The arrivants

From the late 1940s to the early 1960s thousands of men, women and children left the Caribbean, by sea and by air, for Britain. They were encouraged by the 1948 British Nationality Act that granted citizenship and right of abode in the UK to all members of the British Empire.

Why did people come? What did they leave behind? What did they find when they arrived, and how did they shape Britain?

Repeated photograph of a Caribbean man using a pickaxe for demolition work, from the BBC pamphlet Going to Britain?

How Caribbean migrants helped to rebuild Britain

Article by:
Linda McDowell

After World War Two, Britain was a country short of workers and needed to rebuild its weakened economy. Linda McDowell traces the history and experiences of the thousands of men and women who came to Britain from the Caribbean to work in sectors including manufacturing, public transport and the NHS.

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Collaged photographs of a black woman standing in a street in London and children playing outside, taken from the BBC pamphlet Going to Britain?

Windrush and the making of post-imperial Britain

Article by:
Harry Goulbourne

From fighting for equality to negotiating the legacies of slavery and colonialism, Harry Goulbourne considers the significance of Windrush and how Caribbeans who came to Britain in the post-war period have contributed to building a post-imperial society, which is still in formation today.

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Photographs of Floella Benjamin as a child with her family and Floella with her Windrush garden

Floella Benjamin on coming to England

Article by:
Floella Benjamin

Floella Benjamin arrived in Britain in 1960 from Trinidad, and considers herself part of the Windrush generation. Here she describes her first impressions of a new country, as well as her struggles against racism and prejudice, reflecting on how her early experiences ‘gave me the tools and fortitude to become the person I am today’.

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Sonia McIntosh MBE talking

Community Programme: Collaborative project with the Caribbean Social Forum

A partnership project between the British Library, Caribbean Social Forum and Chocolate Films. Inspired by the British Library exhibition Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land members of the Caribbean Social Forum share their stories of journeying from the Caribbean to the UK.

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Still from one of the 1000 Londoners films, showing Yvonne sat in her living room

‘Windrush Generations’: 1000 Londoners

Discover the lives of five generations of Londoners with Caribbean heritage in this series of short film portraits.

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Black and white photograph of Mr and Mrs Pettigrew on their wedding day

‘We Jamaicans in 1950s England’ from the Daybook of Mrs Pettigrew

Article by:
Verona Franceta Pettigrew

This is an edited extract from the memoir of Jamaican-born Verona Franceta Pettigrew neé Bennett who emigrated to Britain in 1956.

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Three collaged photographs from Heidi Safia Mirza's personal collection, showing her school in Trinidad, a portrait of her and her brother at primary school in London, and her parents' wedding portrait

'The Golden Fleece': The Windrush quest for educational desire

Article by:
Heidi Safia Mirza

Can education be revolutionary? With a focus on the experiences and work of black and Caribbean women in Britain, Heidi Safia Mirza interweaves stories from her life, family and academic research to reflect on education and its potential for social change.

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Crop of Denis Williams illustrations for The Emigrants by George Lamming. One scene shows two seated Caribbean men against a backdrop of terrace houses, one scene shows three Caribbean men inside a room with a stove

'Why are people always banging on about racism?': Reflections on Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land

Article by:
Colin Prescod

Colin Prescod, lead external advisor to Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land, discusses the exhibition’s narrative and the need to acknowledge racism and Black resistance at the centre of this history. Many of the objects within the exhibition can now be viewed on Windrush Stories.

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Photograph showing people arriving at London's Victoria Station from the Carribean via Southampton, mid 20th century

Windrush Stories creative writing activities (primary students)

Article by:
Joanna Brown

Creative writing ideas and activities that draw on the histories, people and objects featured on Windrush Stories.

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Photograph showing people arriving at London's Victoria Station from the Carribean via Southampton, mid 20th century

Windrush Stories creative writing activities (secondary students)

Article by:
Petonelle Archer

Creative writing ideas and activities that draw on the histories, people and objects featured on Windrush Stories

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Crop of book cover from Andrea Levy's novel Small Island, a black woman and a white woman outside photoshopped St Paul's Cathedral

An introduction to Andrea Levy's Small Island

Article by:
Hannah Lowe

Andrea Levy's Small Island is a story of post-war Caribbean migration, narrated from four different perspectives. Hannah Lowe explores how the novel is intrinsically linked with Levy's own Caribbean ancestry, as well as how it has become more widely associated with the Windrush experience.

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Crop of the first editon book cover for Samuel Selvon's The Lonely Londoners, showing an illustration of two Caribbean men in suits and a woman in pearls

The Lonely Londoners: a new way of reading and writing the city

Article by:
Susheila Nasta

The Lonely Londoners is an iconic chronicle of post-war Caribbean migration to Britain. Susheila Nasta explores how Samuel Selvon created a new means of describing the city by giving voice to the early migrant experience and capturing the romance and disenchantment of London for its new citizens.

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Crop of a page from James Berry's notebook

An introduction to James Berry's Windrush Songs

Article by:
Hannah Lowe

Windrush Songs was published in 2007, by which time James Berry had been living in England for close to 60 years. Hannah Lowe explores how Berry’s collection negotiates the symbol of the Empire Windrush and positions post-war migration within the legacies of slavery and colonialism.

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Crop of the front cover of the Lord Chamberlain Office's copy of Errol John's Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, showing the play's title

Migration stories in Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl

Article by:
Lynette Goddard

Set in Trinidad, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl centres on a group of characters contemplating migration or other ways of leaving their shared tenement yard. Lynette Goddard examines the play’s setting, offstage spaces and the contrasting ambitions and perspectives of men and women.

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Crop of a page from Beryl Gilroy's typescript draft of In Praise of Love and Children with her handwritten notes

In Praise of Love and Children: Beryl Gilroy’s arrival story

Article by:
Sandra Courtman

Written in 1959 but not published until 1996, In Praise of Love and Children is a rare account of a woman’s experience of migration from the Caribbean. Sandra Courtman examines the challenges that Gilroy faced as a writer, before focussing on how her novel engages with memory, family and the traumatic legacies of slavery as its heroine establishes a new life in London.

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To Sir With Love

An introduction to To Sir, With Love

Article by:
Caryl Phillips

Caryl Phillips introduces To Sir, With Love, E R Braithwaite's autobiographical novel about a Guyanese man who, shortly after the end of the Second World War, finds himself teaching in one of the worst schools in London's East End.

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Black and white photograph of London buses in the smog, c. 1960

Homesick Blues

Article by:
Paul Boakye

A short story by Paul Boakye (formerly Paul Ranford Pettigrew), inspired by his father’s decision to return to Jamaica.

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Windrush Foundation ship logo

Windrush70

Article by:
Arthur Torrington

Arthur Torrington reflects on the anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush and the contributions of Black British servicemen and women. In 1996, Sam King MBE and Arthur Torrington CBE established Windrush Foundation ‘to keep alive the memories of the young men and women who were among the first wave of post-war settlers in Britain’.

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Further themes

Waves of history

Following Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of the Americas in the late 15th century European imperial powers transformed the Caribbean. Explore the history of the region, the legacies of enslavement and colonialism, and how Caribbean society has been deeply shaped by rebellion, resistance and ideas of freedom.

The arrivants

From the late 1940s to the early 1960s thousands of men, women and children left the Caribbean, by sea and by air, for Britain. They were encouraged by the 1948 British Nationality Act that granted citizenship and right of abode in the UK to all members of the British Empire. Why did people come? What did they leave behind? What did they find when they arrived, and how did they shape Britain?

Authors, artists and activists

From Samuel Selvon’s Lonely Londoners to Andrea Levy’s Small Island; from calypso to the birth of Black British music; and the pioneering work of activists, journalists and teachers. Explore how the experiences of migration and settling in the UK, alongside the political landscapes of the Caribbean and Britain, have led to new artistic expressions, cultural movements and waves of activism.

The Windrush generation scandal

Learn more about the Windrush generation scandal and the experiences of Caribbean-born British citizens who have been affected by the 2014 Immigration Act.