Inner City London
In 1948, when British political parties began attempts to recruit workers from all over the world and the West Indies, they did not believe that the ensuing immigration wouIld have been a problem. “Nevertheless, it became an issue by1955 when Winston Churchill ruling Conservative Party engineered the increase of 25000 West Indian immigrants per year.” This was an enormous increase because in a six-year period from the duration of World War 2, “the coloured population of the United Kingdom was officially estimated at between 20000 and 30000, of whom only 3000 to 4000 had arrived since the end of the war.” The voice of the inner city Cockney Clan, under the belief that “we should keep Britain white,” expressed the resentment toward the ruling Conservative government policy to place the West Indian immigrants in the inner city.
The term Cockney refers to the working labour class Londoners of the East End who could have been of English or Irish descent. “In 1958, simmering prejudices between the Cockney’s and the West Indian immigrant came to the attention of the media for the first time in a violent way.” This violent conflict was the Notting Hill riot. The West Indian immigrants blamed the riot on London’s Cockney community while the Cockney people laid the blame on the ruling Conservative government, the black immigrants stealing jobs and social differences between the white and black populations.
After the riots of 1958, the Conservative government changed the structure of immigration policies, which ultimately lead to the decline of non-white immigrants to Britain. That said was this enough evidence to prove that the Conservative ruling party had changed their policy of non-white immigration to Great Britain because of the actions of white people living in the East End during the 1950s?
This research paper involves an examination of the beliefs and attitudes of sections of the white population. More specifically, it will concentrate on the mind-set of the low and middle class Cockney people of East London. In addition, the paper explains how the white inner city population living in Notting Dale perceived the world in 1950s London and the issues they believed were important to preserve that world. Our conclusion will figure out if the Notting Hill riot and other such riots influenced the British government to make changes in regards to their immigration policies.
Before we explain the hatred towards black people by white people living in Notting Dale, we must first clarify a brief history of the two most influential political parties in England after the Second World War, the Conservative and Labour Union party.
“From 1945-51 the ruling Labour Cabinet discussed issues relating to Asian and black migration.” Although they were in favour of immigration and the country looking for workers in the colonies, they were more in favour of larger immigration from Europe. “If the immigrants were of good human stock and were not prevented by their race or religion from intermarrying with the host population then immigration was acceptable.” This point illustrates how Clemente Atlee and his ruling Labour Cabinet party were very much in favour of white immigration to England as opposed to black. This belief quickly manifested itself in the hearts of his followers who were predominantly of Cockney origin.
The ruling labour party accepted the black passengers who sailed on the Empire WINDRUSH because British Law protected immigrants from the colonies. Clemente Atlee rightfully assumed that the low number of black immigrants would not cause any controversy. As mentioned earlier in this essay, only 3 to 4000 West Indians immigrated to England during a 6-year period of Labour Cabinet rule.
In 1952, the United States Government passed the McCarron-Walter Act, which blocked the flow of West Indians to the United States. The inner city people resented the increase of immigrants to Britain because they felt that heavy immigration would create overcrowding and racial tension. Inner city white people looked upon the Conservative government as a group that was interested in the affairs of the upper class or elite society. The upper class white people could never understand the problem they were facing because these black people were in Cockney neighbourhoods as opposed to neighbourhoods in the West End of London.
When Clemente Atlee was in power from 1945-51, only 4000 black immigrants migrated to Britain. “Four years after Winston Churchill and the Conservatives came to power in 1951, West Indian immigration was averaging more than 27550 per year.” This increase in black immigration to Britain provided a platform for right-wing political groups, who realized that they could gain popularity by denouncing non-white immigration. This fuelled the fire with more hate segregation doctrines.
In the forefront of the rush to exploit, the situation was the Union Movement, led by Sir Oswald Mosley. The Union Movement of the 1950s was a thug like right-winged political movement that sought to speak for the poor and unemployed white population and would move into areas where coloured immigrants were. In fact, the Notting Hill riot occurred after a Sir Oswald Mosley campaign in the poor districts of East London. Though not the Conservative party, this shows how any political party can manipulate their followers to accomplish violent acts.
Sir Oswald Mosley’s speeches subtlety placed the blame of economic decline on the exploitation of cheap labour in undercutting competition. In fact, Britain was not in a recession in the 1950s. Oswald believed that it was the duty of government and large corporations to purchase top of the line machinery to produce the best products. Mosley’s party believed that Britain could only achieve national prominence again if they concentrated on hiring workers from Britain. This policy was similar to the Labour Party and in direct opposition to the ruling Conservatives. Oswald indirectly instilled a message to the Cockney people that West Indians and other non-white immigrants served to lower the national character of Great Britain around the world. The inclusion of West Indians into poor white communities such as Notting Dale only served to bring them further down the white caste system.
“The aim of the right-winged groups was to influence the majority of people who admitted somewhat ashamedly to a mild form of prejudices.” Unfortunately, the people influenced by these rallies were the young people who could have been members of a gang known as the Teddy Boys. With the sponsorship of the right winged groups, Teddy Boys would attack Caribbean businesses and homes. This racism peaked on August 29th, 1958, when a domestic dispute between a black man and his white wife by midnight, escalated into a battleground between hundreds of black and white youths who threw homemade firebombs and brandished large knives and clubs. “Those whites who took part in the Notting Hill riot were usually young thugs, influenced by the right winged groups, who had enabled them to rationalise their discontent with society by blaming immigrant population.”
There was enough evidence to blame the riot on the white thugs and identify political movements such as the Union Movement and the White Defence League as perpetrators; however, nobody supported this argument because most Londoners in this period believed that the Cockney people were somewhat justified to fight to keep their community white. The Cockney people believed that a political party was speaking for them and the countries best intention.
They were correct in believing that political groups would support them because George Rogers, the local Labour MP for North Kensington, urged the government in a speech to introduce legislation to end the tremendous influx of people from the Commonwealth. Rogers believed that overcrowding had fostered vice, drugs, prostitution and the use of knives. “At a meeting on September 7th, 1958, he stated, there is black and white discrimination, however, you keep your criminals, and we will keep ours.” In less than a decade, right wing political factions had influenced the Cockney people to become racist towards black and any non-white immigrant.
Winston Churchill’s Conservative government would never envision the racial clashes to hit Britain in later years. The Conservatives felt that the economy was strong and there were more than enough jobs for everyone. However, they failed to realize how racism worked. A key quality of racism is the indigenous group’s fear of another ethnic group’s rise at their expense. The indigenous Cockney’s felt that black people accepted jobs at a lower rate thus taking a job from a deserving white person. This was the second reason for their violent actions towards the black immigrant.
One of the more out-spoken politicians against black people taking jobs from white people was the right-winged politician Cyril Osborne. “In November 1954, Cyril Osborne, proposed that immigration should be regulated to only West Indians who supported the economic needs of the country.” By the late 1950s, he had the largest number of supporters from the area of Notting Dale. Osborne considered black people a threat to the country’s economical and moral well-being because they threatened the jobs of the middle and lower class white citizens. The unemployed and poor people who heard these political speeches were convinced that West Indian immigrants took jobs at a lower rate, which did not endear them to a new group of immigrants.
Osborne pushed for the deportation of convicted criminals, and to increase capital investment in the West Indies to eliminate the need for emigration to Britain. “Cyril Osborne believed that the influx of coloured immigrants provided the bigger threat to his conception of British society. Osborne stated, ‘This is a white man’s country and I want it to remain so.” Osborne even considered deporting or barring unemployed black people. If a West Indian immigrant were not able to find work within a year, this would have been good reason to deport the immigrant back to the West Indies. Despite wide range support from the inner city white population, Osborne had no chance of getting immigration control onto the statue book without the backing of the ruling Conservative government. Therefore, a common cry of the pro-white politician was to urge the inner city people to pressure the government and manufacturing companies to refrain from hiring black people.
The right wing politician instilled a fear in the white labourer for their jobs. These political parties urged them to petition a new immigration statue. These rallies and petitions eventually became violent and the violence escalated into the Notting Hill riot of 1958. The loss of jobs was a major reason for the Cockney people to start the riot. However, this fear was unfounded because in the previous decade after World War II, Prime Minister Clemente Atlee nationalized major industries such as the Bank of England, telephone, and Gas Company. The Labour Party founded child benefits, work benefits, and the British National Health
Service, these humanitarian policies served to make life easier for the poor people living in the inner city and across the Kingdom of Great Britain.
The policies stabilized the British pound and it gave necessary health care to the sick and poor. In 1950, the British economy had not been this strong since the early 1900s. There were more than enough jobs because in the 1950s, the baby boomers were too small to work. Furthermore, there were more jobs than the population of people legally entitled to work because of their age. Perhaps what infuriated the Cockney people was the ease in which the black man adapted to life in England without any resentment from the upper class. They feared that the country was an open door for black immigrants to accept medical benefits and receive all the benefits of a welfare state. The inner city white people strongly supported the Commonwealth Immigration Act.
“The Commonwealth Immigration Act came into effect in 1962.” By 1962 the Immigration Act, effectively blocked the non-white Commonwealth countries from freely immigrating to Britain without a government issued pass. In the 1950s, before they changed the Immigration Act, the argument was England was handing out money to foreigners when white English people desperately needed the money and jobs. Black immigrants realized that the Cockney populace resented the opportunity provided to them by the Conservative government.
My parents immigrated to England in the early 1960s. My father remembers England being a prosperous country for all people who wanted to work. The majority of the blacks were educated but they could only find jobs in the labour industry. Some took service jobs in the prisons, hospitals, transportation, and post office. The positions were only swing shift or midnights shift because the white people had taken all the day shift jobs. In these days, English culture meant every white working class male should be home for teatime or dinner at 6pm. When black people began to purchase their own homes and were slowly moving out of the east end many poor whites feared all non-white people would move ahead in status. The claim that black people were taking their jobs became louder. Ethnic people had applied to and secured some government jobs on shifts initially not preferred by white people, however, when inflation became an issue in the early 1960s, and unemployment rose, the cry for deportation of non-white citizens became prominent, which led the Conservative government to concede to some of these unfair policies and a new Immigration Act was born.
Did British society identify West Indians with such criminal activity as armed robbery, rape, and poverty? These were the main fears of the white East Enders who felt that ethnic endogamy was the only rule in migration because ethnic mixing of races only created violence within the community. A prime example of an interracial relationship creating a racial uprising was the tragedy mentioned earlier in the essay, the Notting Hill riot. Notting Hill riot, which had occurred when a black man named Raymond, who was supposed to be a pimp, was having a minor dispute with his wife Majbritt Morrison, a young Swedish woman. The crowd had witnessed Raymond strike Majbritt so they came in to defend her from the black man. A small altercation turned into two days of violent unrest.
The white people living in Notting Hill believed the violent outbreak was justified because they were protecting their community from black men trying to rape, abuse, and steal their women for prostitution and help in the drug trade. The majority of whites believed that the blacks created every social problem within Britain. “These problems constituted of dirty living conditions, deplorably low standards of living most of them arriving in the country without means.” These West Indian and East Indian immigrants overpopulate a house and forced white tenants who can afford to relocate to move away thus pushing the value of the community much farther down the property value.
The poor whites in communities like Notting Dale would complain that West Indians and all immigrants of colour created more diseases because of overcrowding. They believed that housing was primitive and unsanitary in the tropics so most of the people living in tropics spent their time outside in the hot sun. “When foreigners arrive to England especially foreigners from Pakistan, incidents of tuberculosis is thirty times more prone to these people than white people.” Medical reports indicated that West Indians caused an increase in venereal disease. “According to report by the Bristol Medical Officer of Health in October 1963, only 44% of male patients with gonorrhoea seen in clinics in England and Wales in 1962 were born in the United Kingdom.”
Although the Bristol Medical reports seem valid to justify a problem with people of colour migrating to an Anglo country such as Britain, these studies based their statistics on unfair accounts of the situation because there is no way to effectively prove where a venereal disease originated. Moreover, the East End of London traditionally known for drugs, prostitution, and disease. Before the blacks came to Eastern London, the streets were home to the most famous immigrant whom we know from this essay as Cockney.
Literature tells the tale of the Cockney people and their migration to the East End of London. This is a tale of a community glorified forever as pig dealers, pimps, drunks, and plague sufferers in the novels of Charles Dickens and the scholarly journals of historians. It was the Cockney people who history depicts as hardened gangsters, bank robbers, pimps, and murderers. The Cockney people fathered some of the most notorious gangsters this world has witnessed. The neighbourhood was already a slum before the black people came. Many of the homes never had the things we take for granted in a home, such as fridges, electricity, and television. Nonetheless, these people were a tight close-knit community that felt that the Conservative government was dumping its ethnic minority problem into their relatively crime free neighbourhood.
Finally, the real problem that faced Cockney residents but never discussed in scholarly literature was the identification of the various West Indians groups within East London. This statement is important because Notting Dale was home to the smallest portion of black West Indians. The group that lived in Notting Dale were predominantly from Barbados and Trinidad. The Jamaicans had settled in Brixton, Maida Hall, and Lambeth.
In the 50s, Jamaicans were the rude boys; rude boys love their SKA, rock steady music, sharp suits thin ties and pointed cockroach shoes. Rude boys were also fascinated with the dress of American gangsters and cowboys. “The rude boy grew in the United Kingdom during the 1960s, rude boy music and fashion, as well as the gang mentality, became a strong influence on the Mod and skinhead subculture.” It was fashionable for a white woman to sleep with a rude boy. Brixton was an area known for parties, marijuana, and freedom for mixed couples. British people were becoming tolerant of mixed couples, whereas old-fashioned racist area such as Notting Dale still considered relationships between black men and white women as an abomination. Any woman that slept with a black man would have been beaten, ridiculed, and ostracized by her family members. This fear and resent came from seeing their white relatives in other communities pushed out or blending and even witnessing women having children with black men.
The blacks in Notting Dale were not the rough stock that had settled in Brixton they were more conservative. Notting Dale was the only inner city suburb that had a relatively small black community that lived on the outskirts of the commune. So the Cockney people felt more inclined to protect their culture and the neighbourhood. In 1960, even after the riot, Notting Dale was still a racist and depressed community of people. Peace did not come to Notting Dale until the government decided to tear down the old houses and rejuvenate the neighbourhood. The Notting Hill carnival created in 1968 promoted racial harmony between people of all colours.
In conclusion, the actions of the Cockney people across Britain made government aware of the social problems attributed to bringing non-white immigrants into an all Anglo-white community. However, it was not the contributing factor in Britain changing its immigration policy. By the 1960s and early 70s, many of the groups of people too young to work in the 1950s were now looking for work. Britain had also declined as a major world power and the population had increased tremendously within 3 decades. Shortly thereafter, it became widely known that North America was the ideal place for migration.