A large ship called Empire Windrush brought 1,200 immigrants to Britain from Jamaica. The ship arrived in London in 1948. But Empire Windrush wasn’t the only immigrant ship to arrive in Britain – there were many more ships that arrived in Britain over the coming years from various countries. The people that came to Britain on these ships are usually called the “Windrush generation”.

The “Windrush generation”

Context

In the aftermath of World War 2, Britain needed help to get itself back onto it’s feet. Clement Atlee, the Labour leader who had been elected Prime Minister in a post-war election, wanted to create a “welfare state” in Britain. A large part of this was creating a system that delivered free healthcare for everyone, regardless of how much you earned. The name of this system? The National Health Service, or the NHS.

Because there were many jobs that weren’t being filled, the government decided to encourage mass immigration. In 1948, the British Nationality Act was passed, which gave British citizenship (and the right to live and work in the UK) to anyone born in the British Empire. Many people from across the Empire came to Britain for work, which they found in the NHS, British Rail (a state-owned railway company) and manufacturing.

Settling in Britain

For those that decided to come to Britain on these ships, settling in Britain was the hardest part. Many people part of the Windrush generation said they received insults and abuse from neighbours. One common sight was

Floella Benjamin came to Britain from Trinidad in 1960 with her parents. She remembered what happened to her mother when she was looking at a house to buy:

I remember at least a dozen police officers stood poised by the ‘For Sale’ sign at the gate of the house my mother, accompanied by her six children were viewing. The neighbours had rung 999 saying black people were stealing the fixtures and fittings from the empty house in white middle class Beckenham.

Thankfully the first policeman on the scene was sympathetic, he was married to a black woman and explained this kind of thing happened all the time. He waved his eager colleagues away, saying it was a false alarm.

My wonderful, determined and charismatic mother defiantly folded her arms across her ample bosom, stared at the group of neighbours who stood watching and said loudly, ‘We are going to buy this house’. She and my dad lived there for 40 years.

Floella Benjamin on her mother’s experience of buying a house in the UK

It was very common in Britain to not be given a job in some companies because of their race. Some pubs, dance halls, nightclubs and churches wouldn’t let black people enter because of their skin colour.

HMT Empire Windrush docking in London | Brixton Blog