1948: After the Windrush

Despite having paid £100 for a one-way ticket on the Empire Windrush - and the other vessels that were to follow in its metaphorical wake - the 492 people arriving at Tilbury, England were to find their journey had yet to be concluded.

They had come to England at the invitation of a British Government eager to replenish its national workforce - more than 380,000 United Kingdom's population had been killed during the Second World War. In 1948, in order for mass immigration from the British Empire to occur, British citizenship was hurriedly provided to all in the British Empire through the parliamentary British Nationality Act.

The Empire Windrush, a troopship, had itself docked in Jamaica merely as a stopping point on its voyage from Australia to England, collecting troops then on leave. Simultaneously, a Jamaican newspaper ran an advert offering low-cost berth for up to 300 people who desired employment in Britain. The ship departed Jamaica on May 24th.  Not only were all 300 berths filled, but a further 192 men travelled on the deck of the ship.

Many of those travelling had been servicemen fighting for the Allied forces during the War.  Ex-servicemen in particular were drawn to rejoining the RAF in which they had served during the conflict.

Just under a month later, on June 21st, the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. Ivor Cummings, a black officer was sent by the British Civil Service to greet the voyagers. It become immediately apparent that while the Government had actively solicited the immigrants, no accommodation had been prepared for them. 

The Government's Colonial Office resorted to removing 230 of the Windrush immigrants to a bomb shelter - Clapham Deep.  The shelter, built during the war, was one of eight extremely deep underground shelters across the capital.  This subterranean network of tunnels was to be their first home in the "mother country", and many remained housed there for a month, eating in giant canvas marquees on neighboring Clapham Common.

A Labour Exchange was set-up within Clapham Deep shelter itself.  Beyond that, the new arrivals were directed to the nearest external Labour Exchange, in nearby Brixton.  Over time, this area was to become the heart of a thriving Caribbean community within London.

By 1955, more than 18,000 people had made the same journey from Jamaica to Britain, and it was not until 1962 that the rate of Caribbean migration began to slow. All had been actively encouraged by the British Government to leave their homes and begin new lives working in Britain. Yet, while many did find employment, and in particular in public services such as the Post Office, the railways, and hospitals, they also encountered a public which could be deeply hostile not only to the service which they provided, but even to their very presence. 

The Empire Windrush berthed at Tilbury Docks with more than 400 people on board. Most had come to England in search of jobs after being unemployed on returning to Jamaica after the Second World War.

Men and women are were welcomed by officials from the Colonial office. Here, they listen to an RAF recruiting officer.

23rd June 1948 - Leslie Wight tells a Ministry of Labour official his qualifications in the Labour Exchange at Clapham Deep.

22 June 1948 - Men and women arriving from Jamaica were fed in huge marquees on Clapham Common, such as this one.

22 June 1948 - Jamaican men in "Clapham Deep".

Around 1,000 West Indian people arrive on the Ascania when the liner docked at Southampton, April 4th 1961.

Men and women gather in the bows of their tender prior to stepping ashore at Southampton to undergo routine checks by Passport and Customs officials, 1954. A one-way ticket cost £100, and the original press caption for this image ran: "Their assets are a few pounds in their pockets and a touching faith in Great Britain." 

All images: Topfoto