The arrival of the Windrush generation in 1948 marked the dawn of modern multicultural Britain.
Who are the Windrush generation?
Following the Second World War, many people from the Caribbean sought employment and better prospects in England.
The West Indies were under British rule then, and Great Britain was considered ‘the mother country’.
Guaranteed UK citizenship by the 1948 Nationality Act, Caribbean men and women arrived on the 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 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 7 places that help tell the Windrush generation’s story.
1. Tilbury Docks, Essex
On the River Thames in Essex, Tilbury Docks are the primary 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.
684 men, 257 women and 86 children under 12 were on board, with a wide range of occupations from boxers to mechanics to musicians.
London was the most popular destination, but a few 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, particularly Jamaica, settled in the South London suburb.
By the late 1960s, the area had become one of England’s largest and most important sites of Caribbean settlement.
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, Nottingham
During the 1950s, Raleigh was one of several 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.
As part of its oral history series, Nottingham Black Archive 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 where 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 resonates 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, also home to a struggling white working class.
The 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. 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 city’s centre, St. Pauls and Easton.
These areas had been badly damaged during the Second World War, so housing prices were lower, and landlords were more likely to rent to Afro-Caribbean people.
The West Indian Parents and Friends Association was formed in the 1960s, took on housing discrimination and 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 employment.
The St Pauls Festival, now known as St Pauls Carnival, was also a product of the Windrush generation and attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.