In 1998 members of Hackney’s Caribbean communities shared their memories and experiences as the Windrush Generation in interviews recorded by Hackney Museum. 25 years later, to mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush, this series revisits their stories.
This blog explores the communities that the Windrush Generation created in Hackney and what they did to have fun.
The community that the Windrush generation formed was not a given; they were not a single community moving over, but groups from different countries, different cultures and world outlooks that distinguished them from each other when they first arrived in Britain. Despite this, residents describe the powerful ‘togetherness’ that helped them face the challenges in a new country.
Parties with music and dominoes, and church and family gatherings were cherished environments, where Caribbean people could be themselves and celebrate their roots without fear of discrimination. In these spaces, they were able to establish a sense of belonging away from the places they once called home.
Photograph by Dennis Morris, entitled ‘Saturday Night Fever’ 1973. Hackney Museum 2010.34 ©Dennis Morris www.dennismorris.com
Bringing the party inside
In coming to Britain, people left behind their friends and families who had given them a sense of community, arriving in a place where, for many, this was missing. Some felt isolated, made worse by working night shifts.
The weekends brought a welcome break from intense and laborious work and an opportunity to socialise. However, meeting each other in pubs, cinemas and dance halls was not always an option – the threat of violence and tensions with white groups left many feeling unsafe in public spaces.
Homes became community hubs where strong relationships were made based on shared experiences and crossovers in Caribbean culture. Inviting friends over for weekend house parties became the tradition.
Lloyd Dayes came to Britain aged 19 because he saw it as the trend among people his age. In Hackney, he knew where all the young people lived and they would regularly get together.
On Friday and Saturday nights when we didn’t have to think of going to work, we used to meet at each other’s home… and we used to take it in turn at weekends to have parties and play dominoes.
There were no fights and it was not necessary because there was a togetherness we didn’t even have in Jamaica. It was really wonderful.Loyd Dayes, who moved from Jamaica in 1956
In their homes, loud music could be played and they could dance without fear of judgement. The Blue Spot Radiogram, which doubled up as both a radio and record player, was an essential furniture piece in the home. Lloyd particularly remembered the music they listened to:
In those days, record players used to sell like hot cake, particularly the Blue Spot Gram. At the time, there was no reggae music, but blues beat was just coming in with people like Prince Buster, and we used to have a lot of American jive music and jazz.Lloyd Dayes
This celebration of music was an important part of Caribbean people connecting with their home countries, but it still put them at odds with British society. Being in their own homes did not stop interruptions, with the police regularly called on to put a stop to their parties:
The culture of Jamaicans, where we come from, is open air and when we play music its loud. This was not conducive to the White people standard.Lloyd Dayes
A family in Hackney enjoying the music from their radiogram (seen in the background) during a birthday celebration. From the RA Gibson collection, R2822, Hackney Archives. Hackney Archives are trying to identify and contact the people in these photographs. If you recognise anyone or have concerns about the use of these images, please get in touch.
Throughout Hackney’s Caribbean community, perceptions and understandings about what ‘home’ means can vary. Despite living in London for the majority of their lives, many of the Windrush Generation still felt they belonged to their home countries. However, experiences during visits could leave them feeling unwelcome and resigned to living in Britain.
I feel very much Jamaican. But things have really changed because when I was over there I noticed a lot of differences…they would take the shirt off you. They overcharge you if you have an accent from England or you are well dressed.Mavis Stephenson, moved from Jamaica 1952. Hackney Museum 2016.28
Time had also created a distance between the generations who had moved to Britain and those who had been born in Britain. In 1998, several interviewees were frustrated that their children were growing up in Britain without the Caribbean values they felt were important.
You try to teach your children at home about their culture, because when they go to school and they meet their peer group out there and other things take over.James Fletcher, moved from Antigua in 1960. Hackney Museum 2016.33
Despite this, different ideas of identity and belonging is still felt through the generations, including those born in Britain. Marcia Davis is a second generation Windrush descendant, born in Birmingham while her parents had been born in Jamaica.
I am always aware that I am Black and I am also very aware that I have been born here. I find that in the Caribbean islands you are considered to be British because ‘you were born here and so you’re not the same as us’. However, my awareness of my sense of belonging is there and not here, and that is something I always tend to thrive on if you like.Marcia Davis, Hackney Museum 2020.16
While Marcia’s parents had socialised only within Caribbean communities, she had more mixed friendship groups, a trend she saw further develop with her own son.
I think that as time has changed, I think the natives of his generation are more comfortable…I think they have so much more in common. I feel that the natives are more comfortable as opposed to him being more comfortable…Marcia Davis, Hackney Museum 2020.16
Looking forward, beyond the Windrush generation, Caribbean communities have become more integrated socially and work-wise with other groups in Britain, particularly in Hackney.
Read the next blog in this series, A New Generation, to find out more about the cultural influences of the Windrush Community on Hackney today.
Content for this blog featured in the exhibition ‘Windrush and Beyond’ (2000) at Hackney Museum.