The African-Caribbean Community
An Historical Perspective

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p11 - The migration of African-Caribbean people to Britain in the 1940's, 50's and 60's was not something new, but part of a history of migration which had begun hundreds of years earlier.


In fact people of African origin and descent had been present in Britain from as early as Roman times. The Roman army was made up of citizens from all over its massive empire, many of them being Berbers or Moors from North Africa.
There are many references, though few have any great detail, to black people in Britain from the mid-fifteenth century onwards.

In 1555 five Africans came to Britain to learn English in order to ease the process of trade as interpreters. There were black musicians playing at the courts of King James IV of Scotland, and of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Queen Elizabeth I had an African entertainer and black page in her court, and James I had a group of black minstrels and his wife had black servants.

African slaves were increasingly seen in Britain from as early as the 1570's. Their use fell into three main categories: The majority were as household servants while others performed the role of prostitutes or sexual conveniences for well to do Englishmen and Dutchmen or as court entertainers”.

There were so many black people in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, that in 1596 she demanded that they be expelled from the country. There was a fear that they might be taking jobs away from English citizens and also a concern that they were 'infidels'.

Another edict from the Queen, it brought no action. However it was then followed up by a Royal Proclamation, issued in 1601, and a Lubeck merchant, Caspar van Senden, was licensed to remove all 'negroes and blackamoores'.

Britain's involvement in the colonisation of the Caribbean and America from the early 1600's, led to the subsequent enslavement of millions of Africans to work on the tobacco, cotton and sugar plantations. The enormous profits made by British slave merchants were spent on buying land and building great houses. Much of the money was also invested in industry and business, fuelling the Industrial Revolution.

The rise in numbers of the black population in Britain can be directly attributed to the development of the British colonies in the 'West Indies'. It became fashionable to have black servants; a status symbol or even a fashion accessory! Many portraits of wealthy individuals painted during this period show black servants posed alongside their masters like pets. Soon, those less affluent were also able to own black slaves.

Woman with Black slave child   Black Musician

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p13 - In Gloucestershire, parish records of baptisms and deaths, gaol registers, newspaper articles and other records deposited at the County Records Office, provide evidence that Black and African-Caribbean people have been present in the county from the early seventeenth century.

The very first known record in Gloucestershire relates to John Davies 'ye black' who was buried in the parish of Bisley on 22 November 1603. Many were registered as 'servants' and 'slaves', although there is very little else known about them. Others are merely recorded as persons 'of colour' or 'negro'. Their owners may have owned estates in the Caribbean and brought them over to Britain, or purchased them at auction at a slave port such as nearby in Bristol. Some were most obviously free, even before the abolition of slavery in 1834.

James Turtle at the County Records Office has compiled a list of references over a number of years (see appendix 1). At Driffield on 5 June 1687 Jacob the servant of George Hanger Esq. 'a moore' was baptised and at Newnham-on-Severn in the Easter 1715 John Prince 'a black boy lately bought into England' was apprenticed to John Trigge an Attorney at Law.

However until the mid 18th century there remains only occasional mentions of 'blacks'. This may be because of the rural nature of the county. However it remains very difficult to trace 'blacks' from the records unless specific mention is made of their 'color'. It is likely there remains much evidence to be discovered.

Owners had the frequent habit of giving their slaves Anglo-Saxon names - notably in Newnham when 'John Prince a black boy lately bought into England was baptised'.

Others simply had the name of the village in which they lived. William Frocester an 11-year old from Barbados was baptised in Frocester in 1790. Elsewhere names such as Mingo (Cheltenham 1817) and Dido (Tidenham 1805) were probably thought by their owners to be the sort of names they may have had 'back home'.

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p15 - A more detailed reference gives light on the way the slaves were treated and referred to. A record from Gloucester dated 24 August 1731 states: “Charles Powell, a lusty, black fellow, said to be born in Monmouth. Ran away the 16th inst. from the service of Mr Viney of the City of Gloucester, with a blue Livery lined with yellow… and a dark brown wig: These are therefore to caution all Gentlemen and others from hiring him…”

Advertisements which were very common in newspapers throughout the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are evidence of the fact that black people were commonly being bought and sold as property.

It is estimated that there may have been as many as 20,000 'Negro servants' in London in 1764. However, not all were slaves. There were many free black people. Some had gained their freedom on the death of their owner, while others had been able to purchase their own freedom or have someone purchase it for them. Others had simply ran away.

A Somerset court case in 1772 caused the names of the lawyer, Granville Sharp and the Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield to be remembered as key figures in the abolitionist movement. The case practically ended slavery in Britain when the court decided against a master who attempted to kidnap his runaway slave, Jonathan Strong, and forcibly return him to the Caribbean. However, the reality was that this practice continued long after the ruling.

p16 - However, the reality was that slavery continued long after the ruling. Moreover, among the free blacks in England there were also hundreds of black American slaves who had earned their freedom, and a promise of compensation, by fighting for the British during the American War of Independence.

At the end of the war, these Loyalists had to leave the States and many headed for Britain. Consequently, there was also a growing problem of poverty and destitution amongst the black population, which led to the formation of the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor (later the Committee for the Black Poor) which distributed food, money and opened a hospital. Another solution it found to relieve the problem, was to send three shiploads to Sierra Leone in Africa in 1787 to set up a colony and be self-supportive.

In Gloucestershire at this time however, the use of slaves and servants was clearly still common and spread right across the county. Baptism and burial records throughout the later half of the 18th century referring in terms such as 'black slave' and 'a black negroe' have been found from Sherborne, Twyning, Stroud, Nympsfield, Tidenham and Littledean.

At Frocester on 4 November 1790 William Frocester, 'supposed to be about 11 or 12 years old, born on the island of Barbados and now a servant of Edward Bigland Esq. Residing in Jamaica,' was baptised.

A gravestone inscription at Newent dated 7 October 1829 remembers Thomas Bloomsbury 'a native of Africa and for…55 years a faithful servant to the late Samuel Richardson Esq.

And at the turn of the century records show that new slaves - in some cases of a very young age - were still coming in from Africa. In Stroud on 7 May 1801 William Ellis, son of Qualquay Assedew, a Negro of Guinea, aged 12 years, was baptised.

p17 - However some were also acquiring skills and going into professions. A testimonial from Richard Raikes dated 5 July 1815 is supporting the application of John Hart, Writing Master, to the post of master at Bisley Blue Coat School. However he still states: 'Unfortunately he is a Mulatto, a native of the West Indies …'

And soon mixed race relations were also known. Tetbury 10 March 1827 Mary Ann Elding, about 40 years old, was buried. 'a travelling woman, the wife of a man of colour'.

Others however clearly fund the times hard. At Littledean on 24 March 1849 John Collins, a sailor, native of Antigua, aged 19 was sentenced to two months hard labour for larceny. The goal register states he 'Left his home 10 years ago. Since then has been at sea in a merchant ship.'

Also at Littledean on 6 September 1867 'Henry Dyson, 20, Antigua; David Hunt, 25, W. Indies; Emmanuel Davidson, 22, W. Indies; all Men of Colour together with James Kear, 24, W. Indies, Mulatto; Mariners; jointly charged with stealing a wooden bottle and a quantity of bread & cheese & cider. They were remanded overnight.

Unlike major cities and ports in Britain, the black population in places like Gloucestershire, if it was small in numbers, may have simply disappeared soon after the end of slavery. The reduction in the numbers arriving, the death of those living here, and the interracial marriages that most probably took place, meant that within a few generations, 'blacks' would have been rarely seen in the county.

In 1834, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. However, immediate freedom was granted only to slaves under the age of six. Older slaves had to serve an apprenticeship of between four and six years. This scheme became unmanageable and eventually all British slaves were freed at midnight on 31 July, 1838.

p19 - Many former slaves migrated to Britain from the various Caribbean islands, and this pattern continued until the 1930's when the Depression brought a pause to this movement.

There are well-documented details of the lives, achievements and contributions made to British society by an array of people of African descent born, brought to or living and staying in Britain from the early nineteenth century. They cover almost every field of endeavour, from politics and medicine to sport and entertainment.

People such as William Cuffay, a leading member of the Chartists; Mary Seacole, the Jamaican nurse who made her way out to the Crimea; the renowned Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge; the talented composer Samuel Coleridge- Taylor and Britain's first Black Mayor, John Archer are but a few whose stories show the extent to which the Black population had become a permanent feature of British life. They were large in numbers, organised and fully involved in all aspects. Many were also the product of mixed heritage relationships.

Olaudoh EquianoEx-slaves, who wrote and spoke of their lives as slaves, such as Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, were key figures in the British movement for the abolition of the slave trade.

Unlike in the major cities and ports, the Black population in rural areas such as Gloucestershire wassmall in numbers and so may have simply disappeared soon after the end of slavery. The reduction in the numbers arriving, the death of those living here, and the interracial marriages that most probably took place, meant that within a few generations, 'blacks' would have been rarely seen in the county.


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p20 - Despite these success stories, by the beginning of the twentieth century, life was very hard for the majority of Black British people. The largest group at this time, in terms of occupation, was seamen. Many settled in ports such as Cardiff, Liverpool and London, but most were laid off, found it virtually impossible to find work and became destitute.

The government repatriated some, but many West Indians were not welcomed back to the islands from whence they came.

Along with other colonial subjects, especially those from India, the numbers and the plight of these seamen and servants brought to England and abandoned, or forced to leave through ill-treatment, became the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

The First World War

The outbreak of the First World War, in 1914, provided a solution to this problem for many Blacks already resident in Britain. Labour was needed for the war effort in factories, and seamen were required for the merchant service, to replace men who joined the navy. They were among the thousands who died facing the German U-boat attacks, bringing supplies to Britain.

Moreover, men were needed to fight in the army for “King and Country”. Thousands played their part. In the Caribbean and Africa, as elsewhere in the empire, there were public meetings to encourage people to get involved in the war effort.

Above: Men of the Bristich West Indian Regiment resting in camp (1916)
Below: Recruiting in Kingston, Jamaica (1919)

Despite discrimination confining some recruits to the more menial tasks required of soldiers, troops from the Caribbean and Africa fought in many of the arenas of war, under the command of white officers in regiments such as the British West Indies Regiment, the Gold Coast Regiment and the King's African Rifles. Thousands died and many were honoured as heroes.

Following demobilization, many black soldiers stayed on in Britain thereby increasing the country's Black population.

p21 - However, as soon as the war ended, the need for Black labour decreased as quickly as it had grown when the war started. Black sailors were sacked in favour of white sailors, as were Black factory workers. There was resentment from returning soldiers who were unemployed and saw Black workers in jobs they felt they should have.
In addition, many Black people who had married white people faced prejudice and discrimination. In 1919, riots broke out across the land - in Cardiff, Newport, Liverpool, and Canning Town in London. Four people died following attacks on individuals and homes were destroyed.

Attacks were also made on Black people in the newspapers of the time. There were unsuccessful attempts to repatriate the ex-soldiers and sailors, but also concerns about the possible consequences of the return of these disillusioned subjects on the colonies. There followed a distinct rise in Black consciousness and anti-colonialism in the West Indies. Organisations such as the Society of Peoples of African Origin, the African Progress Union and the League of Coloured People in Britain, and the Pan-African Congresses of the 1920's sought political solutions to the situations Black people found themselves in at home and abroad.

The Second World War

The Second World War, as did the First, saw people of the Empire joining with the 'Mother Country' to fight and work for victory. Men and women arrived from the Caribbean in their thousands to work as civilians or in the armed forces. Some arrived as early as 1940; these were the children of professionals in the Caribbean, many of whom may well have intended to travel to Britain to study.

A thousand West Indian recruits arrive in Great Britain in 1944.

p23 - The main group of recruits, however, came after 1943 when, in preparation for the invasion of Europe, the need was for more support staff such as ground crews and technicians. After the war, many ex-servicemen and women stayed on in Britain, and in the following years a combination of 'push' and 'pull' factors, led to large-scale migration of Caribbean people to Britain.

The 'push' factors were high unemployment, low wages, over-population and a general lack of opportunities in the Caribbean.

The 'pull' factors were in the form of the great labour shortage as Britain attempted to rebuild its economy, and active recruitment drives in the Caribbean. For example, in 1956 London Transport began a recruitment programme in Barbados, and in 1966 extended this to Trinidad and Jamaica.

Carribean recruits on board ship   Flight Sergeant Tucker
Above Left: Carribean recruits played a cruical role in maintaining the merchant fleet.
Above right: Flight Sergeant Tucker, a Jamaican fighter pilot serving with RAF Fighter Command.

The arrival of the SS Empire Windrush in June 1948 in Tilbury Dock, with 492 passengers from Jamaica, most of whom were ex-servicemen seeking work, marked the beginning of post-war mass migration. Later, Enoch Powell, the Tory Health Minister from 1960-1963, was to invite women from the Caribbean to Britain to train as nurses.

Above: West Indian ATS recruits in 1943. Below: Men of the British West Indian Regiment cleaning their rifles on the Albert-Amiens Roads (Sept 1916).

p25 - In reality the response to the call for labour was minimal, and by 1958 only 125,000 workers had arrived in Britain from the Caribbean islands. However, there were also other factors at play. There was an increase in prosperity in the Caribbean, mainly from tourism and bauxite mining, meaning that there was more money available for the passage overseas.

Moreover, the U.S.A. had always been an attractive and preferred destination. The Farm Work Programme had given people from the Caribbean islands the opportunity to work for American farmers, and many wished to return when it ended.

However, the 1952 McWarren-Walter Act passed in the U.S.A. considerably restricted the number of Caribbean people who could settle there. With this door closed to them, many looked to Britain, which, until restrictions on entry were imposed by the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962, gave all Commonwealth citizens the status of British citizenship.

Railway workers
Working on an engine in a transport repairs shop in an ordinance factory.

Settlement patterns seem to suggest that people from particular Caribbean islands, and even from particular parts of those islands, joined others who had arrived earlier and paved the way. Spouses, partners, relatives and friends were helped to find jobs and accommodation. Many of the early 'pioneers' were able to provide financial assistance for the overseas passage, as well as often supporting family members remaining in the homeland.

Those who arrived on the 'Empire Windrush' in 1948 had been housed in Clapham South deep air raid shelter, before being dispersed across the country to areas in which their labour was needed. In the Midlands, semi-skilled workers were needed in the furnaces and forges of the manufacturing industries which were all set to expand. They often went to areas where the cost of living was high where they were needed as porters, cleaners, drivers and nurses - jobs that paid so badly that few whites wanted them.

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