An exhibition has opened at London Euston to honour Asquith Xavier, the first Black train guard at the station.
The exhibition tells the story of Asquith's fight for racial equality at Euston, which in 1966 ended a colour bar. It comes as Asquith's family campaign to ensure Asquith’s story is included in the British curriculum.
It follows a plaque dedicated to Asquith on the station's concourse and the unveiling of a plaque at Chatham, Kent, where he lived, on 24 September in a “proud moment” for his family.
Asquith moved to England from the Caribbean island of Dominica in 1956. He was part of the Windrush generation of West Indian people who moved to Britain after World War II.
The Windrush generation made an enormous contribution to rebuilding Britain and public services after the war, as well as enriching Britain’s social, economic, cultural and religious life.
Work at British Rail
Asquith’s first job for British Railways in 1956 was as a porter. He later became a rail guard at Marylebone station. However, the closure of the Marylebone main line meant guards would transfer to other stations in London.
Denied promotion because of the colour of his skin
Asquith later applied for a promotion at Euston, where guards were paid an extra £10 a week.
Asquith received a letter saying his application was rejected – despite being well qualified for the job – because of the colour of his skin.
At the time, Euston had a whites-only recruitment policy. This policy was agreed in the 1950s and enforced by the local unions and station management to ban anyone who wasn’t white from working in jobs that involved contact with the public.
Campaign for justice
Asquith fought this policy and campaigned for equality.
The Race Relations Act 1965, which banned racial discrimination in public in Britain, did not cover workplaces and so could not be used. However, he received the backing of a union official who wrote to the head of the National Union of Railwaymen on his behalf and two MPs wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport, which was Barbara Castle at the time.
Asquith’s hard work and determination meant his story soon made its way to parliament and, on 15 July 1966, British Rail scrapped the policy.
He was then offered the job at Euston and had pay backdated to May that year when his application was originally rejected.
Death threats and hate mail
Throughout his campaign, Asquith received death threats and hate mail. After starting at Euston in August 1966, he also faced racist abuse and at times had a police guard.
Asquith sadly died in 1980, at the age of just 59, leaving behind seven children.
A plaque was unveiled on the main concourse at London Euston ahead of Black History Month in October 2016 – 50 years after the whites-only recruitment policy was scrapped. Another was unveiled at his local station of Chatham, Kent on 24 September 2020.
Carrying on his legacy
Asquith’s family continue to campaign to ensure Asquith’s story is included in the British curriculum.
Asquith’s daughter Maria, said: “My brothers, sisters and I see this exhibition as a great opportunity for our father’s fight for racial equality within the workplace to be recognised. He faced racial threats to his life, whilst attending court and work and had to have police protection during this time.
“Our father’s actions, we believe, initiated changes made to the Racial Equality Act of 1968, paving the way for other unsung heroes within the workplace and the UK.”
More to be done
Network Rail continues to promote diversity and inclusion through its Everyone Matters strategy. It ensuring we're a more open, diverse, and inclusive organisation that better reflects the diversity of the communities we serve.
We published our first ethnicity pay gap report this year as part of its project to improve the recruitment and promotion of people from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.