The emigration of thousands of Caribbean people to the UK — heralded by the arrival of the Windrush at Tilbury Docks in 1948 — is well documented.
But did you know that 6,000 employees were directly recruited from Barbados and other Caribbean islands by London Transport (now TfL) between 1956 and 1970?
Their story is told in Legacies: London Transport's Caribbean Workforce, an exhibition coming to London Transport Museum this February. Archive photography, oral recordings, quotes from early arrivals to the UK and vintage recruiting posters show how Caribbean people left the comfort of their homes, making the 7,000km journey to London, to work as bus conductors, station and maintenance staff, and canteen assistants.
Among them was Ruel Moseley, who was recruited as a bus conductor in 1959, and recalled: "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."
Agatha Claudette Hart came to London in the 1960s, working as a conductor at Stockwell Bus Garage. Though initially, most who came to work for London Transport were men, many women came a little later, particularly to work in the numerous staff canteens. While new cooks were given put through their paces with a mixture of lectures and practicals — as shown with the 'Syllabus of Training for Cooks' — they also used their own knowledge to introduce exciting new flavours to Britain, igniting a foodie revolution that's flourished ever since.
Though diversifying London Transport's workforce was obviously a positive move, Legacies... doesn't shy from calling out the hostility and racism faced by many who came to London. This was, after all, the era that brought us the Notting Hill Race Riots and prejudiced attacks from the police, as explored in Steve McQueen's recent Small Axe films. Many London Transport workers employees were skilled and well-educated, but were forced to accept basic, low-paid work — often struggling to climb the ranks because of who they were.
The legacy of those who came to London all those decades ago continues through the generations. The exhibition speaks to relatives of the first Caribbean recruits, such as Ashley Mayers, who has three generations in his family that have worked for London bus services. Says Mayers: "My grandad was a driver, my dad worked on the computer systems in bus garages and now I work in customer experience for buses."
And, for anyone who loved Denzil Forrester's 'Brixton Blue' mural that was in Brixton Underground station a couple of years back (we've got our hands up right now, because it was brilliant), Legacies... features a preliminary sketch, poster and interview with the artist on his thought-provoking artwork.
Legacies: London Transport’s Caribbean Workforce opens 11 February at London Transport Museum, Covent Garden. Entry is included in the museum ticket price. It runs until summer 2024.