Early report on migrants in Britain

Extracts from report by Eric Walrond entitled ‘Negro migrants in Britain’, 1947 December – 1948 October. Catalogue ref: CO 876/88  

Contains original language used at the time, which is not appropriate today. 

  • How many who travelled on the Empire Windrush got jobs and accommodation through government services? 
  • Which industries employed these workers? 
  • Does the document give us any idea about the experience of those who settled in Britain? 



Of the 492 who came over on the “Empire Windrush”, 241 had accepted the Colonial Office’s offer of assistance in the task of finding jobs and accommodation. The other 251 had friends to go to, but news about the group had been scanty.

“It is thought, however,” a Colonial Welfare Officer told me, “that the 251 have succeeded in settling down. Otherwise, the Area Officers of the Colonial Office would have seen or heard about them. Perhaps it should be added that the men who went to Liverpool and Manchester from this group have become part of the fairly large number of coloured colonial unemployed in the Northwestern region,”


One group of 15 men went to Hampshire to help bring in the harvest. When the job was done the county Agricultural Committee returned the men to the Ministry of Labour, who promptly directed them into the Royal Ordnance Depot in Bristol to fill vacancies there.

Commenting on the operation one of the West Indians remarked, “It was smooth as silk. Quite an eye-opener to us, too. It was so different from anything we’d experienced before. And such a contrast with the way things are done back home where industry, the trade unions and Government House all seem to pulling in different directions”.

The tin plate industry South Wales has absorbed 15 of the migrants. Two ship’s plumbers, both “fairly well trained”, have found jobs in Glasgow. One firm near Nottingham, the Stanton Ironworks Company Ltd. already had six Jamaican Negroes working in the foundry when the contingent on the “Empire Windrush” arrived. It now has 39. Another engineering firm, the Allied Iron & Steel Works, Wellington, Shropshire, has found room for 20.

The West Indians and Guianese so far have met with no discrimination from the employers on the ground of colour or colonial status. As the personnel manager of one concern told me, “It does not matter to us whether a man comes from Yorkshire or Jamaica, so long as he does his job.”

In the Chippenham, Wiltshire, works of the Westing house Brake & Signal Co. 13 of the migrants are employed—- 12 in the foundry and one in the Machine Shop operating a Capstan lathe. Elsewhere in the provinces— in places as far apart as Gloucester and Lincolnshire— others have jobs as brick layers, cabinet makers and house painters.


What effect the coming of the migrants will have upon the pattern of race relations in the United Kingdom is anybody’s guess. One fact, however, cannot be blinked. In the London area the social complexion of the Negro population is changing. It is no longer a floating population of seamen on the one hand and ‘Varsity’ students on the other, with a conglomeration of clerks in the various government departments in Whitehall, stage and film folk, a small number of professional and businessmen and a down-at-heal Soho element lying in-between.

The change is reflected in the occupations which some of the migrants are now following.

At the Salvation Army Tailoring Establishment, 121 Judd Street, I saw 14 journeymen tailors from Jamaica quietly sitting at their work in a room on the top floor of the four-storey building.

“I am very pleased,” said Brigadier James Weaver, the production manager, “to give you a good account of these men. They are quite acceptable, well-behaved and they are good workers. They were not used to our style of working— it’s purely tunic making; but they have adapted themselves and we are quite pleased.”


The variety of jobs which the migrants are doing is almost bewildering. Fifteen of them are employed on the railways. Twelve have gone into the Post Office—two as letter sorters, three in the canteen and seven in the training school. Ten have been accepted as trainees in the Overseas Relay Service of the BBC. (Miss Mona Baptiste, a ‘blues singer’ from Trinidad, who was in the contingent on the “Empire Windrush”, appeared recently as a guest artiste in “Band Parade”, a popular BBC variety feature program). Four of them are working for a firm of well-known confectionary makers. Three are engaged in reconditioning metal kegs and drums at a salvage factory in the East End. One young man, Lloyd Jackson, who did farm work in America during the war, has got a £9. 2 shilling a week job as a rotary machine minder. Another young man by the name of Hamilton, formerly a sugar chemist in Jamaica, is employed as a laboratory assistant by the British Oxygen Co., Wimbledon.


Going through the works with Mr. Monkman (the factory was bombed during the war; “we hardly had a roof left but we never stopped working”) I saw may of the men who had come over on the “Empire Windrush”.

One welder, Eric Linton, a 36-year-old native of Jamaica, trained at the Kingston Technical School, had given up a job with a private engineering firm on the Island to come to England to ‘better himself’. Another welder, Anthony Simmons, was a 24-year-old Guianese. Before coming to England to serve with the RAF during the war h had worked at the U.S. Army Air Base at Atkinson Field in British Guiana. As a piece worker, drawing the top rate for a skilled man, he averaged £8 to £9 a week and was a member of the Construction Engineering Union.

“It’s fine up to now,” declared O. Jones, the sole Negro blacksmith in the works, when I asked him how he was getting on. A big, heavily built man of fifty he was another of the migrants from the ‘Isle of Springs’. For 23 years he had worked on the Jamaican Government Railways. The little shed roofed with corrugated iron in which he stood perspiring in blue overalls beside the forge was shared by another blacksmith, a white man.

“I have applied to join the union,” he went on, “but I have not heard from the yet.”

As there appeared to be two unions represented among the firm’s 1,000 workers, I asked Mr. Jones which one he was trying to get into.

“Amalgamated Engineering Union,” he replied.

A moment later, still in company with Mr. Monkman, I met R. Arkley, the convener of the shop stewards.

“We are not antagonistic,” Mr Arkley told me, speaking of the feeling towards the Negro migrants. “We try to be as helpful to them as far as we can. There is no shortage of work at the moment and the general attitude is friendly. There is no bar on nationality in our unions. The only people we bar are the Poles because we believe there is plenty of work for them to do in their own country.”

Mr Arkley paused. “Of course,” he added, “if there is redundancy the people who come last will go first.”

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