Menu
School Logo
Language
Search

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

 

Behind you

Windrush child

palm trees wave goodbye

 

above you

Windrush child

seabirds asking why

 

around you

Windrush child

blue water rolling by

 

beside you

Windrush child

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


Windrush child

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?

Top