70th Anniversary of the SS Empire Windrush

22 June 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the SS Empire Windrush ship arriving in Britain from the Caribbean. Around 236 migrants from the merchant vessel were housed in the labyrinth of underground passages at Clapham South when they first arrived from the former British colonies. In the lead-up to this anniversary, Siddy Holloway, Hidden London Engagement Manager, gives a first-hand account of welcoming a very special guest back to Clapham South deep-level shelter for the first time in 70 years.

The 29 May was an exciting day for the Museum’s Hidden London Team. In partnership with the Windrush Foundation, we welcomed a former resident of Clapham South deep-level shelter, 70 years after his last overnight stay. Mr John Richards was born in Jamaica in 1925 and moved to England in 1948 to seek pastures new. He was a passenger on the Empire Windrush, the famous merchant vessel ship that offered affordable passage to citizens from Commonwealth countries in the West Indies. John, like all the passengers, paid £28 for his passage to come over to Britain to seek employment and help rebuild the country after the war.

John-Richards-by-bunk-beds
© London Transport Museum

When the ship docked at Tilbury on 22 June 1948, around 240 of the passengers had no pre-arranged accommodation. They were all offered lodging by the government in the deep-level shelter at Clapham South until they found employment and housing.

When we began researching for our tours of Clapham South deep-level shelter in 2015, we realised there were very few first-hand accounts from people who stayed in the shelter and what they thought of their peculiar accommodation. We wanted to rectify this and began our search to find someone who had stayed in the shelter having arrived on Windrush.

John-Richards-and-Chris-Nix© London Transport Museum

In April this year we partnered with the Windrush Foundation and they put us in touch with John; needless to say we were over the moon. John is now 92 years old, so a date was arranged for his visit which happened to be very close to the 70-year anniversary of his arrival in the UK. We met him and Arthur Torrington, the president of the Windrush Foundation, on a rainy day in South London and escorted them to the shelter. John, dressed immaculately in a grey suit, was excited to see what had changed and said that he hoped he would be able to remember as much as possible.

John-and-Arthur© London Transport Museum

Once down in the shelter which lies 40 metres below street level, John’s memories started flooding back to him. He told us about his work during the war, his decision to come over to Britain and his three week stay in the shelter. As we settled into hearing about John’s story, the deep rumble of the Northern line passed over our heads. John stopped for a moment, smiled and pointed to the ceiling “that sound used to wake us up every morning”.

We can’t wait to share more of John’s story during our public tours of Clapham South deep-level shelter which will start this year on 11 August 2018. For tickets please visit www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/hidden-london/clapham-south

Siddy Holloway
Hidden London Engagement Manager

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Exploring London Transport Museum

Exploring London Transport Museum with engineer Emma Watkins

By Carrie Long, LTM Volunteer

Emma Watkins, site engineer at Skanska, visited London Transport Museum to tell us more about her work, her experience as a young female engineer, and how she is helping to shape and build a sustainable London.

At the last London Transport Museum debate: Women of the future, the Museum celebrated inspiring women from the past, such as the all-female Waterloo bridge builders. They also looked at the future and lead discussions on how to achieve gender equality in the transport industry.

Following on from this theme, Emma is giving a timely talk as part of the Museum’s next Late Debate: Environment matters on 7 June, an event to discuss and explore ways of making London a cleaner, greener, and more livable city, including engineering and design solutions to environmental issues.

Walking around the museum together, stopping at Victorian vehicles and construction models, and taking in the museum’s two new exhibitions, Digging Deeper on tunneling and The Secret Life of a Megaproject on Crossrail, Emma shares her modern engineer’s take on the construction of London and her own experience as a part of it.

Exploring London Transport Museum

In Emma’s first 18 months as a qualified engineer she has taken part in a wide variety of projects. From building an internal bridge at Waterloo station, to a stint on a Crossrail site – “every single engineer in London has worked on Crossrail”, she says, laughing. She is now involved in restoration and modernisation work of Bazalgette’s original sewers. And when someone talks with gleaming eyes and enthusiasm about going down into the sewers, you know that they are passionate about their job. She says engineering allows her to see fascinating hidden parts of London that are inaccessible to the public, but integral to how we use and live in the city.

On our tour of the museum, Emma stops at a model of Victorian cut-and-cover tunneling, showing wooden supports, horse-operated machinery, and men working without any protective clothing. While Emma values health and safety as well as modern machines on today’s construction sites, she can’t help but admire the ingenuity of the workers and inventors of the past, trying new methods at great personal risk. And not only in London: In Paris, the ground was too wet and soft to tunnel into, so the engineers froze it using liquid nitrogen as early as 1900.

cut-and-cover-model

One thing Emma says hasn’t changed much compared to the Victorian tunneling display is the lack of women on a construction site. Today, still only 1% of site workers are women. Attitudes have changed though, and she has always felt welcome and integrated on all her work projects. Emma is passionate about inspiring other young people, especially girls, to go into engineering. She is an ambassador for the Institute of Civil Engineering (ICE). ICE is contributing to the Late Debate too, running an interactive engineering challenge to save a Lego-built city from flooding.

Book onto the Late Debate: Environment Matters on 7th June 2018, where you can meet Emma and hear about her experience developing a green attitude in construction.