Caribbean Takeaway Takeover Interviews Online

On this World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, our Sound Archivist Sarah-Joy Maddeaux shares news of a new collection of moving stories that have recently been added to the archive.

What does ‘home’ mean?  What does it mean to be ‘British’?  What does it mean to be Black in Britain?  What can we learn from our elders?  And what does all of this have to do with a Caribbean restaurant in Colchester?

We are delighted to announce that we have received, catalogued, and published the interviews created by Evewright Arts Foundation for their Caribbean Takeaway Takeover exhibition.  From 2017 to 2018, artist Everton Wright (EVEWRIGHT), staff, and volunteers of his art foundation recorded oral history interviews with 10 elders who moved to the UK from the Caribbean in the 1940s to 1960s.

Last summer, on the on the weekend of the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush to Tilbury, Evewright ‘took over’ the S&S Caribbean Café in St Johns Street, Colchester, redecorating the walls and tables with pictures and documents relating to these elders’ lives.  Ten-minute segments from their interviews played on a loop in the café, making the exhibition fully immersive.  A number of community events encouraged engagement with the exhibition, and thereby with the incredible stories of these elders.

Picture of the redecorated Caribbean Cafe in Colchester

Detail of art installation at S&S Caribbean Café, 2018 (c) Evewright

The elders generously granted us permission to make their interviews freely available through our catalogue.  Search for ‘EVEWRIGHT’ on Essex Archives Online, or type ‘SA 69’ in the ‘Document reference’ box to find all ten interviews.

One of the most exciting interviews is that with Alford Gardner. Now aged 92, he is one of the few remaining passengers who travelled on the SS Empire Windrush, the first ship to bring West Indians to settle in post-war Britain. His vivid description of life on board the ship gives an impression of a fun communal experience. His optimism for the future took time to realise, as he faced initial opposition when he tried to settle in Leeds. He was treated very differently in 1948 than when he had previously spent time there as part of the Royal Air Force.

Black and white picture of the Empire Windrush on water

HMS EMPIRE WINDRUSH (FL 9448) Underway Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120767

Alford Gardner describes the struggle to find accommodation in Leeds in 1948 (SA 69/1/3/1).

As a collection, the interviews reveal a number of similarities in the elders’ experiences, but also some significant differences – factors that determined whether their move was overall a positive step, or a negative one which they came to regret.

As we might expect, many commented on adjusting to cold, wet England, and coming to appreciate the heating that required houses to have chimneys, which in the Caribbean only appeared on factories or bakeries.

Nell Green‘s first impression of the houses in England (SA 69/1/4/1).

Some recalled their first taste of fish and chips – but others were glad that they could access London markets to purchase the tastes of home, such as yams, tanier, dasheen, or plantain.

Carlton Darrell on fish and chips and the weather (SA 69/1/2/1).

In the 1940s to 1960s, British people might have felt like they were being overwhelmed by new arrivals from the Caribbean and other Commonwealth countries, an impression heightened by unfair media portrayals and some politicians stoking fear.  However, to the West Indians moving to Britain, black faces were all too scarce.  Many interviewees described finding and socialising with other West Indians, particularly in London.  Some women became adoptive mothers, inviting young people into their homes and cooking meals for them, helping them adjust to life in this strange, cold country.  Was this because it was difficult to make friends with English people?  Or was it because we naturally gravitate towards those who share our heritage, with whom we can feel ‘at home’ and recapture something of the country that we left behind?

Carol Sydney‘s social life as a young trainee nurse (SA 69/1/5/1)

Experiences depended, partly, on the financial position and status of the individuals before they moved.  Life was easier for those who had money to spend on decent accommodation.  Life was also easier if you already had family in England to support you, or if you found a job that you enjoyed and where you were treated with respect.  In contrast, it was most difficult for the earliest migrants, the Black people trying to settle in the 1950s amidst Teddy Boy attacks and ‘No cats, no dogs, no Blacks’ signs.  It became a little easier for those who arrived in the 1960s and beyond.  Many Black people began purchasing their rented homes using a traditional saving scheme called Susu or Pardnor. This enabled them to become landlords to other Black people seeking rooms to rent.

Don Sydney explains the Susu saving scheme that allowed West Indians to support each other in saving up for accommodation and furnishings (SA 69/1/6/1).

Yet, sadly, racist treatment was a shared experience right through the time period covered in the interviews, reported to some extent by each elder.

Carlton Darrell was dismissive of these examples of prejudice against him (SA 69/1/2/1). Is this because he felt it was inevitable, or because he considered himself fortunate compared to others?

Did Britain ever become ‘home’?  Yes and no.  Some indicated that they still missed their ‘home country’ and wished they could return.  Others alluded to a feeling that they were not ‘foreigners’ anymore, but neither were they fully British – even though, coming from Commonwealth countries, they were British subjects before they even set foot on England’s shores.

Carol Sydney reflects on what it means to be ‘British’ (SA 69/1/5/1).

Overall, most of the interviewees were pleased with how their lives had turned out.  Does this reflect the type of person they were?  That they took the initiative to move to England, the so-called ‘Promised Land’, in search of self-improvement and a better life?  Even if they did not believe the ‘streets paved with gold’ promise, many mentioned that Britain did hold a promise of better education, better jobs, and better salaries.  Did this proactive attitude make them more resilient, more likely to be happier with what they have accomplished?

Alton Watkins looks back with satisfaction on his life and his accomplishments (SA 69/1/8/1).

They certainly contributed to British society.  In their work as nurses, teachers, and midwives, they helped produce the next generation of Britain’s workers.  They paid taxes.  They contributed to the economy.  In retirement, they are volunteering in schools, sports clubs, and libraries.

However, even now, there is more that these elders can contribute.  Most of the interviewees acknowledged a persistence of racist attitudes in Britain, some indicating that it is growing worse.  Perhaps the interviews, and the exhibition that was held in the summer, will help in the battle to humanise migrants and demonstrate all that they have overcome in their lives.

In this year of the 70th anniversary of the Empire Windrush ship arriving in Tilbury; the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the National Health Service that partly prompted recruitment calls across the Commonwealth; this year of the Windrush scandal, we are grateful to Evewright Arts Foundation for capturing these individual stories that add meaning to national headlines.

And on today, the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, we are proud to play a part in preserving these ‘Moving Stories’ for the future, and in sharing them with you.

Read more about the Caribbean Takeover Takeaway or find out more about the Evewright Arts Foundation.

All of the interviews can be heard on our SoundCloud channel, or through our online catalogue – search for ‘Evewright’.

Document of the Month, October 2015: Photograph of West Indies Cricket Team, 1939

The West Indies cricket team played Essex at Chelmsford during the Essex Cricket Festival on 31 May – 2 June 1939. The West Indies won by 2 wickets.

West Indies cricket team 1939

Back row: C. B. Clarke, G. Gomez, [? E.A.V. Williams,? J.E.Q. Sealy], A. V. Avery
Middle row: [? J.B. Stollmeyer], R.M. Taylor, Ray Smith, B. K. Castor, [? H.P. Bayley], T. Wade, [unknown], Peter Smith
Front row: G. Headley, J. Dennis, [? I. Barrow], J. O’Connor, [? R.S. Grant], J.W.A. Stephenson, [? J.H. Cameron, M. Nichols, L. Constantine, L. Eastman, [? E.A. Martindale]
[Identified by Ray Illingworth and Peter Edwards of Essex County Cricket Club, October 1998]

This photograph was taken by the famous Chelmsford photographer Fred Spalding, himself a keen cricketer. He rarely included the names of players in teams but in this case the players have been identified as far as possible.  They include George Headley (far left on front row) and Learie (later Sir Learie) Constantine  (3rd from right on front row).

Headley scored 116 against Essex and went on to score two more centuries against England during the 1939 season.

During Essex’ first innings Constantine took 7 wickets for 49 runs in 10 overs and during their second innings, 6 wickets for 42 runs. Constantine had toured England with the West Indies cricket team in 1928 (their first ever tour), scoring 130 runs in 90 minutes against Essex.  He continued his career as a cricketer playing for both the West Indies and for teams in Lancashire.  He later became a barrister and Trinidad’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and was influential in the passing of the Race Relations Act.

The photograph will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout October 2015.

Black History Month: our earliest Black history record

This week on social media we asked you when you thought our earliest record of a Black individual in Essex would date from.

And the answer is… 1580! How close did you get?

The earliest mention we have found of a Black individual in our collections is the burial record of Thomas Parker, ‘a certayne darke mane’ in Rayleigh in 1579/80 (D/P 332/1/3). Thomas was buried on 12 February in the year that we would call 1580; at the time, however, New Year was marked on 25 March rather than 1 January, so contemporaries would have thought of it as still being 1579.

As with so many records this little snippet raises more questions than answers, as we know nothing else of Thomas Parker. Do let us know if you are able to shed any more light on his life.

Thomas Parker burial D-P 332-1-3 editDo you have a story to tell about the past or present of a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) community in Essex? If so we want to hear from you.

We are inviting people from BAME communities to tell their stories, either by writing them down or making a sound or video recording, to be kept in the archive for current and future generations to share.

This will be an ongoing project, but in order for potential contributors to see where their stories will be stored, we are holding a launch event with an opportunity to see behind-in-scenes at the archive, and to enjoy food, music, and a display of documents. Come and join in with Essex History Needs You on Saturday 11 October 2014, 11.00am-2.00pm. Free entry, just drop in.

Document of the Month: a letter from India, 1828

As October is Black History Month, we have chosen for our Document of the Month something from our small but significant collection which reflects the history of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities and their connections to Essex.

The document is a letter from Bhowaneydass Purshotumdass in Bombay to Captain G. G. H. Munnings (referred to in the letter as ‘Mannings’) dating from 1828 (D/DU 312/7). While the letter raises more questions than it answers, it gives us a tantalising glimpse into the world of trade in India in the nineteenth century.

D_DU_312_7 watermarked

We can glean from the letter that Munnings was employed by Purshotumdass, and that he had just arrived in Calcutta on the Sunbury from Madras, a journey of 800 miles along the Bay of Bengal from the south to the north of the country. Judging by the need to ‘repair and cork the ship’, the writer’s reference to a ‘boisterous passage’ from Madras to Calcutta by Captain Munnings would seem to be an understatement.

It appears that the main purpose of the journey was to transport horses to Calcutta, but Purshotumdass wanted the vessel to return with as full a cargo and as quickly as possible to maximise profits, as is the case with international trade today.

Unfortunately, no other letters between the pair survive; we don’t know for how long he was employed by Bhowaneydass Purshotumdass, or what goods he found for the return journey.

At present, we have been able to find out a little about Captain Munnings but nothing about Bhowaneydass Purshotumdass.

What we do know is that Captain Munnings was from a family from Thorpe-le-Soken, and his full name was George Garnett Huske Munnings. Poll books available on Ancestry describe Captain Munnings as a merchant; the burial registers of St. Stephen Coleman Street in the City of London record that he was buried in that parish in 1837.

Other records show that Munnings owned a number of ships involved in both domestic and international trade. Some of his vessels operated up and down the coast of East Anglia, while others plied their trade to India and the West Indies.

Bhowaneydass Purshotumdass has signed the letter twice; in English and possibly in Marathi (a language used in Bombay).  He was clearly an educated and wealthy man; it is difficult to translate the 2,000 rupees he mentions to a modern day equivalent, but by the end of the 19th century, 15 rupees equated to £1.

The letter will be on display in the Searchroom throughout October 2014.

Do you have a story to tell about the past or present of a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) community in Essex? If so we want to hear from you.

We are inviting people from BAME communities to tell their stories, either by writing them down or making a sound or video recording, to be kept in the archive for current and future generations to share.

This will be an ongoing project, but in order for potential contributors to see where their stories will be stored, we are holding a launch event with an opportunity to see behind-in-scenes at the archive, and to enjoy food, music, and a display of documents. Come and join in with Essex History Needs You on Saturday 11 October 2014, 11.00am-2.00pm. Free entry, just drop in. More information here.

Workers of the world unite!

Recently, we held our Workers of the world unite! day as part of Black History Month. We heard stories from around the county about people from other countries and cultures who have come to live and work in Essex, from those who arrived on the Empire Windrush in 1948, to the community around Tomas Bata’s shoe factory in East Tilbury, to what it was like to arrive in Essex from India and Jamaica.

We were visited on the day by BBC Essex’s Ian Wyatt , who recorded interviews with some of our speakers, which he played on his shows this weekend.

Scroll through to 56 minutes on his Saturday show to listen to our chairwoman Yvonne Howard, and Fred Price from the Bata Reminiscence and Resource Centre:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00yxg74

And on his Sunday show, tune in from 53.58 to listen to poet Jeffrey Porter:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00yy4qn

Both shows will be available on iPlayer for the next few days.

The conference was a great day, and we are now busy planning for our next one, A night at the opera and a matinee at the flicks: theatre and cinema in Essex, on Saturday 24 November, exploring the history of theatre and cinema in the county. More details can be found here.

Poet Jeffrey Porter being interviewed by BBC Essex's Ian Wyatt

Poet Jeffrey Porter being interviewed by BBC Essex’s Ian Wyatt

Lunchtime - enjoying our culturally diverse buffet

Lunchtime – enjoying our culturally diverse buffet

This event was kindly sponsored by the Essex Cultural Diversity Project.