Caribbean settlement in Britain

Caribbean people in Britain

Although there are records to show of Black people in the UK as early as the 12th Century, it was not until the 18th and 19th Centuries that there was a major increase in the Black population in Britain. Afro-Caribbean migrants have since become a integral part of British society and in the process created a new aspect of British life and self image, redefining what it means to be British.

With the expansion of the British Empire Africans arrived in Britain as slaves, on ships that carried imperial products including tea, sugar, cotton, coffee, and rum, docking at ports in London, Liverpool and Bristol. Most were brought over by planters, military and naval officers and ended up working as household and domestic servants for wealthy and aristocratic families. By the 1700’s, African communities were growing in the major ports, including Bristol, Cardiff and Liverpool.

The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade continued and during it’s height, from 1700 to 1807, an estimated 18 million Africans were transported with up to 3 million dying during the journey. The Middle Passage was the brutal and horrific transportation of Africans across the Atlantic to the plantations of the Caribbean and Americas.

After the end of slavery, during the 19th century, Black people who arrived and stayed in Britain were mainly seamen, students and entertainers.

During the First World War (1914-1918) a significant number of Afro Caribbean people arrived in Britain to fight. Soon after, thousands arrived to work in the war industries and the merchant navy. While establishing communities in the seaports and major cities, their presence often met with conflict.

The next wave of Afro-Caribbean immigration in Britain was during the Second World War (1939-1945). Many workers came as volunteers to fight in the RAF and the armed forces to serve.

In June 22nd 1948, the SS Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, with just under 500 passengers coming from Jamaica. This has since become an important landmark in the history of modern multicultural Britain. During the post world war two era the presence of Caribbean immigrants was requested to help reconstruct the British economy. Industries such as British Rail, the NHS and London transport recruited almost exclusively from Jamaica and Barbados.

Up the mid-1950’s, due to shortages in the UK labour force, Afro-Caribbean migration to Britain increased. It is estimated the about a quarter of a million Afro Caribbean people arrived to settle permanently in Britain between 1955 and 1962. The British government then moved to pass the ‘1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act’ restricting the entry of immigrants.

The children of the first wave of post-war Caribbean migrants became an established part of the British society By the 1970’s a whole generation of young Black British with African Caribbean heritage emerged, developing a renewed sense of ‘black culture’.