A new exhibition Legacies: London Transport’s Caribbean Workforce will open at London Transport Museum, Covent Garden on Friday 11 February 2022. The exhibition celebrates the contribution Caribbean people have made to transport in London since the 1950s to the present day, while also documenting the struggles these individuals and their families endured, especially at the start of their new lives in the Capital. This movement of people had a big impact on London Transport (LT) as an organisation, London as a city and the UK as a nation.
Visitors will be able to uncover stories and memories from first, second and third generation Caribbean people, from those who worked for London Transport in the 1950s and 1960s to today’s employees.
Archive photography of potential applicants to LT’s recruitment campaign in Barbados, recorded oral histories from people of Caribbean heritage, written quotes from early arrivals to the UK, historic newspaper clippings, maps and a fun interactive to identify modern-day Caribbean Commonwealth flags, will trace the journey Caribbean people made. This will include the departure from their homes in the middle of the last century, the building of new lives in London and the positive impact Caribbean communities have had on today’s culture.
After the Second World War, as the ties of the British Empire started to loosen, the UK’s need for workers coincided with the Caribbean population’s need for jobs. In 1948, Britain granted the status of British Subject to citizens of the UK and Colonies. Britain benefited greatly from those making the difficult 7,000km journey to London, starting with the docking of the HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury in 1948.
From 1956 to 1970 LT recruited about 6,000 employees directly from some British colonies in the Caribbean to the UK. The experiences of new recruits are explored in a short film revisiting interviews with direct recruits from the Caribbean shot for the Museum in 1994, along with some of the original advertising posters created to drum up interest for vacancies back in London.
The new Caribbean recruits arrived with high hopes of life in Britain but were shocked to be faced with hostility and racism and struggled to find places to live. The voices of early Caribbean arrivals are captured in evocative quotes that will form part of the display as visitors walk around. Ruel Moseley, a bus conductor recruited from Barbados in 1959, recalls: ‘You were not used to sharing five to a room. However poor you were in Barbados you were not used to sharing a room… I cried like a baby the first week I was here.’
New recruits worked as bus conductors, station staff and canteen assistants and in track maintenance and building work. Though most were skilled and well-educated they had to take basic, low-paid work and often found promotion difficult due to pervasive racism. Homesickness and the cold weather also made the lives of newly arrived migrants difficult.
A new short film entitled Bite your tongue by Comfort Adeneye and Emmanuel Adeneye, 2022, commissioned by London Transport Museum, draws upon a real account of passenger hostility experienced by a Caribbean recruit working for London Transport. Framed as a conversation between two colleagues, it highlights the challenges of adjusting to a new city on the job and the self-restraint often expected with passengers.
Another Black filmmaker, Jefferson Bannis, worked with an editor to reinterpret his 1994 film for the London Transport Museum exhibition ‘Sun a-shine, rain a-fall’, presenting interviews with three early Caribbean recruits. This re-edited film, Arrival, will be on display in the new exhibition.
Yet despite these great challenges, many enjoyed their work. New social and sports clubs were set up, such as the London Transport Caribbean Association, which helped with everything from holidays to assistance with funerals in the Caribbean.
Most of the initial Caribbean recruits were men, but women also took up jobs at LT, especially in the numerous canteens that in 1956 helped to feed 87,000 staff. Historical images of Caribbean women working in the canteens illustrate life in these staff restaurants and a ‘Syllabus of Training for Cooks’ manual shows a typical day, with its mix of lectures and practical work. These new cooks soon introduced new Caribbean flavours and recipes to the traditional British food.
Today, LT’s successor Transport for London (TfL) includes a new generation of Londoners, some of whom are relatives of the first Caribbean recruits. Ashley Mayers, a Customer Experience Manager, has three generations in his family that have worked for London bus services. Ashley’s grandfather was recruited from Simpson Buses in the Caribbean in 1957 to LT’s Merton bus garage in London where he worked as a driver. Ashley’s father was responsible for the computers that helped run bus routes. Visitors will be able to listen to Ashley’s interview via an audio speaker in the exhibition. The quote below is a snippet from this story:
‘There is a history of buses in my family, my grandad was a driver, my dad worked on the computer systems in bus garages and now I work in customer experience for buses’
Ashley Mayers, 2021
Visitors can also listen to stories from Winsome Hull, Senior Business Strategy Manager at TfL and Trustee of London Transport Museum, who was born in Jamaica and arrived in London when she was ten years old. Winsome is also part of an Advisory Board of TfL staff of Caribbean heritage who helped shape the content and narrative of the Legacies: London Transport’s Caribbean Workforce exhibition. London Transport Museum would like to thank the Advisory Board for their enthusiasm, ideas and invaluable feedback.
The Museum would also like to thank the TfL Raising Awareness of Culture and Ethnicity (RACE) Staff Network Group who have generously shared their resources and expertise and provided valuable input into the exhibition.
The final part of the exhibition focuses on the continuing influence Caribbean culture and art has on the Capital and beyond. Visitors will see photography documenting people’s journeys to Notting Hill Carnival and a new contemporary short film called Sunday’s best By Siane Dena Faye and Loriamah Skerritt, 2022, commissioned by London Transport Museum. The film follows a young couple as they sneak away from church to experience the fun of Carnival. On their journey they take in the sights, sounds and history of Caribbean culture in London.
Additionally, a preliminary sketch, poster and filmed interview will showcase an Art on the Underground commission by the artist Denzil Forrester. The large-scale artwork called ‘Brixton Blue’ was in Brixton Underground station between 2019 and 2021.
Families and school children will be encouraged to engage with the content of the exhibition through a new, fun, flag exhibit that asks younger visitors to guess the Caribbean nation belonging to each flag while small family-friendly printed labels will allow younger visitors to ask questions about the experiences of the Caribbean people that made London their home.
A new QR code will link to a new London Transport Museum webpage containing a wealth of learning materials from other organisations which will ensure that future generations know and remember the legacy of those that travelled from the Caribbean to the UK to shape the country we now know. Teachers can book their pupils on to one of the Museum’s onsite sessions in the Museum called Caribbean Journeys https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/schools/key-stage-2
The Museum will also be launching a new immersive storytelling session for primary schools exploring themes of inclusion and identity and uncovering how Caribbean culture has shaped the way we travel and the city in which we live.