Main Activity: What is Windrush?
Consider how the migrants of the Windrush were treated.
In 1948, an advert appeared in a Jamaican newspaper, saying that tickets to England on the ship 'Empire Windrush' would cost £28 - which was a great deal of money in those days. For people living in Jamaica who could save up enough money, this was the chance of a lifetime to come to England and make a new life for themselves.
On the 24th of May 1948 the ship left Kingston, Jamaica, with 492 passengers. About half of them had jobs already fixed, but the rest were trusting to luck.
People living in Britain's colonies had been brought up to think of Britain as their 'mother country' and felt she would always treat them as part of her family. Those who had fought for Britain in the Second World War knew how important their help had been. They thought that they would always be welcome to come to Britain. When they arrived, they were surprised to find that this was not always true.
Look at the poem:
Q: How did Denniston feel about Tilbury when the boat docked and about the treatment many of the passengers received?
Q: Why do you think some British people behaved like this?
When the Windrush arrived, there was nowhere prepared for the passengers to stay, and some of them had nowhere to sleep. In Clapham Common there was a deep air raid shelter that had been built during the War. The government said that this could be used as a temporary home for the Windrush passengers who had nowhere else to go (how does this compare with treatment of migrants of today?). 236 of the passengers spent their first days in Britain living in the huge tunnel near Clapham South underground station. It was not what they had expected (look at online photos).
When the Windrush migrants arrived, cities that needed their help could not offer them work because they had no spare houses. Many new migrants started by living in a hostel until they had saved enough money to get their own place. Some landlords were greedy and charged too much rent.
Q: Why do you think it was easy for the landlords to charge too much money? Do you think that the same thing might still happen today?
When migrants were able to move into their own houses, they often bought or rented houses like those in Roundhay Road in Leeds (look at online photos). Inner-city terraced houses were cheaper than houses in the suburbs.
Q: Why do you think houses in the inner city were cheaper than suburban houses?
Here is another poem by Denniston Stewart, about how it felt to live in an English house after coming from Jamaica.
Denniston is reading the poem with a Jamaican accent and using some words that are in Jamaican ‘patois’ (a language spoken in informal situations) instead of some of the English words you see written down.
Windrush info outline
Hinglan Cole (England's cold) Oh boy, England is cold!
It is so cold!
Frost in the morning, snow at midday and black fog at
night time. England is so cold!
I left hot Jamaica to die of cold here?
Frostbite is killing my fingers and when I walk I slip
and tumble in the snow many many times,
inside the house it is worse,
I have to wrap up with hot water bottles, hat, socks,
dressing gown, two sheets and twist and turn all night
long. In the morning when I lift my head from under
the sheets the amount of smoke that come out my mouth
you would think that I was on fire.
In the kitchen four people have one ring each on the
stove to cook on. I have to put money in the meter to
get a bath and the Indian man who I rent from is
watching me closely. I thank God that they deliver
milk to your door, I don't know how I'm going to cope
because England is cold cold cold. Denniston Stewart
Hinglan Cole (England's cold)
Have a look at these two poems for more inspiration...
Windrush Child by John Agard
palm trees wave goodbye
seabirds asking why
blue water rolling by
your Windrush mum and dad
think of storytime yard
and mango mornings
and new beginnings
doors closing and opening
will things turn out right?
At least the ship will arrive
in midsummer light
and you Windrush child
think of grandmother
telling you don't forget to write
and with one last hug
walk good walk good
and the sea's wheel carries on spinning
and from that place England
you tell her in a letter
of your Windrush adventure
stepping in a big ship
not knowing how long the journey
or that you're stepping into history
bringing your Caribbean eye
to another horizon
grandmother's words your shining beacon
learning how to fly
the kite of your dreams
in an English sky
walking good walking good
in a mind-opening
meeting of snow and sun
Questions and discussion points about the Windrush Child poem
- What do you think the poem is about?
- Which words or phrases tell you what the Windrush child left behind?
- What sort of place was it?
- Who will the child miss?
- Why is the child’s grandmother important to her/him?
- 'Windrush child' is repeated four times in the first four verses of the poem. Why do you think the poet chose to do this?
- Can you find another repetition or echo in the poem? Why do you think the poet chose to do this?
- Do you like the poem? Why/why not?
The SS Windrush docked in Tilbury on June 21st 1948. This was the start of post-war migration to Britain from the Caribbean. Between 1948 & 1970 nearly 500 thousand people left their homes in the West Indies to come to Britain. They were all British citizens & had the right to work & settle in Britain. They came for various reasons: most had responded to a call from Britain for workers in the transport system, the postal service & hospitals; some came to work for a while before returning home with money they had saved, others were looking for better opportunities for themselves & their families,. Many were soldiers who had fought for Britain during WW2.
Learn and recite one or part of one the poems about Windrush - what can you find from this poetry toolbox and features checklist?
What features do these poems have?