Windrush Day 2020

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Today is National Windrush Day – an annual celebration when we mark the arrival of the Empire Windrush to Britain on 22 June 1948 and pay tribute to the monumental contribution that the Windrush Generation and their descendants have made to the political, economic and cultural fabric of Britain. On 22nd June we celebrate the day with events, exhibitions, performances and publications across the country.

This year, of course, celebrations will be online due to social distancing measures, but there is still plenty to find across the country and of course here locally on Windrush Day.

Although this year for Windrush Day we may not be able to come together in person as a community, let’s look back and share the moments – and some of the stories, films and photographs – from the borough’s day of celebrations last year in 2019 and our local heritage. There was an all-day programme of events across Haringey which included at Bruce Castle the launch of an exhibition Windrush Legends and Legacies, alongside We Made It! Haringey’s BAME creators and innovators, and Black Georgian Londoners. Our community day saw lots to celebrate with music, food, games and activities for all ages – A Day of Lights and Kites.

We were treated to the steel-pan band music from Haringey Young Musicians to welcome everyone and listened to Tottenham’s John McAnuff playing his own wonderful and specially-composed songs on guitar (you can listen to John again playing here).

We heard an inspirational speech from special guest Alex Pascall OBE, the broadcaster and campaigner:

History brought me along today and it’s a very exciting event to be a part of,” he said. “For me the SS Empire Windrush is just a ship – what’s important is the cargo. There are so many iconic people who have lived in Haringey from the Caribbean community including the entrepreneurs, Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden, the outstanding fabric designer Althea McNish, all the famous DJs and musicians…the list is unending.”

He opened the day with a talk remembering the first generation of Caribbean immigrants who arrived in the 1940s and ‘50s.

We came with our nylon shirts and three tone shoes, the women wore hats and gloves, while the Trinidadians always had a handkerchief in every pocket of all colours – we had style!” he said, laughing. (To learn more from Alex, please see further below).

Enjoying the day – from left to right – Mav Highsted, John McAnuff and Alex Pascall

From the collections and © Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service)

Along with music, and our exhibitions, the focus of the activities for the day was enjoying the sharing and learning about memories, stories, traditional kite-making and games. David Whyte was teaching others to play one of the most popular of Caribbean board games – Ludo.

Everyone plays board games in the West Indies,” he said. “And it’s part of our social structure. We’ve never met before but already we’re interacting! I think this is a wonderful day because my parents came on the HMT Empire Windrush and now we finally have a day that commemorates the journey we’ve all made. It means a lot.

The kite-making with David the kite-maker was great fun and really popular, all brought skilfully together by Sonja Scantlebury of 4U2 News. Children and adults helped make the kind of colourful creations which unite villages and towns from Jamaica to Tobago. One of the most enthusiastic volunteers was Tahirah, aged four, there with her grandmother, Liz.

Tahirah’s other grandparents come from St Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Liz. “And I think it’s important for her to learn about her culture while I’m also learning a lot today. I was born around the time the first generation started arriving so I wasn’t taught anything about the Windrush at school – but I’m making up for it now!

Here’s some other memories and local history of kite-making:

Amos Adolphus Ford (1916 – 2015) of Tottenham talks here about the tradition of kite-making and flying kites during his childhood, growing up in Belize (formerly British Honduras), in his ‘Recollections’ (from an abridged version of his memoirs published in 1982 by the Page Green Centre and edited by C. Gillespie and J. Sweetser).

I used to like flying kites and this we did each year, usually from March onwards. As well as being multi-coloured, the  kites were of all shapes and sizes. In fact competition for the  best flown kite were judged both by its appearance and in its performance. We would be flying kites even before we left for school in the mornings. But the greater part of the sport was of course after school in the afternoons. The material used in kite-making, including the wood, was relatively cheap. One had to be careful of the menace of ‘kite cutting’. Sometimes our kites were cut away deliberately by other boys as a practice. These kites could be heard for quite some distance around as they make a buzzing noise. Box-kites, star kites; oblong and triangular-shaped kites, and many other varieties, were all flown. Our elders often helped to create some of the more intricate varieties of kites and they were always very pretty to look at.”

You can watch the traditional kite-making skills and displays of flying kites in different places across the Caribbean by watching this selection of short films from Barbados (also seen in the photograph above), from Trinidad, from Jamaica and Guyana.

From the collections of Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service)

Locally, two young pupils from Lancasterian Primary School in Tottenham were chosen to be the models for the drawings in the series of the Ladybird Sunstart books during the 1970s. Set in the Caribbean, the series supported African-Caribbean families growing up in the UK, not only with developing reading at home but also reconnecting with and enjoying customs and traditions such as kite-making.

Screen-grab photograph courtesy of personal collection of member of I Grew Up In Tottenham

So that was a brief round-up of some of the activities and events that happened on Windrush Day 2019 at Bruce Castle.

For Windrush Day 2020, here is a collection of films, images and exhibitions that you can explore that highlight stories, memories and the significant contribution the Windrush Generation and their descendants have made, and continue to make, to our borough and British life beyond.

One very significant person who lived later in life in our borough was Andrea Levy (1956-2019). You can read her reflective essay Back to My Own Country, which delves deep into exploring and understanding her own Caribbean heritage. For those of you have not already seen it, you might like to watch the National Theatre Live’s online performance of Small Island, adapted from Andrea Levy’s award-winning novel of the same name. Her book Small Island embarks on a journey from Jamaica to Britain, through the Second World War to 1948 – the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. (The play is available online until 25 June, 7pm).

You might like to watch for free from the BFI, a couple of films from their programme from 1948 and 1964 – as below (and available permanently online):

A World Is Turning (1948)

A lost chapter in Black British film: extraordinary rushes from a documentary showcasing talented members of the Black community including legendary jazz singer Adelaide Hall rehearsing and performing at London’s Nightingale Club. Six tantalising reels of rushes are all that remain of this unfinished film, a forgotten attempt to highlight the contribution of Black men and women to post war British society which coincided with the arrival of the Empire Windrush.

The Rise and Fall of Nellie Brown (1964)

An incredibly joyous and entertaining TV musical fantasy with Millie Small, on the back of her worldwide pop smash My Boy Lollipop, playing a young Jamaican woman who flees her humdrum Liverpool lodgings in search of her glamorous London cousin. Broadcast live on 28 December 1964, this rare TV musical is one of few to have survived from the 1960s. A tale of African-Caribbean immigration, the show is unusual for its time.

Projection photograph of the musician and Windrush Generation elder, John McAnuff

From the collections and © Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service)

Now online too, you can watch an evocative short film of the Projection onto Bruce Castle, which played until late on 22 June to mark the end of Windrush Day 2019 and the concluding part of the Day of Lights and Kites. It shows a curated collection of images from Bruce Castle Museum & Archive, going back almost 350 years to one of our earliest paintings, highlighting the long history of the black presence in the Haringey area and, through images, bringing the story up to more recent times including photographs of local Windrush elders – all projected on to the façade of Bruce Castle.

You can read online as well the essay and poem Windrush Generation Art & Celebration by Alex Pascall OBE, written for our exhibition at Bruce Castle – Windrush Legends and Legacies. Some of you may recall the wonderful afternoon spent last November 2019 in Bruce Castle with Alex – Raising the Bar – as he shared his experiences since arriving from Grenada in the 1950s and going on to becoming well known as a pioneer of Black Radio and British media on BBC local radio. He was a cofounder of The Voice newspaper, presenter and producer of Britain’s first Black and daily magazine radio programme Black Londoners; and writer and advisor for BBC’s pre-school landmark series –Teletubbies. In 1996 Alex was awarded an OBE ‘for services to community relations.’  You can read more about his life here on the British Library website.

Portrait of Alex Pascall OBE, photographed in 2019, with an award for broadcasting. This was part of the 2019 exhibition Changemakers,  saluting the Black community of the borough.

Photographer and © Agenda Brown of Visual Marvelry.

From the collections of Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service)

Windrush Day is also a chance to show solidarity and support for the hardships many of the Windrush Generation have had to suffer since coming to this country. The first generation of workers came to the UK by invitation to help rebuild Britain after World War II but many were met with hostility and intolerance when they arrived. In the years and decades that followed, many found themselves denied of their rights, having lost their jobs and in some cases were even deported or not allowed to return to the UK. One local person interviewed today on the BBC News is Tottenham resident Vernon Vanriel, the retired professional boxer, who had been detained and suffered terrible hardship because of the Windrush Scandal. As the Windrush Scandal has come to the public’s attention over 2018 – 2019 following campaigning and petitioning, so Vernon’s own story was highlighted.

Portrait of Vernon Vanriel, posing with a photograph of him boxing and photographed in 2019. This was part of the 2019 exhibition Changemakers,  saluting the Black community of the borough.

Photographer and © Agenda Brown of Visual Marvelry.

From the collections of Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service)

Vernon came to live in Tottenham as a young child, as part of the Windrush Generation. Known as The Entertainer, his successful boxing career took him to prominence in the 1970s and 80s, but after travelling to Jamaica 14 years ago he was refused re-entry to the UK. After a long fight to gain a passport, September 2018 saw his return home to Tottenham, back to his family. In June 2019, Vernon was able to tell the story about his life at an event at Bruce Castle, to Tottenham MP David Lammy and writer and broadcaster Mike Phillips OBE. Extracts from that filmed interview can be seen now online – A Life in Tottenham, Interrupted.

Friends of Bruce Castle – Beryl Edwards (left) and Ernest Nunes, both seen here in the late 1960s, were part of the Haringey University of the Third Age group that met every month at Bruce Castle for several years, to share their stories, write down their memories and take part in exhibitions and heritage projects.

You can read about their lives and memories in the book Wisdom Speaks published in 2006

Haringey has a proud history of welcoming migrants from all over the world to live and work here. The collection at Bruce Castle Museum and Haringey Archive reflects a long association with diversity – a heritage reinforced with the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948. The Windrush Generation have contributed to all aspects of life in Haringey and are integral to community life in the borough helping to create a welcoming, nurturing environment for people from all over the world. Part of the wider exhibition Windrush Legends & Legacies, held in 2019 at Bruce Castle Museum, you can now read some of the exhibition online which tells stories of the commitment and contribution to democracy, education, business, culture and general life of Haringey’s Black community – often with greater significance beyond. Inspired by stories from the Bruce Castle Museum & Archive collections, follow the link here (and then scroll down) to the timeline celebrating the presence, the significant contribution and the lasting impact by Haringey’s Windrush Generation and their descendants in our community, from 1945 to 2008.

Individually, everyone who arrived as the Windush Generation has their own story and their own set of memories and experiences. Last year, prompted by our exhibition, we were able to add more to our collections to help record and preserve those experiences. The family of Donald and Patricia Watts, who lived in Tottenham from the 1950s, very kindly gave us objects and documents relating to Donald’s career and training in building construction, carpentry and design, as well as photographs (original and copies) of their family and of Patricia’s career, managing the workforce of the telephone exchange in Crouch End. Here are some of their beautiful family photographs:

The wedding of Donald and Patricia Watts, at St Peter’s Church, Broad Lane, Tottenham 1957

From the collections of Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service)

If you would like to share your own or your family’s story about arriving and settling here, we would be really interested in learning more. In addition to the stories we already have in our collections and some that have been shared here, we would like to continue developing these collections – of oral histories, photographs, objects and archive material that tell the story of those that came to the UK from the Caribbean and settled in Haringey, from after the Second World War to the early 1970s. You can read more here on the council website on how to take part. Or just email us – it would be good to hear from you.

There are more ways to get involved and to record, document, learn from and hear the voices of those who were there. Patrick Vernon OBE, who led the way for Windush Day to be acknowledged nationally, has continued his work on 100 Great Black Britons and has added a Home School Competition to his online project, appealing to young people in particular to get involved whilst most schoolchildren are learning from home at the moment. It is a fantastic way for us all to learn more about the legacies and achievements of Black people in Britain and how they helped shape our country. You can find out more by following the link here. The competition ends on 30 September 2020.

Our partners from Layers of London have also announced today that thanks to research from Goldsmiths, University of London, they have been able to add a new layer to their online map resource. This documents the 1027 passengers who were on the Windrush before they disembarked to start their new lives in Britain, and shows where they came from, where they went when they got here and what they intended to do. Do check it out.

We will leave today’s post with an image of the Windrush plaque in West Green, Tottenham (below).

From the collections and © Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service)

With our thanks to all who have helped in making these online resources possible on the council website and elsewhere, especially Lloyd Gardner of Wood Green Films.

Deborah Hedgecock