The Caribbean Enabling London Transport. In August of this year I visited the London Transport Museum and was surprised and delighted with their new exhibition – Legacies: London Transport’s Caribbean Workforce. Apparently it opened this February and closes in the summer of 2024.
I was blown away by the time, care and space given to this exhibition.
London Transport was one of the very few places that was prepared to give jobs to the Windrush Generation, who answered the call to come work in ‘the Motherland’. Whilst celebrating the contributions that Caribbean people made to transport in London, London Transport Museum, in this exhibition, documents the struggles faced by individual workers and their families.
There is something compelling and moving to hear, in their own voices, the experiences of actual employees and the treatment they received in this country. Coupled with profound poetry to awe the senses, you get a real feel for how times were and are in London Transport – now morphed into Transport For London, and London as a whole. You also get a sense of the pride of these first, second and third generation employees have, in the jobs that they do and their places of work.
London Transport ran a direct recruitment campaign from 1956 to 1970, resulting in around 6,000 employees from the Caribbean being hired. It was shocking to learn that approximately 200 migrants were given underground shelter in Clapham South Tube Station, perhaps the only migrants of that time being given such difficult quarters.
Initially women worked in the canteens, before being allowed to drive buses and I learnt that in 1956 the canteens fed 87,000 employees! There are some great photos in the exhibition to browse, showing these migrant workers from Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, working in a number of roles.
The Caribbean Enabling London Transport
What I particularly liked about the exhibition is the honest reflection from Transport for London on what it was like for those Caribbean workers who answered the call to work here, expecting an entirely different experience than they eventually received in this country. These individuals were often skilled and well educated (having received a British education), and ended up being forced into low paid jobs and missed promotions.
However, this exhibition is a joyful one, showing not only the significant impact these workers brought to London Transport but London as a whole. I loved looking at the Notting Hill Carnival and other informative pictures! And I loved learning more about this Caribbean legacy.
Well done Transport for London for working so closely with your Black employees to honour the legacy of the past. You show yourself as an inclusive and objective employer.
My only wish is that the exhibition becomes a permanent one as it’s great to note the legacy left by this Windrush Generation and how they changed the face of London, in a positive light, for ever.