Several campaigns from the British government in Caribbean countries and the British Nationality Act 1948, which gave citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies status and the right of settlement in the UK to all British subjects by virtue of having been born in a British colony, led to a wave of immigration. Between 1948 and 1970, when Britain suffered severe labour shortages in the wake of the Second World War, nearly half a million people moved from the Caribbean to Britain.
The immigrants from this period were later referred to as “the Windrush generation”, a group that included working age adults and many children who travelled from the Caribbean to join parents or grandparents in the UK.
The Windrush Generation
The main reason the British government began to encourage mass immigration from the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth was to fill shortages in the labour market.
The name Windrush has its origin in the ship HMT Empire Windrush, which arrived to the port of Tilbury, near London, on 22 June 1948 bringing a group of 802 migrants. The ship was originally a troopship en route from Australia to England, but while docking in Kingston, Jamaica in order to pick up servicemen who were on leave, an advertisement appeared in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the ship for anybody who wanted to come and work in the United Kingdom.
Many decided to take the opportunity.
The recently arrived migrants were temporarily housed in the Clapham South deep shelter in southwest London. Deep shelters were deep-level air-raid shelters that were built under London Underground stations started in 1940 during the Blitz and World War II.
Many of those aboard the Windrush only intended to stay in Britain for a few years, but even though a number of them returned to the Caribbean, the majority decided to settle permanently, contributing to the modern British multicultural society.
The "Windrush Scandal"
The large majority of the workers that had boarded the Windrush had a legal right to migrate to the UK, and they neither needed nor were given any documents upon entry to the UK (then or in 1970, when there were changes in immigration laws).
Many people worked or attended schools in the UK without any extra official documentary record of their having done so. Additionally, anyone who had arrived in the UK from a Commonwealth country before 1973 was granted an automatic right permanently to remain. Many people in this category were never given, or asked to provide, documentary evidence of their right to remain at the time or over the next forty years.
In 2018, many were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation, and, in at least 83 cases wrongly deported from the UK by the Home Office. This process got to be known as the “Windrush scandal“, and many people lost their jobs or homes and were denied services due to it. In March 2020, an independent report determined that Theresa May’s “hostile environment policy” had tightened immigration regulations with complete disregard for the Windrush generation. The study also recommended a full review of the immigration policy.
Tracking your Windrush Ancestors
Although as we’ve mentioned the majority of migrants from the Windrush generation were not given any documents upon entry to the country, there are several resources that can be of help when looking for Windrush ancestors.
The National Archives, Kew have preserved an excellent set in the British Transport collections. These are mainly the UK inbound passenger lists, which cover up to 1960 and include the Windrush passenger list, and the recording of the arrivals at Tilbury in June 1948.
Another resource available online are the UK outbound passenger lists, held too at Natonal Archives, Kew. They cover many decades of history.
These lists contain both inbound and outbound passenger lists that have been digitised.
They can be accessed through the sites below:
Talks and Conferences
Paul Crooks pioneered research into African Caribbean genealogy during the 1990s. He traced his family history from London, back 6 generations, to ancestors captured of the West African coast and enslaved on a sugar plantation in Jamaica, and gained national recognition for his work when his acclaimed historical novel Ancestors was published in 2002. He appeared on Who Do You Think You Are? (Moira Stuart) as the expert in African Caribbean genealogy. His second book A Tree Without Roots is the seminal guide to tracing African, British and Asian Caribbean ancestry.
Paul frequently gives talks and conferences about Black and British history, many of them about the Windrush Generation.