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FEB/MAR 2023 ISSUE
After the devastation caused by World War 2, the British Government was keen for more workers to help rebuild the country and revive the economy. In 1948, they passed a law called the British Nationality Act that said all citizens of countries ruled by Britain could live and work in the UK. Many of the earliest arrivals were from the Caribbean.
In 2022, a new project was set up to record the stories of the people that arrived in Britain from the Carribbean. The project was funded by the British Library, and managed by Nigel Guy, Director of Windrush Generations. Nigel worked in partnership with Bradford District Museums and Galleries to create an exhibition. Three young people with African and Caribbean heritage (Alexandra Enyouri, Olivia Guy and Grace Flerin) were given training and they interviewed 22 black elders of the Windrush generation who came to live in Bradford.
The project aimed to record and preserve for future generations their untold stories. The stories were subsequently shown as an exhibition in Bradford called “Windrush Stories: Don’t Give Up”. The idea was to increase understanding of people’s experiences, and to recognize and celebrate the contributions the Windrush Generation have made to Bradford.
Participants were asked to share their memories of growing up in the Caribbean and of their personal stories of life in the UK. They were also asked if they have any advice for young Black people today, of which one of the interviewees, Cynthia Rowe urged: ‘Don’t Give Up’, from which the title of the exhibition is taken.
We are honoured to share just a handful of these stories in this 75th anniversary of Windrush’s arrival in Britain.
"You can hear
When you hear
memories, it’s very
Nigel Guy was recruited to work on the Windrush Stories project. Nigel is of Caribbean heritage and has a particular interest in recording the experiences of people who came to the UK – including his parents. We spoke to him about the process of collecting the stories and on subsequent pages we share three stories from three women who came to work and live in Bradford.
How did the Windrush Stories exhibition come about?
After the George Floyd incident in 2020, there was a lot of reflection in local organisations about how they dealt with under-represented groups in Bradford. They set up a Monuments Review to ask questions about what records or archives there are from people who’ve lived in Bradford for many years, the history of people arriving from different nations to rebuild the UK after the war. Out of that came the proposals from Bradford Museums and Galleries to do something around the Windrush story. There are two things around Windrush that are important. One was the commemoration and celebration; the other was the conflicts and challenges created by the Windrush scandal, which unfortunately changed the public’s idea of what Windrush is. We wanted to celebrate the huge contribution made by people who came over around the time of the Windrush. When the opportunity came to be the coordinator I applied. I’m part of the community. I was inspired by my parents with Windrush’s 50th anniversary.
How did you go about collecting the stories?
We had some young people who helped conduct the interviews. We were trained by professional historians, who showed us how to set the themes we’d ask about. The three themes were: pre-arrival, journey and post-arrival. The aim was to capture the stories of those people who had arrived between 1948 and 1972. We sought to talk to the elders who came from the Caribbean – and their sons and daughters. We advertised on the radio and We had links with the Mary Seacole Court Elders Group – and many more hubs in Bradford. We have an existing organisation called Windrush Generations, so the elders felt comfortable talking to us. We started in early March. Part of the project was that the material we collected would be available to everyone
What’s important about being able to listen to those elders speak?
There’s a link, you feel connected. You feel part of that story, the colourful nature of how people. talk. You appreciate the challenging times that people had. Their memories are vivid. To listen to those stories is really moving. I thought, “If only I could have captured my parents stories this way.” I remember them telling the stories, but I didn’t have the tools to record them, they are just in my memory. You can hear feelings through the audio. It’s great to read books, but when you hear people’s own voices, their own memories, it’s very different.
What about getting the older and younger generations together?
I was glad we had the opportunity with the young people to record and capture these stories. Part of it is to build up the relationship between the younger and older generations. Some of the stories that were told – the elders’ children had never heard them! They said, “How did you get them to tell these stories? They’ve never really sat us down and told us.” It was a great opportunity to get those stories archived. It’s a great resource for the community. We wanted to give a stage for young people to shine – they did the interviews, the editing, everything. We wanted to have a balance of genders but the three young people we chose were all young women aged between 22 and 25.
How easy was it to get the elders to open up?
There was a lot of hesitancy from the elders; they didn’t want to share their stories. We had to convince them that this was very positive and would enable younger generations to know about the journeys. Young people were asking themselves, “Why am I here?” This was a way for us to help reveal that story. Some characters – really bubbly characters, good socialisers, good orators, big personalities – they wouldn’t come forward. I was told by one elder, “Even though some people have stories to tell, they don’t want to tell them. Because some of them have had trauma in their lives and they don’t want to revisit it.” And we had to respect that.
What’s your family history?
I’m from a very large family. I was born in the UK. My mum and dad came from Jamaica. My dad in the late 50s, my mum in the early 60s. They already had children and my elder siblings had to stay in Jamaica. My mum and dad saved up to enable some of the children to come over to the UK. I remember being 5, going to Manchester Airport and seeing some of my older brothers and sisters arrive. Seeing the family grow. What must it be like for the parents to be severed from their children? A lot of them had a 5-year-plan to go back. But many stayed. I call them the pioneers. The elders were more adventurous. To start a new life in their twenties. And I’m the result of that.
Tell us about the partnerships?
The collaboration between partners was so important: Bradford Metropolitan Council, Bradford Museums and Galleries, BRB Community Radio, lots of partners. We have a saying in our community. It’s called “One-one Cocoa” and the response is “Full Basket!” What it means that the little bits we put into a basket individually come together and we can achieve more in collaboration.
Why is it important to tell these stories and get them more widely known?
We want people to have a wider understanding of why people came to the UK. It’s similar to a lot of people from all over the Commonwealth. I hope that people were inspired by the exhibition. The UK provided opportunities. The elders came to rebuild and make their lives here – and they were invited. The strapline of the exhibition was “Don’t Give Up.” This was said by Cynthia Rowe in her interview and it’s a good reflection for younger generations – keep persevering and don’t give up.
Cynthia Rowe arrived in the UK from Jamaica in 1962. She has a huge affection for her adopted city.
I was born on 23rd March 1937 in Comfort Hall, St James – seven miles outside Montego Bay in Jamaica. Religious life was strong: even if a parent didn’t go to church, all children went to Sunday School and Bible class in the evening. We had two churches in the district.
I went to Baptist Sunday School. You got to learn your “golden text” and you got a little sticker. I remember I always got a sticker which said, “My God Shall Supply All Your Need”. In later life I realised that was good. He has certainly supplied all my needs! We learned to read as well. I have not got a good singing voice, but I still love to sing. The older people were very good at encouraging us. I can remember this teacher, Miss D. She was the first person to tell me, “Cynthia, when you wake in the morning, don’t ever forget to give the Lord thanks for waking you up. And at the end of the day say thank you as well.” And that’s something I’ve continued to do all my life, every day. I’ve never forgotten it.
It wasn’t a bad life. We weren’t rich, but we weren’t desperate. We were just ordinary. I have two brothers and a sister and two half-siblings. I was the second. We lived in “the Crossroads”, the square where the shops were. It was bright and vibrant, with loads of music. It was lively. Everything that happens comes to the Crossroads. Sometimes someone would come with a big loudspeaker and when the music comes, everybody runs down. We had
good food. Loads of fruits. I love rice and peas. I loved mangoes, still do. Most had a garden
Cynthia and her daughter Maureen in the 1980’s
and my mum went to the market once a week. There was always food about, always something to eat. Nobody ever went hungry. All the neighbours were kind people, loving people. When I got older, about 15, we’d listen to the radio from all over the world. I knew about Yorkshire before I came here, through the cricket. You had to come from Yorkshire to play for Yorkshire. I even know about the Littlewood’s Pools – but I didn’t know what it was!
Most people were coming [to the UK]. Uncles, an aunt in London. I had loads of friends in Birmingham and Manchester. Then [my husband] Horace came came over and he said he’d send for me. I knew the streets weren’t paved with gold and you had to work hard. You don’t get free money! We knew we had to work hard. I came on the plane in 1962. Horace came in ’60. We never lived together in Jamaica. I got a train to Bradford and I came in a taxi from the station. They put me up at 47 Hanover Square. On the train coming up, I thought, “Gosh, there’s factories everywhere! Where are the people living?” So many factories, all along. I thought the houses were factories! I came up with another lady, Sister Nelson. When I went inside the house, it was very strange. I met Maisie, she was the first person I met. We thought the streets weren’t as good as our streets. It was strange. It was nearly all white people. People were friendly.
I went to commercial school in Montego Bay. St James’ School of Commerce. I did shorthand, typing and book-keeping. But I gave up the book-keeping. When I came to England, I did 60-words-a-minute shorthand and typing. I sent applications in but I always got the reply, “Sorry the post has been filled.” Over and over and over – all the time, that’s what they said. I was talking about it one day. Neville Dwyer, he told me. “Cynthia, you’re not going to get the job.” I thought, “Why?” He said, “You’re not going to get the job because you’re black.” I always thought they’d call back but they never did. After a few years, in the 70s, we came to Newby Square. I went and did a course at the Mechanics Institute. But it made no difference. Because you were black!
The one good thing about it all was that all the West Indians stopped together. That was good. Friendly. It was all black people together. We shared everything, shared kitchen, bathroom. No fuss, no worries, nobody saying, “This is mine!” It was very different in the UK. When I came in June it was the summer. Proper summer, it was good. Plenty of sunshine. But then the winter came – the winter was bad. I only had summer clothes. The only warm thing I had was a dressing gown. We didn’t lock doors in Jamaica. If it was raining, you could shelter in their veranda – nobody minded. [We came to the UK for] a better life! Better pay. That was it. We thought after five years we’d go home. It’s 60 years I’ve been here. I missed my parents, I missed the sunshine and I missed the food. Our food was wonderful; English food wasn’t wonderful! It took a while to get accustomed to the taste. The only thing I liked was fish and chips.
Cynthia in 2022
I don’t think people in London are that friendly. I like Bradford people. I do love Bradford, it’s a good place to be, people are friendly. I went to church and all the older ladies were so welcoming. It was as if I was at home. It wast hes ame service as I’d been accustomed to. It was as if I’d come home. My auntie – she wasn’t my auntie but that’s what we called her – said, “Cynthia, trust in your God, but don’t quarrel with him.” I thought I should have had a better job, but I decided I am thankful for what the Lord has given me. I live the best I can and do the best I can for others. I’m always praying for someone and that keeps me going. Be positive! If you want something, you go for it: don’t give up!
Pearline Stoddart (Miss Sweetie) came to Bradford in 1961 and trained to be a nurse. “All I wanted to do was nursing,” she says.
Pearline wearing a dress she brought with her from Jamaica in 1961
I'm from Jamaica. Most people me Sweetie. It was when I was a baby – and babies start walking. My Dad put some money here and some sweets over there. I passed the money and go around to pick up sweets. He said, “You can’t get both, you can only get one.” So I got the money and no sweets. I started walking the following day, so I could pick both up! The name just stuck as Sweetie.
I was born in 1937. One of my aunts was married and she didn’t have any children. She made an agreement with my dad that, if he had a daughter, she’d take the daughter and raise it. I was the only daughter so she raised me. My auntie – I call her mum – was in St James in Jamaica. I enjoyed it because I could run around and climb trees. It was fun. In the country. There were no other children in the house so I was spoilt. Even now, I miss them.
When I was coming over here they said, “When you go to England, make sure you take another profession. And go for it.” Which I did. I always loved nursing. My two aunts from my father’s side were nurses. I used to read everything I could find. They would sit me down and explain it. Not all of it. “You’re not old enough for this bit yet!” I had a good life out there. I got married when I was 19. We went to the same school. I remem- ber the first time we talked, he said, “I’m going to marry you.” I said, “Get lost!” But we couldn’t stay away from each other. Then I had my daughter. [My husband] said he was coming over here [to the UK]. He sent for me a year later and I came.
I came here in 1961. April. I came by plane. We came to London and I got the coach to Bradford. When we got to Bradford there was another lady who lived on Manningham Lane. She said, “Come and jump in the taxi with me.” She got off at Manningham and paid the man to drop us off at Southfields Square. There was smoke coming out of the chimney. I said, “I’m not coming in here to live in no factory! Why have you brought me to a factory?” He said, “It’s not a factory, the winter is cold so we have to put a fire in the fireplace to keep warm.”
For the first year, I’d wash and iron my clothes and put them back in the suitcase. It was after my son was born that I emptied that suitcase. I thought I’d stay and see how it goes. But I made friends – half of them were white - so I thought I’d stay. And I’m still here!
I had in my head what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be: all I wanted to do was nursing. I loved every minute of it. My first job when I came here was on Lumb Lane, a factory. I was pregnant so they wouldn’t take me in nursing.
I learned weaving. I worked there until my son was 8 months old. Then I said, “That’s it” and I stopped. I applied for nursing, I did the exams and I got through. There was about four different hospitals I went to, including the BRI. When I started at High Royds [psychiatric hospital], I was in my 30s. I loved it there. I loved every minute. Some English people were awful. One day, one of nurses says, “What are you doing here? Why don’t you go back to your jungle and swing like a monkey?” I said to the Matron, “I’m not a monkey, I’m a human being.” Funnily enough, I always got on with all the patients. We would laugh. We got on alright. They are human and they didn’t make them- selves sick. If you treat them with respect and love they can do so many things. On a night I used to cook for them. I cooked ackee and salt fish. They said “What’s that?” But they took the plate off me! “We’ve never had this before.” Everyone used to come from the other wards to eat. Sometimes I didn’t get any.
Pearline in 2022
When I was at home I learned to knit and crochet. I used to knit cardigans for [the kids] to go to school in. Crochet a blouse, a scarf. I love embroidery. When I came here I embroidered a curtain. I used to help out on Green Lane, for children. A lot of children would go there in the holidays. I’d help. I used to show them how to knit. We’d sit down and knit and laugh. I love being amongst children!
Evadne Harris came to the UK aged 18 and has been here ever since, even though she only planned to stay 5 years!
Evadne Harris as a young woman in
I was born in St Catherine, Jamaica in 1940. My house was built on stilts and we didn’t have much furniture. We had two rooms. One bedroom. And there were a lot of us. You could hear the raindrops on the ceiling, on the zinc. It makes you want to go to sleep . It was relaxing. I up and clean out the ashes and blow on the fire to get it going. We used to have to get the wood and build a fire. Pile it up with little sticks and light it. Put the breadfruit on to roast.
We weren’t rich but we never went without food. My mother – we all called her Sister B. My grandmother was YaYa. My mother would go into Kingston to sell food. I used to go into the field to help her bring the load for her to go to the market the day after. She used to sell the food and buy all sorts to feed us. It wasn’t so far from Kingston. I was one of 13. When I left there were about 7. Before I went to school, I had to sweep the yard, make the fire and roast the breadfruit for breakfast. The main meal was salt fish and ackee, fritters and fried dumplings or rice and peas and chicken. I wasn’t all that clever! But still I could learn to read and write. We used to go the Prophecy on a Sunday. After school, I was dressmaking. There wasn’t any other things I could do. I used to make clothes for the family, for my little sister.
I was 18 when I left Jamaica. Ezra, my husband-to-be, he came first. Before he came he asked me if I would come if he sent for me. My sister said, “Tell him yes!” He wasn’t in the church but his father was a minister. He wasn’t a Christian, but I was. My grandmother, said, “Don’t go! Wait for him to come back!” Maybe I’d still be waiting! It was 1957. Still now I can’t believe I’ve travelled on I missed home. I wouldn’t say it was bad. But, it was only when you had to go out to look for work. You know they’ll have the Vacancies sign. And they’ll say, “No Vacancies”. And to get rooms, you’d see on the door: No Blacks. We got rooms because Ezra was with some other Carib- bean people. I didn’t do so bad with the jobs. I got a job at a light industrial place where they did overalls. While I was in that job, I got pregnant. That was 1959. We all thought we’d go back in 5 years, then go back. We’re invited because the English didn’t want to do the jobs, like cleaning. We came to help. When I was working, two white ladies took me under their wing. They were just like family. But if you go to the supermarket and there’s a queue. You’ll be at the front and the assistant would point to the person behind me and say, “You’re next.” Many times they’ve done that to me. Once this old lady dropped her stick and I picked it up. She said, “Take your black hands off my stick!” They we’re just ignorant.
We bought a little back-to-back. A lot of the houses had toilets outside. You had to come out in the winter – it was really cold. The snow used to be really high. You used to have to push the pram in the snow. There was no heater, just a coal fire. Ezra used to work 7-days-a-week. We saved up. A baby-minder used to take the children of those that worked. In the evenings we’d have to wash the nappies and hang them out by the fire. I worked in a dry cleaner in Apperley Bridge. Then I got a job at a care home. I worked at United Biscuits at nights, It was in Halifax and they used to pick us up in a bus. Ezra worked days and I worked nights. It was hard. But we managed. My last job was a part-time job in St Luke’s as a domestic cleaner. I had to work or lose we would get to where we are now.
I haven’t regretted coming, not one bit. I have three children and seven grandchildren. They’re in good jobs, all of them. You can’t live in two places at once.
Evadne Harris in 2022
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