Windrush - 65 years on

It's 65 years tomorrow since the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, carrying 493 passengers from Jamaica wishing to start a new life in the UK.

Live updates

The 492 passengers paid £28/10s for the journey

The 492 passengers came from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean islands. Credit: Thurrock Council

The 492 passengers came from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean islands. They all paid the £28 10s fare to travel 8000 miles in the hope that there would be work at the end of the journey.

Many were veterans who fought for Britain in the Second World War and came to the 'Mother Country' to re-join the RAF.

More than 10,000 West Indians volunteered to fight in the war, in fact the RAF got more recruits from the Caribbean than any other part of the Empire.

Around 400 worked as air crew and 6,000 as ground staff.

Among the employers of these first West African immigrants were the new National Health Service and London Transport.

The Caribbeans found themselves excluded from many social activities in London but began to create their own opportunities; setting up churches and establishing a co-operative method of saving called the pardner' system.

As they caught their first glimpse of Tilbury Docks, they couldn't have envisaged how important their journey was to be for the social and cultural fabric of London and the whole of the UK.

Weekend celebrations at London Cruise Terminal

Tilbury docks Credit: ITN

It's the final weekend for a free Windrush exhibition at the London Cruise Terminal – where the Windrush docked - which runs until 23 June.

To celebrate the historic 65th anniversary tomorrow there will be a river cruise and a special Caribbean-themed reception.

On Sunday, the Cruise Terminal will host a family day – free for under 12s and £10 for everyone else. It will include Caribbean food, music workshops, an interactive exhibition tour and dance performances, and a last chance to see the exhibition.


  1. Ruth Banks

Jamaicans came to help plug Britain's post-war labour shortage

Around 500 passengers had travelled on the Empire Windrush from Jamaica, in response to job adverts in their local papers, to help plug Britain's post-war labour shortage.

But news of their imminent arrival prompted some alarm within the civil service and even questions in parliament.

Those without anywhere to stay were housed in a deep air raid shelter under Clapham Common, and it's thought that may be the reason that many came to settle in nearby Brixton - as the nearest labour exchange was in Coldharbour Lane.

Many of those on board the Windrush had only intended to stay in Britain for a short period of time, but 65 years on its clear the 'Windrush generation' and their descendants have become an integral part of London life.

The birth of modern multicultural Britain

The Empire Windrush Credit: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The passengers (including one stowaway) were the first large group of West Indian immigrants to the UK after the Second World War.

The 65th anniversary of the event will be marked in the capital this weekend with celebrations; including a river cruise and a special Caribbean themed reception.

Jamaican immigrants welcomed by RAF officials from the Colonial Office after the ex-troopship HMT 'Empire Windrush' landed them at Tilbury. Credit: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The arrival of the SS Empire Windrush heralded the start of a modern multicultural Britain and June 22 will be marked by a special national celebration.

But the journey on the SS Empire Windrush was not an easy one.

In 1948, Britain was just beginning to recover from the Second World War. The arrival of the ship prompted some debate in parliament and complaints from some sections of British society worried about immigration.

While there was plenty of work, many of the Windrush pioneers had problems with finding accommodation.

The iconic sign on many bed and breakfast hotels No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs was a product of these early tensions.

Back to top