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A Passage to England

A Passage to England: Barbadian Londoners Speak of Home

Foreword by Robert Coles
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    A Passage to England
    Book Description:

    Since World War II London has become a significantly multiracial city. Some of the earliest agents of its transformation were young men and women recruited in the late 1950s from Barbados, then a British colony, to work in the metropolis’s nationalized public transportation system and in its hospitals. These Barbadians met, married, settled in London, and raised Londoner children. In 1987-88 John Western conducted a series of interviews with twelve such families--both parents and children. Their vivid words fill A Passage to England with insight, human, and, often, poignancy. Here is a rich perspective on thirty years or more of London social history. Western structured the interviews to allow the Barbadians a lot of freedom to discuss whatever came to mind concerning either their own life histories and achievements, or wider themes of culture, politics, and society. Topics covered range from matters of “race” to Margaret Thatcher and the change her decade in power has wrought in Britain. One development, for example, is the strikingly entrepreneurial spirit now embraced by some of the young British blacks, veritably “Mrs. Thatcher’s Children.” Ultimately, many of the interviewees focused on the changes they see in their ancestral island in the Caribbean, to which all of them have returned for visits. For this migrant generation especially, as the prospect of retirement begins to grow increasingly important, inevitable questions regard the definitions of “home” and “belonging” must be confronted: Does one stay in London--with one’s children and grandchildren--or does one return to Barbados, which for many seems no longer the same island as the one they left a working lifetime ago? Within the context of an ever-increasing complement of geographically mobile people worldwide, Western’s study provides unique insights into the particular ambiguities a particular set of person have wrestled with at a particular moment in history...but the import of the Barbadian Londoners’ story is universal.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8399-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Robert Coles

    I first met John Western in South Africa during August of 1974. I had gone there with my father, a Yorkshireman who as a young man had crossed the Atlantic to live in America, and my son, then ten years old. John was in the midst of his study of Cape Town’s “Coloured”population—the travail of a mixed-race people caught in the perversities of apartheid. I still remember my father’s impressions of John: “a bright, energetic, decent, thoughtful lad,” the words spoken, I noticed, with a bit more of the English cadence than was usually the case—a nod of...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. The Barbadian Londoners
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  7. One Transatlantic Homes
    (pp. 1-26)

    This book is about identity—who and what people feel themselves to be. It has been said, “A man is his place.” Overstatement perhaps; but certainly, as a geographer, I am interested in the evident role place plays in molding identity. Those whose words fill this book are women and men who have a multiple identity: Barbadian and Londoner, a place of origin and a place of habitation. I sense that, at least in the industrialized countries, the world is going to see more and more persons who have to wrestle with such complex identities, combinations undreamed of less than...

  8. Two The Island Relinquished
    (pp. 27-48)

    By this study’s very definition, all of the immigrant-generation interviewees, with the exception of one Jamaican-born wife, were native Barbadians. Their childhoods spanned the latter part of the 1930s and the 1940s. It was a period of economic depression, yet childhood memories are ever a pleasure to savor. Trevor Brathwaite evidently enjoyed reminiscing about his boyhood duties, although at the time they must have been onerous.

    We lived at St. Davids, in the country, in Christ Church parish. My father did gardening and butlering for an English gentleman, very rich, in Christ Church. He [father] would take our sheep out...

  9. Three The Island Attained: Newcomers to England
    (pp. 49-66)

    The structure of this chapter is straightforward and chronological. Accounts of the adventure and exigencies of the journey itself are followed by some most vivid recollections of arrival on English shores. Then, the section on early impressions of life in London reveals the remarkable and sometimes rather disconcerting mix of familiarity and oddness that those raised in “Little England” at first felt in the Mother Country. Matters became more than disconcerting for those of the interviewees who were caught in the antiblack riots in Netting Hill in 1958. Their experiences, which conclude the chapter, serve to throw into relief certain...

  10. Four A Roof Over My Head . . .
    (pp. 67-86)

    For the dozen households there has been a transition culminating in all of them now owning their own houses. For a couple this had been but a recent achievement, managed through Margaret Thatcher’s sell-off of council (i.e., public) housing. However, all claimed home ownership to have been a long-standing goal of theirs, and that Barbadians always wanted toowntheir property. Also, of the eight applicable cases among the absent adult children interviewed, six were purchasing their own homes today. It is worth remembering that these households are not representative of all households of Barbadian or of West Indian origin...

  11. Five . . . And Bread on the Table: Employment
    (pp. 87-109)

    The previous chapter’s report on the accommodation of Barbadians in their early years of settlement is clearly fairly typical of the London Afro- Caribbeans of that period in general. Similarly, the early experiences of the Barbadians in that other central arena of their British lives, the job, also appear to be not too removed from those of all London Afro-Caribbeans of that time. These early employment experiences are dealt with in this chapter. As the chapter proceeds, however, it becomes evident that these Barbadians, formerly pretty representative of a wider collectivity of Afro-Caribbeans, have with the passage of time become...

  12. Six Making It: From Flat Rental to Home Ownership
    (pp. 110-133)

    As the Barbadians continued to work steadily, advancing in their jobs, they found they could afford better housing. In this chapter we hear from them about their moves up out of slumlike conditions to acceptable apartments. Then they talk about their searches for a home to buy; some encountered difficulties and discrimination, some did not. They tell of the vagaries of home ownership—all are now home owners—and of their satisfactions or dissatisfactions with the neighborhoods they have bought into. They finally discuss their expectations of what neighbors should be ... and indeedwhoneighbors should be. The ethnicity...

  13. Seven Valued People, Valued Places
    (pp. 134-160)

    This chapter looks, in part geographically, at the varied lineaments of the social life of the immigrants. The bonds they feel, both to people and to places, reflect their birth in Barbados but their living in London. For most of them, nearly all their adultworkinglives have been spent in London; for all except three (the Farleys, Dotteen Bannister) more years of theirentirelives have actually so far been spent in the metropolis than in Barbados. If on the one hand the expectation might be that the remembered years of childhood and youth in Barbados could have a...

  14. Eight British-Raised: A Profile
    (pp. 161-193)

    Colin Simmons, son of Amelia and John, was aged twenty at the time. He was about to return to London from Seawell Airport after a Barbados vacation when he there met Carol, a seventeen-year-old young woman coming to London at her father’s summons. Here she was, apprehensively traveling beyond the confines of her small home island for the first time, to a destination she did not know, and here was this good-looking young man who had been living in that destination for a dozen years. He tells it thus: “I helped her, built up her confidence. I liked the look...

  15. Nine The Island Reconsidered
    (pp. 194-215)

    The migrant generation have, we have seen, maintained links with the old island. The British-raised have developed such links as they grew up. Respectively, what do the migrants and their children think of Barbados now? Their opinions stem from their own numerous visits to Barbados, from news brought by those who come from the island to visit them in London, and from the frequent telephone calls to the Caribbean. There’s also plenty of second-hand information to be picked up either from mailed copies of theBarbados Advocate or the Nation,or from the London Caribbean-oriented newspapers.

    Nearly all were decided...

  16. Ten England Reconsidered
    (pp. 216-234)

    “The weather changed,” Amelia Simmons replied. I was totally taken aback. “How has Britain changed since you came here?” I had asked. My face must have betrayed my consternation at her reply. If there is just one day-to-day drag on the feet of the immigrants, it is the ashen lack of brightness of London weather. Away for nineteen years, I had forgotten; they, from their sparkling island, have never been able to. Then Amelia started chuckling. I saw the joke being played on me, and we laughed.

    Seven months later, in theNew York Times Magazine,the joke was played...

  17. Eleven Identity
    (pp. 235-250)

    Who I am depends on who you are. Identity is almost invariably contextual. So is the notion of “home,” the topic of the next chapter. “Depends on who’s asking,” said an interviewee. Thus, when talking with a Jamaican, an interviewee is a Barbadian; when with an African, most likely a West Indian; and in many circumstances when with a white British person, most likely a black. This doesn’t necessarily denote any inconsistency or ambiguity. “Ethnic or other characteristics of social plurality,” writes Peach (1984), “can expand or collapse like a sectional telescope, to fit the situation.” This appeals commonsensically. In...

  18. Twelve Home
    (pp. 251-269)

    Clad in white shirt, white long pants, and white boots, the bowler accelerates toward the wicket. He hurls the ball toward the batsman at the far end. The batsman, a smallish man of athletic gait, moves quickly forward, has perfectly judged flight and bounce, and aligns his flat bat so that the ball hits the middle of it with a solid thunk. The ball is repulsed safely along the ground to mid-off. The fielder retrieves the ball and tosses it back to the bowler, who already is walking back to where he started his run-up. The vast crowd stir a...

  19. Thirteen Islands and Insularities
    (pp. 270-282)

    “Insular, adj. . . . 3. Of or pertaining to islanders; hence, narrow; circumscribed; illiberal.” Old-style geographers would approve of that definition fromWebster’s Collegiate Dictionaryat my hand, in its implication that physiographic features (in this case, being proximately surrounded by water) determine or at least influence human behavior and characteristics. These days we are more circumspect; we know there are plenty of examples of societies that do not inhabit islands but that nevertheless exhibit the same allegedly noncosmopolitan traits: Albania would do for a start. Yet I don’t believe our language can be totally off-track in such attributions....

  20. Epilogue
    (pp. 283-284)

    Audley Simmons wrote to me in Syracuse for Christmas 1988:

    You must be well away with your book. . . . I can’t wait to get my hands on one so get cracking and let’s have it done. Say by next Summer.

    It’s been very nice to have met and talked to you, and I hope we can do so again some time in the future. That’s about it except to say The Weather is awful as usual but we BRITS can take it not like some EXPATRIATES whom I shall not name (smile).

    Edith and I send our regards...

  21. Appendix
    (pp. 285-294)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 295-308)
  23. Index
    (pp. 309-315)