Windrush Settlers in Britain

Posted on October 2, 2013 · Posted in Breaking News, Community News, UK-BAME - Blog


Windrush Settlers – Arrive in Britain on 21st June 1948

Windrush ship - front 

The Windrush ship landed at Tilbury docks on 21st June 1948.  The ship was a former troopship, called MV Empire Windrush. Britain was in need of a strong labour force at the end of the Second World War to help with rebuilding the countries essential industries and services.

The government needed to import cheap, strong, skilled, reliable and accessible workers from the Caribbean; to cope with the shortage of labour in some British industries, due to the fact that after World War 2 England’s workforce was depleted.

In 1948, an advertisement appeared in a Jamaican newspaper. It stated that there were 300 places on board Windrush for anyone wishing to travel to Britain; with an opportunity to help rebuild Britain and its major industries. The advert appealed to the hearts of many Jamaicans who had the skills, experience, knowledge, disciplines and ability to work together towards a shared objective.

The opportunity also had a high price tag for a place on the ship each Jamaican would have to pay: £28 and 10 shillings which was the equivalent of about £1000.00.  This was an opportunity for Jamaicans: such as army men and women, middle class businessmen and musicians, as well as other entrepreneurs to act upon.

The ship departed from the Jamaican shore – Kingston on 24th May 1948; it had 300 passengers below deck and an extra 192 above deck. Many men and women who made the voyage had served with the Allied Forces in the war. Some wished to re-join the armed services. Others hoped for better business and career prospects in Britain, since there was high unemployment at home. The trip took a month to reach England, eventually docking at Tilbury in Essex on June 21st 1948 at about midnight.

Jamaican_immigrantsThe Civil Service strategically sent a black officer called Ivor Cummings, to meet the new arrivals. It was a big problem finding them somewhere to live. As a short-term measure, the Colonial Office was forced to house about 230 Windrush settlers in a deep air raid shelter in Clapham Common; the nearest labour exchange to the shelter was Brixton. Whilst the other 260 plus voyagers: businessmen, diplomats and VIP’s families were given more suitable secret location to live.

Most of those who bought tickets as explained above, were ex-service personnel, who had fought on the British side during the war. They were promised jobs would be waiting for them, and some looked forward to joining (or re-joining) the RAF. Others were just curious to see what they thought of as the “mother country” at first hand.

The atmosphere turned out to be far from welcoming when they first arrived, 202 of the passengers found work straight away. The newly-founded National Health Service was a major source of employment for some – others worked in factories and mills – but the largest employer was London Transport.

While the Windrush was on its way to Britain, there was some debate in Parliament as to whether its passengers had any right to come here. Some argued that they ought to be turned away on arrival. It was pointed out in their defence that they had British passports, had served King and Country in wartime and would only be likely to stay for a year anyway. During interviews at the anniversary in 1948, some former passengers said they too had only intended to stay a short while, because they feared the climate and working conditions might not agree with them.

Windrush Men 1Windrush settlers who were now living in the Clapham Common area started to set up homes, making it one of Britain’s first Caribbean communities. There was plenty of work available in Britain, mostly labouring jobs in the big cities. Black Caribbean’s were generally shut out of higher-paid jobs, especially those that were heavily unionised. However, the public sector offered them reasonably well-paid work, for example in hospitals, the General Post Office, London Transport and the railways. – 

Blog read:

“…This week was also the 65th anniversary of ‘Windrush’ the name of a boat that transported hundreds of West Indians to help recover post war Britain and provide much needed extra workforce for LU.

The Victoria line was largely built on the efforts of Caribbean, Irish and English men working side by side for London.  Now over 50 years later the line is trail blazing with one of the fastest service frequencies in the world and is supported by an even more diverse workforce…”


Windrush MenThe arrival of the Windrush was the start of a period of migration from the Caribbean to Britain that did not slow down until 1962. By 1955, 18,000 Jamaicans had moved to Britain. This outward flow of people to settle in Britain was an important event in the history of the Caribbean. It also changed the social landscape of Britain which also introduced the British Nationality Act 1948.

“The British Nationality Act 1948 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that created the status of “Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies” (CUKC) as the national citizenship of the United Kingdom and its colonies.

The Act, which came into effect on 1 January 1949, was passed in consequence of the 1947 Commonwealth conference on nationality and citizenship, which had agreed that each of the Commonwealth member states would legislate for its own citizenship, distinct from the shared status of “Commonwealth citizen” (formerly known as “British subjects”). Similar legislation was also passed in most of the other Commonwealth countries.

The Act formed the basis of the United Kingdom’s nationality law until the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force in 1983. However, the concept of a common Commonwealth citizenship had already been progressively eroded from 1962 onwards by British legislation targeted against non-White Commonwealth immigrants.”Windrush_square-1-300x210

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