A Brief History


Mapping 100 years of Black & Asian heritage

The arrival of people from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean has transformed and continues to transform England. The Another England project is gathering your photos and memories to help tell the story of our rich multicultural heritage through place. With help from the public, we are plotting the buildings and places where Black and Asian people have settled, worked and socialised on the Another England map. With each place you plot on the map, you can also share your photos and memories.

From 1918 - 2018, the project spans the period from the end of the Great War through to what will in 2018 be the 70th anniversary of the British Nationality Act. This period saw the break-up of the Empire and the devastation of the country through two World Wars.

Another England draws attention to the role that Black and Asian people have played in the building of the nation into a vibrant multicultural society whilst recognising the challenges they have faced and continue to face.

The project is exploring themes of Origins, Home, Work, Culture, Racism & Resistance and Place.

Many of our famous institutions and landmarks were formed during the expansion of the British Empire. The Bank of England, the City of London, and the docks of London or Liverpool are all good examples.
At its centre lay colonial ambition and the practice of international trade. The barbaric trans-Atlantic slave trade was an important part of this. Much of the nation’s wealth was accumulated directly through these global systems of exploitation. It was then often reinvested in commercial and industrial projects back in England.

England’s modern multicultural population owes much to our imperial past. By the end of the First World War in 1918 Britain ruled the world’s largest Empire. It encompassed all of what is today India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Large parts of Africa, including Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Somaliland and significant parts of the Caribbean and South America including Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and British Guiana were also under British control. The empire included many other areas too including Yemen, Hong Kong, Malaya, as well as the so-called dominions of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Sailors were recruited to the merchant navy from India, Africa, the Caribbean, Aden and other areas. Many of them established homes in England, often in port cities such as London, Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow and South Shields. British Subjects, meaning citizens of the Empire, came to Britain for training. At that time the English system of education with its universities and colleges was the most sought after within the colonial system. Others came to find work and settled in those areas where their compatriots lived or where they could find work such as Manchester and Hull.

1948 was the year of the British Nationality Act which gave all Commonwealth citizens free entry into Britain. In the years that followed many more people came to England to help re-build the country after the Second World War. Many of these people were invited by the government and other organisations with incentives and official recruitment campaigns.

Those who made the journey played an important role in the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. They often moved to large towns and cities like Birmingham, Leeds and Bradford where there was a demand for workers. The car industry for example, the Post Office, British Railways, London Transport and the National Health Service all relied on migrant workers.

Other migrants came as refugees and asylum seekers, from India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Somaliland and many other countries. Not all had been British colonies, some had other historic links with Britain, such as Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Today people from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia and their families are to be found in most towns and cities throughout England and are engaged in a variety of occupations.

When asked where we come from, our first thought is usually of what we consider to be home. Home is a place of safety and security for us and our family. It’s a place where we belong, where we can be ourselves, and a space that nurtures. Home extends from the house you live in, to your family, neighbourhood, out to the town and country you’re from.

They say that home is where the heart is. Many Black and Asian people migrating to England had to leave that home (and often their heart) behind to make a new one here.

Certain parts of England like London easily lend themselves to becoming home for many different and changing migrant communities. Other places may not have been so easy to settle into, but have, over time, built up strong and well established communities of Black and Asian people.

To feel at home, particularly when away from it, we tend to surround ourselves with home comforts. Black and Asian people therefore brought with them things like food and drink, textiles, household goods, beauty products and art and music. Shops and markets appeared that offered these items to homesick customers.

Certain communities such as in the example of the Bangladeshi community in Nelson in Lancashire, bought and adapted buildings so that they could house the larger family units they were used to living in in their country of origin. Others have focused more on interior design: the most ‘quintessentially English’ or ordinary houses can contain microcosms of other countries and cultures as highlighted by the photo project, The Front Room: Migrant Aesthetics in the Home, by the writer Michael McMillan.

Being able to continue to practice daily and weekly rituals from religious worship, playing sports and socialising with friends is an important part of making and maintaining a home. New spaces or existing buildings have often been repurposed by Black and Asian communities as places of worship, youth clubs, and sports clubs.

People of Colour living in England often find they are asked the question, “where are you from?” This seemingly innocent question is loaded with different meanings. Today many people of Black and Asian heritage, depending on their individual background, might see England as their only home or they may identify with multiple places. But for many there is no simple answer. Whatever the response, these perspectives enrich England’s identity.

At the end of the First World War most African, Caribbean and Asian people lived in port cities and many were seafarers, serving in the merchant fleet both in war and peace time.

It was in these cities that large scale racist attacks occurred in 1919. Even after this time there were laws that discriminated against ‘coloured’ people and made it difficult for them to find employment. This problem continued even during the Second World War.

At the end of the Second World War there was a significant skills and labour gap in England. Many men had been killed or injured in the war and women were encouraged to return to their work in the home. More manpower was needed.

The Royal Commission on Population reported in 1949 that immigrants of 'good stock' would be welcomed 'without reserve'. Migrants from the Caribbean, such as those on the SS Empire Windrush who arrived from Jamaica in June 1948, were often able to find employment. In the 1950s there were government led recruitment drives in former colonies, like the Caribbean.

Migrants from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia in this period were often forced to live in the poorest areas or where work was plentiful such as London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. Even in the 1950s and 1960s a colour bar existed in employment, for example on Bristol’s buses.

Some employers such as the NHS and London transport recruited in the Caribbean, other migrants were employed on British Rail, or by the big car manufacturers such as Fords in Dagenham and British Leyland in Longbridge, Birmingham.

Pakistani migrants were often drawn to the textile mills of West Yorkshire and Lancashire and towns such as Bradford.

Many African and Caribbean women were employed as nurses by the NHS. Even today between 15-20% of NHS employees are of African, Caribbean and Asian heritage.

As the world of work has become ever more diverse, work places have changed and with them the workforce. From entrepreneurs, teachers, sportspeople, nurses, architects, waiters and waitresses and scientists, Black and Asian people are part of a diverse job market.

This has not happened easily and Black and Asian people have often had to fight for their rights. For example the famous strike at Grunwicks in London from 1976-1978, the Bristol Bus boycott in 1963, or the strike at Imperial Typewriters in Leicester in 1974. Even today, there are certain professions where Black and Asian people remain underrepresented such as the legal profession, academia, politics and the corporate sector.

Imperial European powers found ways to justify the barbaric slave system and the invasion, colonisation and expropriation of foreign lands for the expansion of their wealth.

Britain amongst them created a hierarchy with white Europeans at the top and Africans and Asians at the bottom. Racism became embedded into the nation’s structures of power, culture, education and identity.

People from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia were encouraged by government to come to England. But on arrival here they often faced racism and discrimination, which was not illegal in Britain until 1965.

In 1919, there were large-scale racist attacks on ‘coloured’ communities in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Hull, South Shields as well as parts of Scotland and Wales. There were other large-scale attacks in Liverpool in 1948, in Nottingham and Notting Hill in 1958 and at other times and places throughout the century since 1918.

One of the most well-known racist murders is that of teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993. There have been many murders in the past, including, Akhtar Ali Baig in East Ham in 1980. Kelso Cochrane was also murdered in Notting Hill in 1959 and Charles Wootton, in Liverpool in 1919.

Although migrant workers have been vital for the growth of Britain’s economy and public services, racism has sometimes been widespread. There was the ‘colour bar’ that prevented ‘coloured’ people obtaining jobs and accommodation, fighting for British boxing titles or even joining the armed services or serving as officers in them. Some laws were openly racist too, such as the 1925 Coloured Alien Seamen’s Order or the 1981 British Nationality Act.

There have been openly racist speeches by leading politicians too. seeking to create divisions and stir up racism Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ tirade in 1968 is a well-known example.. And then there are the activities of politically racist organisations such as the National Front.

In response those of African, Caribbean and Asian descent have been forced to find various forms of resistance alongside allies. They organised political actions or demonstrations such as the Grumwick Strike in 1976 and the Black People’s Day of Action in 1981 in London. There were various protests against police and racist violence in the 1970s and 1980s.

Sometimes it meant forming defence organisations such as the League of Coloured Peoples and the first Indian Workers’ Association established in the 1930s, or the Black People’s Alliance in the 1970s.

At other times, communities responded by establishing places of refuge and sanctuary. There was the widespread supplementary school movement often favoured in Caribbean communities. There were also centres such as Africa House in Camden in the 1930s, or cultural centres, such as the Drum in Birmingham in the 1990s.

Racist perspectives labelled people of African, Asian and Caribbean heritage as inferior and foreign. They bundled them into a homogenous group of ‘coloureds’ and ‘immigrants’. However, the identities of people coming to England were and still are, as varied as the number of people arriving.

Depending on identity, place of origin, ethnic background and many other factors, people’s experience of England was different. Some post-1948 migrants from the Caribbean imagined that they were coming home to the ‘mother country’. They were often surprised at the cool reception they received.

Often migrants were drawn to parts of the country where they were connected to an existing historical community. Over time these communities gave places distinct characters that have enriched the culture of the nation. Hybrid identities were formed where migrant communities mixed with each other and existing populations. Places like Liverpool, Hull, South Shields and London are good examples.

Places of sanctuary

To celebrate their own culture – and at times to escape a hostile environment - Black and Asian people created places of sanctuary. These spaces of living and loving included restaurants such as International Afro Restaurant in New Oxford Street in the 1930s and the Mangrove in Ladbroke Grove in the 1960s/1970s. They included bookstores such as Headstart in Tottenham, New Beacon Books in Finsbury Park, Bogle L’Ouverture in Ealing. There were night clubs too, such as Florence Mills Social Parlour in Carnaby Street in the 1930s or later the Q club in Paddington – all these in London alone.

Places of worship were also important safe spaces to practice and maintain their culture for Black and Asian communities. As the presence of communities from India and Pakistan grew in England, the number of mosques expanded. The earliest mosques were formed through the conversion of houses such as Preston Mosque. There were other large scale conversions. Then came purpose built mosques such as Regents Park Mosque in London and with these the emergence of Islamic architecture in England. Other religious spaces emerged such as Sikh Gurdwaras. The first appeared in Putney in London but also in Birmingham and West Yorkshire where there was significant migrant populations from the Punjab.

Many of these spaces of sanctuary were home to a spectrum of Black and Asian cultures. They became melting pots of creativity and cultural hotspots for the broader population. Whole areas have become known as locations of cultural resistance at certain times. Some organised cultural celebrations like the many Caribbean carnivals that take place throughout the country. The most famous of these is the Notting Hill Carnival in West London, initiated following the racist murder of Kelso Cochrane and the location for wide-scale opposition to police violence in 1976.

Events

Organised and informal events changed the way people thought about their streets and public spaces and created new ways of sharing space to celebrate the collective experience of living together. Notting Hill Carnival started as an expression of Trinidadian culture and became an international event. The Muslim annual Eid prayer is held in parks across the country. The Hindu festival of Diwali sees fireworks, lanterns and other displays around the country. And so our public spaces have become sites for a rich experience of cultural exhibition.

Underground events like parties and raves, featuring reggae, jungle music, garage and grime became hubs for counter cultures. The example of the band Soul II Soul and their rise to stardom in the late 80's as a result of their regular gigs at The Africa Centre in Covent Garden is one illustration of how new forms of music, art and spoken word have emerged out of these spaces and influenced mainstream creative culture in turn.

People migrating and settling in England have transformed our sense of place and our everyday experience of the world around us.

Migrant communities have adopted England’s high streets, public spaces and neighbourhoods. They have introduced new patterns of retail, public life and social relations between communities. Globally connected to their places of origin, they have brought their food, clothes and a multitude of other items to the high street. They’ve made England’s streets vibrant and fascinating places of varied cultural experiences.

Streetscapes

The new populations have helped to keep England ‘a nation of shopkeepers‘. They have introduced a variety and colour never before seen in our street markets and local shops. People can now experience new types of food, exotic fruits, traditional textiles, music and all kinds of products from all over the world.

New communities have revived and transformed markets and high streets across the country. London’s Brixton and Whitechapel Markets, Liverpool’s China Town, and the ethnically diverse thoroughfares of Leicester’s Narborough Road, Manchester’s Cheetham Hill Road to name but a few.

Communities and Neighbourhoods

Industries in working class towns such as the mills of Bolton and Bradford, and the steel factories of Sheffield, sought cheap labour from populations in South Asia. These newcomers needed spaces where they could recreate their cultural and religious activities. And so new places of worship and communities sprang up across the country. Construction of temples, gurdwaras and mosques heralded a new architectural landscape and visual culture on England’s streets.

Today England is perhaps host to one of the world’s most diverse collection of South Asian, African and West Indian religions. Many of, if not all of the various denominations of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian and other faiths are represented here.