Faces in a London crowd: museum’s appeal to identify Windrush arrivals

Surrounded by luggage and fellow passengers, they were photographed arriving in smart clothes, high heels and fedoras, their faces tired and unsmiling as the underwhelming start of their new lives in the motherland is captured on camera.

Now a museum is appealing to the public to identify the West Indians portrayed in the pictures, taken by Howard Grey at Waterloo station in London, which document the last boatload of Windrush generation arrivals to Britain in spring 1962 before a crackdown on the open-door policy for Commonwealth immigrants.

The Railway Museum in York, which has acquired the 37 prints, is keen to find out what the people photographed arriving that day did next and what their experience of settling in Britain was like. Die photos capture the chaos at the station on a cold, drizzly day in the capital as crowds of West Indians arrived on trains they had boarded at Southampton docks.

Some of the images tantalisingly display names on suitcases such as Linda Morgan, J Campbell and O DeBique, hinting that their owners can be identified. Others show sharply dressed men, women and children gazing directly at the camera, grabbing luggage and – in some of the most touching images – embracing long-lost relatives in pearls and saris.

Grey’s photographs represent an important moment, not only in the lives of people from the Windrush generation, but in the history of Britain, said museum curator Karen Baker. “The images depict that expectation and disorientation that you would feel having just arrived in a strange new country. But we don’t have their names and their stories. That’s what we’re missing.”

She would like to hear from people who were pictured there that day or can identify friends or relatives who were. “It would just be good to understand what’s out there in people’s memories – and if we can find any of the individuals in the photographs, that would be the cherry on the cake.”

Grey was aged 20 when he went to Waterloo to take the photographs. Discovering from a news report that the last boatload would be arriving at Waterloo that day before the change in the law that made it harder for Commonwealth citizens to live and work in Britain, he decided to bunk off work. “I didn’t realise the significance of what I was doing, except for myself.”

He was inspired to record the moment by his grandparents, Jewish immigrants who had escaped the pogroms in Ukraine, en The Steerage, Alfred Stieglitz’s famous photograph of immigrant passengers in 1907.

“I was the only photographer there," hy het gesê. “I remember noticing everybody looked rather anxious. There was a lot of trepidation on their faces.”

He also recalls some of the migrants appearing quite shocked at how shabbily the porters and white people at the station were dressed.

It was a dark, overcast day and he soon left due to the lack of light, believing his photographs would be impossible to develop. Five decades later, modern scanning techniques allowed him to finally see again the faces he had captured on that important occasion.

The rest of their lives remains a mystery. “I’m very curious about who these people are and what happened next," hy het gesê.

The museum asks anyone with information about the people in the photographs to email search.engine@railwaymuseum.org.uk. The full collection can be viewed at howardgrey.com/windrush

The museum is also keen to hear from any Black railway workers – particularly women who worked in station catering – who arrived in Britain between 1948 en 1962. “Their voices are potentially going to be lost. And there’s a lot they can contribute,” Baker said.

Byvoorbeeld, sy het gese: “We have the oral history recording of a white male catering manager talking about these 12 Black women from Barbados, who came and worked in the station catering outlets, but we haven’t got any of their recollections. We don’t know their names, we don’t know how they found the experience. We can infer that some of them had harassment – but their voices don’t seem to be easy to find. It’s time to build our understanding of people’s stories.”

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