Bags of hope;The Big Picture;Exhibition

29th May 1998 at 01:00
The face of modern Britain changed on June 22, 1948. The arrival at Tilbury Docks of the 'Empire Windrush', a British troop ship carrying 492 British subjects from Jamaica, heralded the beginning of a major wave of immigration from the West Indies that would bring 125,000 Caribbeans to Britain over the next decade and, by the end of the Sixties, a total of nearly half a million.

They came for a variety of reasons. Some were returning to England, having been among the 10,000 West Indians who had volunteered to serve in the British armed forces during the war. Others came because the knock-down fare of pound;28 offered an unprecedented opportunity to seek a better future. Still others in the Fifties and Sixties came because they were actively recruited to re-populate a workforce depleted by the war. Among those who went to the Caribbean to drum up recruits was a Minister of Health called Enoch Powell, who a few years later was to call for repatriation.

But many came because, after centuries of colonialism, they felt themselves to be British. They were to find all too soon that some white British people felt differently. But for the moment, the new, smartly dressed immigrants -shown here at London's Victoria Station - were full of hope, optimism and excitement.

"When I first arrived, I felt I was in a world where anything could happen," recalls the poet James Berry, who came over three months after the 'Empire Windrush'. "I'd never seen a place like London that so seduced me, even though it was torn and shattered by war. And I felt totally safe with British people, who were so polite, so civilised. Later, they were the people who wouldn't let you into the dance halls. It wasn't an easy time, but you had to be tough and know how to survive."



Exhibition at Pitshanger Manor amp; Gallery

Mattock Lane Ealing, London W5 5EQ

June 3-July 4

Tel: 0181 567 1227

Turn to page 34 for Ted Wragg's Teaching Tips on the Big Picture

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