’s diversity.
Windrush Day, marked on the day the HMT Empire Windrush landed at Tilbury Docks, was introduced as a result of the Windrush Scandal, to remember the Windrush Generation, those from the commonwealth who were invited to the UK to help rebuild Britain after World War Two.
As we stand in solidary with those fighting for equality as part of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the treatment of the Windrush generation is just one of the many examples of systemic racism in the UK as thousands of people from Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and Africa wrongly told they were in Britain illegally
What is the Windrush Generation and the Windrush Scandal?
The Windrush Generation refers to the citizens who arrived in the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973, at the time, Caribbean countries were part of the British Commonwealth; they were therefore automatically British citizens with the legal right to permanently live and work in the UK. Due to this, they were not given any official documents to confirm these rights.
In 2012, Theresa May’s Home Office introduced the “Hostile Environment” policy including measures to limit access to work, housing, healthcare, bank accounts and more. It is characterised by a system of citizen-on-citizen immigration checks, where NHS, landlord, banks and employers enforced immigration controls and reported those who failed to meet check. The majority of these proposals became law via the Immigration Act 2014.
Under the policies individuals were required to prove their right to remain in the UK to live and work and that this predated 1973. Those who came to the country as part of the Windrush generation were promised this right on arrival between 1948 and 1973, however the Home Office demanded evidence for every year since 1973.
As it was near-impossible to find sufficient evidence, these individuals were labelled illegal immigrants, a large number were held in immigration detention and blocked from seeing their families, while others were forcibly deported to the countries they hadn’t seen, lived in, or known since they were young children. So far the Home Office has admitted to 164 wrongful deportation cases, 11 of these individuals have since died homeless in the countries they were deported to. The Home Office, however, made a profit of £800m during the time period of these cases.
The “Windrush Scandal” came to light 5 years later, as accounts surfaced in 2017.
What has the government response been to this?
Following the exposure of the scandal in 2017, the government set up a taskforce to review the cases of citizens who are appealing their “illegal immigrant” status. The taskforce has:
Found over 12,000 cases to have been wrongly classified; these individuals have since been granted citizenship.
Have over 3,700 outstanding cases; 1,111 of these are awaiting review, while the rest are still under consideration. Over 150 people have been waiting over 6 months.
Only 60 people have received compensation so far.
The Government pledged to review the Windrush Scandal in 2018, and on 19th March 2020 the report was finally released. The report found that the Windrush Scandal was not an accident; it was a direct result of the hostile environment policy.
With only 60 individuals receiving compensation, there is still a lot to be done to take action, reflect and learn from the Windrush Scandal. Here are a few ways you can mark Windrush Day:
Write to your MP and lobby the government to implement the 30 recommendations from the Windrush: Lessons Learnt Review and 35 recommendations of Lammy Review
Watch and Listen: There are wealth of podcasts, dramas and books to read to find out about the scandal but to also celebrate the contributions of the Windrush Generation. You can view our recommendations on our social media channels today.
Donate and Support: A number of charities and non-governmental organisations have been helping the plight of the Windrush generation. These include:
When the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury from the Caribbean on 22 June 1948, Britain, with its new reforming Labour government, was a country short of workers. Men and women were needed to rebuild an economy weakened by the war years, especially in those sectors ocrucial to the reconstruction programme. These included the production of raw materials such as iron, steel and coal, as well as food. There was also a huge backlog of essential maintenance and repair work and severe shortages in the construction sector. In the service sector, both men and women workers were needed to run public transport and to staff the new National Health Service (NHS). It was this prospect of employment that attracted many of the Windrush passengers to leave the Caribbean.
However, the initial reaction to Windrush was not welcoming. In the immediate post-war years, the government had recruited white Europeans, displaced during the war, to fill labour vacancies rather than looking to the Empire. And while some press headlines welcomed the Windrush passengers, the government was alarmed by the prospect of a visibly different population although reassured by the assumption that the several hundred men and some women who disembarked would be temporary visitors rather than ‘here to stay’.
Economic necessity negated this assumption. Exacerbating the labour shortages, the total working population had fallen by 1.38 million between mid 1945 and the end of 1946, as many married women and older people who had delayed retirement left the jobs they had filled in the war. People were also leaving the country. In the later 1940s and into the 1950s, many families emigrated to parts of what was then known as the ‘Old’ Commonwealth (including Australia, New Zealand and Canada), countries that were themselves short of labour and anxious to encourage white settlers from the United Kingdom in an effort to maintain their old colonial links and European notions of citizenship and identity. As these territories were recruiters rather than sources of white British workers, attention turned to citizens of ‘New’ Commonwealth countries, especially, in the early post-war years, residents in the Caribbean, as a potential source of new employees.
The migration of colonial citizens began slowly. From 1948 when the Empire Windrush arrived until 1952, between 1,000 and 2,000 people entered Britain each year, followed by a steady and rapid rise until 1957, when 42,000 migrants from the New Commonwealth, mainly from the Caribbean, entered. The numbers declined by almost a half in the two succeeding years but by 1960 had increased again to 58,000, and then in 1961 more than doubled, in anticipation of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act that would restrict opportunities for entry. By 1961, according to the national population census, the number of people living in England and Wales who were born in the Caribbean was just over 161,000: 90,000 men and just over 71,000 women.
So what did these early migrants from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and other Caribbean countries that were then part of the British Empire, do in the UK when they came to what they saw as ‘the Mother Country’?
The most common sectors in which people from the Caribbean found jobs included, for men, manufacturing and construction, as well as public transport. Many Caribbean women found employment in the NHS as nurses and nursing aides, as well as in public transport and in manufacturing, especially in the growing white goods industries in cities.
People, in the main young, left the Caribbean for a range of reasons, attracted by job vacancies in the UK but also seeking new opportunities for a different life. Some left to escape societal oppression, to evade familial restrictions or escape poverty; others found the decision to leave harder than they had imagined, as for many it involved leaving close family and friends behind. These men and women (some of whom had fought or worked for the UK during the war, and were initially leaving the Caribbean independently rather than being actively recruited) felt that they were ‘coming home’, to join an imperial family to which they assumed they belonged. Instead they came to a country that, despite changes and improving living conditions, was marked by structural inequalities and discriminatory attitudes and behaviour. Although they were British citizens, official papers discussing early Caribbean migration, labelled potential recruits as ‘coloured colonial labour’ and often stereotyped them as inferior to British workers. The 1953 Report of the Working Party on Coloured People Seeking Employment in the United Kingdom alleged, for example, that African Caribbean in-migrants found work difficult to obtain because of their ‘low output … high rate of turnover … irresponsibility, quarrelsomeness and lack of discipline’.
In fact, almost half of all the men who came from the Caribbean to the UK throughout the 1950s had previously worked in skilled positions or possessed excellent employment credentials. However, many found their access restricted to jobs the local population considered undesirable, including street cleaning and general labouring, or to jobs that demanded anti-social hours such as working night shifts. Over half the men from the Caribbean initially accepted jobs with a lower status than their skills and experience qualified them for.
It is clear, however, that these early post-war workers made a huge contribution to the British economy and economic growth, not only in the immediate post-war period but also across decades of continuous employment. As the demand for both skilled and unskilled labour continued to grow throughout the 1950s as the economy recovered, employers and managers in key sectors actively began to recruit in the Caribbean, rather than waiting for workers to arrive in the UK. London Transport, for example, recruited more than 3,500 Barbadians in the ten years from 1956, paying workers’ fares to the UK and then recovering them though a deduction from their wages: a common practice that tied economic migrants to particular employment and which continued throughout the succeeding years.
The British Hotels and Restaurants Association recruited in Barbados, and the NHS sent managers to various parts of the Caribbean to recruit already trained nurses and young women to come to Britain to train as nurses. Hospital matrons and British politicians also visited the Caribbean, and by 1955 16 British colonies had set up selection and recruitment agencies to ensure a good supply of candidates to train as nurses in Britain. It was evident that the NHS could not meet the health needs of the population without recruiting foreign-born women and men.
Capturing the nature of employment as the economy grew over the 1950s, Peter Fryer suggested that ‘willing black hands drove tube trains, collected bus fares, emptied hospital patients’ bed-pans’. But how willing were these newly recruited workers, and how were they treated? Their opportunities for promotion and access to better paid jobs with greater responsibilities and prospects were often limited by discriminatory attitudes.
Oral histories undertaken with women who came to the UK to nurse reveal evidence of their direction onto a less prestigious training pathway, as well as harassment, bullying and discrimination on the wards. However, these histories also reveal the intense pride women felt in their work as well as in their contributions to the NHS and to the health of the UK population in general.
Brie and Georgiana who left the Caribbean in the early 1950s to train as nurses in the UK told me that they experienced a range of discriminatory attitudes and behaviour, and were often restricted to undertaking some of the most menial tasks during training:
‘We were told to clean lockers and the beds, we were made to go and clean the wheelchairs and the commodes…we did a lot of menial jobs’.
Patients too were too often difficult:
‘When I first started coming in the country and was nursing, the older patient was not used to black people so they were very nasty. They will take their things and throw at you or call you black and whatever and things like that, but you look beyond that because you know what you want out of your life eventually’.
This stoicism and pride in their work helped these young women survive:
‘Black people, we were treated differently … but we didn’t worry because we know what we wanted to achieve and what we had to do and we did it, and we did it by making jokes with each other and laughing and doing our work properly’.
Men too often found that their skills were unrecognised, although in later years, some individuals who took manual jobs in construction or in factories did move into other types of work. Clinton Edwards, who had been in the RAF during the war, returned to England on the Empire Windrush. He found a job as a welder but instead of welding he was given a shovel and a wheel barrow and told to clean up.
Disliking this work, he re-enlisted and after another eight years in the RAF joined British Oxygen as a lab technician welding metals. As he told the interviewer: ‘my life in England has been good and I enjoy my work, and my work mates and they treat me nice’. And as Brie, Georgiana and Clinton explained, their life was in the UK, as that was where their children and grandchildren lived.
Over seven decades, men and women like Clinton, Brie and Georgiana and many hundreds of thousands of their compatriots have made not only a life here, but also a key contribution to British economic growth and to a substantial shift in British culture and social attitudes.
Written by Linda McDowell
Professor Linda McDowell is a human geographer at Oxford University where she works on identity and labour market change in the UK. She is a feminist scholar interested in gender divisions of labour. Her books include Redundant Masculinity?, Working Bodies, Working Lives and Migrant Women’s Voices. She is currently working on a project on precarious employment in seaside towns in England.
Alex Elden, a member of the Royal Airforce from 1944, and a passenger on the SS Empire Windrush on its famous voyage to England in 1948,
Alex was born in Jamaica on 9th July 1926 and baptised Emanuel Alexis as a Roman Catholic. His father was a civil engineer who was responsible for most of the buildings constructed in the country at that time, and he later learnt that his great-grandfather had been a pirate who retired in the Bahamas. Alex was educated at Calabar School and St. Simon College.
Young Alex was captivated by aircraft, and particularly inspired by watching movies with Errol Flynn flying and shooting down jets’. His enthusiasm led him to enlist in the RAF in Kingston on 29th September 1944. He travelled to Britain for training, arriving in Glasgow on the SS de Cuba, where he was warmly greeted and a reception was held in his honour. He then trained at Filey and Yatesbury, becoming a runway controller at RAF Cramwell.
The women stood up for the black men and fought with their stiletto heels
According to the valuable record available in the book The Windrush Legacy: Memories of Britain’s Post-War Caribbean Immigrants: “promotion in the RAF very much depended on the officer in charge, but also Alex did well in his exams and won promotion. The white officers behaved as if they were superior, but Alex always met these aggressions head-on. On some occasions the officers resorted to sarcasm and intimidatory antics, but he always confronted the issue which gained him much respect”.
“There was not much of a social life and the black servicemen tended to organise their own. Caribbean servicemen met up in London and enjoyed the limited night life available. Black men could dance and swing their hoops which the white women loved. This caused jealousy and fights. The women stood up for the black men and even fought with their stiletto heels. Without the support of these women, the black men would have suffered more harassment and humiliation.”
“Most of the outings in London while on leave ended at Clapham Common air raid shelter, where they stayed for protection from the bombs.”
When black cinema goers were told that they could only watch from the back, a big fracas broke out
When the war ended, Alex joined a specialist team looking for deserters. In 1948 he supervised the return of servicemen to the Caribbean on board the Lady Rodney. Not being able to find work in Jamaica, he then came back to Britain on the SS Windrush.
When the ship stopped in Bermuda, some of the passengers, including ex-servicemen, wanted to watch a movie at the cinema. They were informed that they could only do so from the rear of the complex. An argument ensued, and Alex remembers that a big fracas broke out. They were eventually allowed front seats.
The efforts of the Windrushers, supported by the Windrush Foundation, have ensured that its voyage has become the symbol of the West Indian migration to Britain to assist with rebuilding the country after the war.
The Windrush is also symbolic of the defeat of Nazism, to which so many men and women from the empire contributed. The ship had originally been built by a businessman to provide Baltic holidays for members of the Hitler Youth. It had been captured during the war by the British and used as a troop ship, then afterwards as a passenger ship.
Alex Elden married Joan, his first wife, in 1949. He was officially discharged from the RAF in January 1950. He and Joan lived in Carshalton and had three children: Bonnie, Denise and Glen. Having trained in scientific glass blowing and glass technology, he worked for J. Arthur Rank at Crystal Palace until 1952, making TV tubes and other laboratory equipment. Then, in 1956, he became the second black person ever to gain the famous ‘knowledge’ and work as a London cabbie.
He played cricket for Carshalton, the West Indian Student Union and the Caribbean Cricket Club. As a supporter of the League of Coloured Peoples, his children took part in its celebrations. From 1970 he helped the Melting Pot Foundation, for example by teaching driving skills to young underprivileged adults.
For the last twenty-two years of his life, Alex became a Croydonian
Having met her in the 1960s, he married his second wife Jayne in 1976. They had two sons, Gary and Don. In 1980 he set up the Green Badge Taxi School at the Windrush Foundation and received grants from Lambeth Council and then the government to train unemployed young people. The school also gave training in literacy and numeracy skills, in acquiring the ‘knowledge’, and in helping the community. Hundreds successfully qualified. As a member of the West Indian Association of Service Personnel (as it is now called), he was its vice-chair in 1995.
Alex’s Croydon connection began the same year when he and Jayne moved to Norbury, and he spent the last twenty-two years of his life in the borough. They were rich and rewarding years: by 1998 he had six grandchildren, and in 2016 saw his son Gary awarded the OBE for achievement and service to diversity in business.
Written by Sean Creighton
A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly, and Love Norbury Residents Associations Planning & Transport Committee. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, and of British black , social action and labour movement history. He co-ordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks.
Windrush Day is, Monday June 22.
The day honours the British Caribbean community, and the half a million people who travelled to the UK after the Second World War. The first Windrush Day was held on June 22 2018.
More people than ever before are taking part this year to support the Windrush Generation, and show sympathy with the hardships they have endured.