12 months ago

Windrush 75: Clapham’s history

Clapham has strong links to the Windrush story and what happened in June 75 years ago. Read on to find out more…

This year marks 75 years since HMT Empire Windrush landed on the shores of the UK, bringing with it 492 people. The majority of those on board were from Caribbean islands like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and boarded the boat with the promise of work within the UK. That was the reason for the ship; the British government were keen to fill the gap in the workforce that was a result of WWII. Though the War had been finished for 3 years, the country was still in recovery and was missing many of the men that would usually do many of the hard labour jobs.

In a bid to fill these roles, the government looked elsewhere and sent Empire Windrush on a mission to help replenish the diminished population here. Many of those onboard became workers, cleaners, drivers and nurses in the newly established NHS. Though the passengers of that first intake have been invaluable for the economy of the UK, it wasn’t just the economical advantages that we, as a country, have benefited from. The social and cultural diversity that the Windrush generation have enriched our country with is something to be celebrated, and the 75 anniversary that 22nd June 2023 marks is the perfect opportunity to do this, as well as reflecting on the hardships the generation, and generations after them, faced and continue to face today.

But where is Clapham’s link to Windrush? During WWII a deep shelter was build under Clapham South tube station, in the hopes to protect local residents during the blitz. Typically, the shelter was only completed when the worst of the bombing was already over, but the shelter was vast; able to house 8,000 people and when the War was over it was put to use in other ways. Initially it was used as a military hostel, but then it found further use when Empire Windrush docked in June 1948.

Around 200 of the first of the Windrush generation were without a place to stay upon their arrival. it was decided that they would, therefore, stay in the deep-level shelter in Clapham where there were beds to spare. Those staying in Clapham were allowed residence there for up to 4 weeks, until they found a more permanent solution to their accommodation. They lived in small bunk beds with low ceilings where the tunnel curves and, obviously, no natural light. It would have been an extremely harsh introduction to life in the UK. From Clapham, the nearest labour exchange was on Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, so that’s where the majority of the new settlers went to find work. It is also why Brixton is such a recognised hub for the newly developing Caribbean community.

If you want to find out more about the Windrush generation, we recommend going to see this exhibition, which is running from Clapham Library until September.

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