Incredible Windrush generation images brought to life

Incredible Windrush generation images brought to life

Published 22 October 2020 | Average read time
7 min read
Stories Industry-leading People and the railway

May 1962. The last wave of the Windrush generation arrives at London Waterloo station.

The Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 is about to end automatic settlement rights in the UK for citizens of Commonwealth countries.

Howard Grey, a 20-year-old photographer, heads to the station to capture an historic moment – but his underexposed negatives would lie unusable for 50 years.

Click below to see the historic photographs in 3D for the first time …

I was the only photographer there and you could buy a platform ticket for two pennies. When I got there, everybody was waiting for the train to come in and I got shots of the train coming in, and [a news crew] was there … By the time I got the cameras out, I was standing amongst all the people, so I just spun round taking pictures.

If you’re a photographer, you know those negatives are never going to print … You could see the highlights, the shirts or their eyes, and the roof windows in the station and the rest was dark. Very, very dark. Suddenly, I scanned them in and did three scans – one for the shadows, one for highlights and one for the mid-tones and they call came together. Myself and my sister … were screaming with excitement.

A black and white photograph from the 1960s of a man at London Waterloo station
Image credit: Howard Grey
A young couple at London Waterloo railway station in the 1960s with their luggage
Image credit: Howard Grey

A black man standing at a railway station under a sign providing platform information
Image credit: Howard Grey
A lady picking up her luggage
Image credit: Howard Grey

My whole family were migrants – in the 1880s and 1890s, from Russia – so maybe there was something I could associate with.

Somehow, I heard about it the previous evening … this Act was coming in and this was the last of immigrants coming in from the West Indies. So I went down and took some pictures. Their families paid quite a lot of money to pay for their brightest child to come to the UK.

I had cameras – a Leica and a Rolleiflex – I just put some film in, I never used to shoot with flash, which I always thought was a better way of doing things. I took about 40 shots in total.

1960s photograph of the Windrush Generation arriving at London Waterloo - men and women moving luggage
Image credit: Howard Grey
1960s photograph of the Windrush Generation arriving at London Waterloo - men in smart hats and suits talking at a railway station
Image credit: Howard Grey

The atmosphere was quite subdued, quiet. You’ve got the laughter … they could see their relatives coming but there were barriers. The barriers stopped them going up to them because of all the luggage. All the luggage was taken out of the goods van as they called it and was put on the platforms … But it was very quiet. The whole thing was apprehensive.

The people there to greet them probably hadn’t seen them for eight years, 10 years … the apprehension of three, four weeks of travelling that the passengers had. They put all their Sunday clothes on because they were coming to London where everybody was smart.

What I’ve since discovered is these young men were the sons of middle-class people in the West Indies. They were doctors or solicitors or big businessmen, so they paid for their children to go and have a new life, for the most part.

I just went in amongst everybody and even went on the train and in a taxi. I used up all the film I had and I came home. I developed straight away. I went back to work and used their darkrooms to process the negatives. I saw that I’d got a complete failure …

Negatives I would never be able to print … The negatives were developed and when you held them up to the light, you knew by experience there was no detail in the shadows … Waterloo station didn’t in those days have an almost white or buff floor – it was dark tarmac so there was just nothing there. I saw these negatives and … cut them up and put them in a negative bag and that was it. They didn’t get thrown out. This is the miracle.

How on Earth could anybody with that training of that period know that the pictures were there? The imagery was there but we couldn’t see it? There was no digitising. 

In 2014, it was Tomorrow’s World or an equivalent on television … Pictures were now zeros and ones in codes and they had this machine that could make a picture from a digital signal coming from outer space. I wondered, ‘if I did scan these negatives in, maybe something will pop up’. Even if you couldn’t see it with the eye … the density of the negatives where the light had hit the film, it must have changed even though they can’t be extracted from each picture frame.

Of course, everything was there.

I had no concept of legacy until two or three years ago. Nowadays, I’m absolutely delighted. I’m flabbergasted that I had the pictures, albeit hidden for all that time. Also, it’s amazing that I was not aware of the importance of that period. I wasn’t. And I’m just amazed that I should have done all that.

I could never see they would ever be important, that immigration would become an issue and that the technology would be so that I got those pictures.

Just photograph the world around you and don’t use as your model, Instagram, where everybody’s laughing … Don’t shoot that. Shoot the world around you as it is. Don’t wait for smiles, don’t do any selfies or go to parties and take pictures unless something dramatic is happening.

My profile was the human condition and going about their daily lives.

A 1960s photograph of a smartly dressed member of the windrush generation behind railway railings
Image credit: Howard Grey
1960s photograph of the Windrush Generation arriving at London Waterloo - men and women looking towards platforms
Image credit: Howard Grey
1960s photograph of the Windrush Generation arriving at London Waterloo - a man moving suitcases and boxes
Image credit: Howard Grey
1960s photograph of the Windrush Generation arriving at London Waterloo - a smartly dressed man leans against some railings
Image credit: Howard Grey

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