The arrival of the Windrush generation in 1948 marked the dawn of modern multicultural Britain.
Here we take a look at their story through seven important locations in England.
Who are the Windrush generation?
Following the Second World War, many people from the Caribbean sought employment and better prospects in England.
At the time, the West Indies were under British rule and Great Britain was considered ‘the mother country’.
Guaranteed UK citizenship by the 1948 Nationality Act, Caribbean men and women arrived on the ship Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948.
Their arrival marked the beginning of a mass migration. It’s estimated that around 500,000 people born in Commonwealth countries arrived in Britain before 1971.
The people that arrived during this post-war period are known as the ‘Windrush generation’.
However, although people from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia were encouraged to come to England during this period, on arrival they often faced racism and discrimination, which was not illegal in Britain until 1965.
In 2018, it emerged that the Home Office had not kept records confirming the Windrush generation’s legal rights to stay in the UK – making it difficult for people to continue working, get treatment from the NHS or even to remain in, or return to, the country.
But the people who migrated and settled in England during this period have made our streets vibrant and fascinating places of varied cultural experiences.
Here are seven places that help to tell the story of the Windrush generation.
1. Tilbury Docks, Essex
On the River Thames in Essex, Tilbury Docks are the principal port for London. With the arrival of the Empire Windrush, the docks saw the beginning of a new chapter in London’s history.
There are varying statistics about the number of passengers, but according to the National Archives, on board were 1,027 people including 802 from the Caribbean, who were invited to Britain to help rebuild ‘the mother country’ after the destruction of the Second World War.
There were 684 men on board, 257 women and 86 children under 12 years old, with a wide range of occupations from boxers to mechanics to musicians.
London was the most popular destination but a small number of passengers headed to other cities and towns like Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol. However, the new arrivals faced prejudice and abuse, despite having equal rights to British citizenship.
2. Brixton Markets, London
In the 1950s, Brixton became a hub for the Afro-Caribbean community as immigrants from the West Indies, in particular Jamaica, settled in the South London suburb.
By the late 1960s, the area had become one of the largest and most important sites of Caribbean settlement in England.
Brixton’s markets soon formed the commercial and social heart of the new community, with grocers and butchers selling rice, dried codfish, ackee and exotic fruits like mangoes, pineapple and avocados.
When Edna Marleng, the wife of Jamaica’s Chief Minister, visited in 1956, she described it as ‘like a little bit of home’.
3. Raleigh Factory, Nottinghamshire
During the 1950s, Raleigh was one of a number of employers in Nottingham that operated racially discriminating employment practices but was successfully challenged in 1959 by campaigner Oswald George Powe, a leading figure in Nottingham’s African-Caribbean community.
He wrote to Norman Manley, the first Premier of the newly independent Jamaica, who ordered a boycott of Raleigh imports. In response, Raleigh changed its policy – leading the company to become one of the major employers of Black people in Nottingham. The building retains a Caribbean connection today and houses the Marcus Garvey Centre and Marcus Garvey Ballroom.
Nottingham Black Archive, as part of its oral history series, has recorded interviews with former factory workers, many from the Windrush generation.
4. Brixton Recreation Centre, London
A social centre for the local community, Brixton Recreation Centre was said to be among the most sophisticated in the country when it opened in 1985.
When Nelson Mandela visited Brixton in 1996 on his first state visit to Britain, the recreation centre (known locally as the Rec) was the venue at which he met his thousands of supporters.
Mandela chose Brixton for its place at the heart of Black British culture. His visit recognised the injustices suffered by the local community and symbolised his allegiance with the struggle for racial equality in Britain.
The memory of Mandela’s visit continues to resonate today and is marked with a plaque in the leisure centre lobby.
5. Notting Hill, London
Many people who arrived on the Empire Windrush found a home in Notting Hill and North Kensington, which was also home to a struggling white working class. Tension culminated in the 1958 race riots and the murder of Kelso Cochrane in 1959.
Notting Hill Carnival, and other informal events, started as an expression of Caribbean culture and to help bridge the cultural gap between the communities.
Many consider The Notting Hill Fayre and Pageant, founded by community activists Rhaune Laslett and Andre Shervington in 1966, as the start of the festival as it is today.
It soon became an international event, taking place annually on the August bank holiday, with over two million people attending.
6. Ford Motor Company Stamping Plant, London
After arriving in the 1950s, people from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia were often forced to live in the poorest areas or where work was plentiful such as London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.
Some employers such as the NHS and London transport recruited people from the Caribbean, whilst others were employed on British Rail, or by the big car manufacturers such as Fords in Dagenham and British Leyland in Longbridge, Birmingham.
7. St. Pauls, Bristol
When settling in Bristol, many people found poor housing in the centre of the city, in St. Pauls and Easton.
These areas had been badly damaged during the Second World War so housing prices were cheaper and landlords were more likely to rent to Afro-Caribbean people.
The West Indian Parents and Friends Association was formed in the 1960s, and took on housing discrimination, racial segregation and initiated the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963.
The Bristol Bus Boycott arose from the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company to employ non-white people in the city’s bus crews.
The boycott was a watershed moment and a step towards the UK’s first ever laws against race-based discrimination. The Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968 banned discrimination in public places and in employment. (Bristol Bus Station was commemorated in our 100 Places project, where you can learn more about the boycott.)
The St Pauls Festival, now known as St Pauls Carnival, was also a product of the Windrush generation and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
To learn more about the Windrush generation, visit the Black Cultural Archives, the Museum of London, Bristol Museums and the Windrush Foundation.
Very cool, I need to go to Brixton next time in London.
Today you are publishing a book I co-wrote, ‘The English Folly’. Would you like me to write a blog post about it?
Claudia Jones, I would argue, was the founder of what became the Notting Hill Carnival. Her newspaper had an office in Brixton.
Hi Marika. It would be interesting to hear your argument that Claudia was the “Founder” of NHC. If the NHC is a refashioning and reinterpretation of the Trinidad Carnival, then the impetus for its appearance on the physical & artistic landscape of London must be the tradition of migrant communities wanting to retain aspects of their cultural traditions. Trinidadians all over London recreated these traditions in their homes, partied on the weekend before Ash Wednesday and jump up at their local pubs like the Colherne. Carnival was not founded but continued in the Mother Land.
Claudia’s indoor celebrations, one of many community events celebrating Carnival, did have some key essences of the street festival – Calypso, Costume & Carnival Queen competition.
When this stopped, there was no continuity to what developed in West Kensington.
What developed in Notting Hill grew out of the community activism of Rhaune Laslett that gradually integrated the influences of other activists like Merle Amory, Leslie Palmer, Andre Shervington, Russel Henderson, Peter Minshall, Vernon Williams, Junior Telfer et al.
This is not to denigrate the importance of Claudia’s activism but we must be truthful to our history.
Excellent historical and most informative article!
I grew up in North Kensington in the 1950’s and my childhood memory was the steel band that walked the streets on Christmas morning. Magical!
Fascinating but missing any sites from the North of England. I would nominate Chapeltown in Leeds, and particularly Potternewton Park, which is the spiritual and physical home of Leeds West Indian Carnival, which arguably has a longer history than Notting Hill Carnival.