On 22 June 1948, around 500 migrants came to Britain from the Caribbean on board the SS Empire Windrush ship, and now, 70 years later, you can explore the labyrinth of underground passages at Clapham South where many of them were housed on arrival
Lead image: © London Transport Museum
The tunnels showcase the living conditions the Caribbean migrants endured during a period when they first arrived in London after the Second World War. It was a cramped, windowless underworld where residents slept in bunk beds as Tube trains passed by just over their heads.
Accommodation was scarce after the Second World War and the Windrush migrants needed a place to stay after arriving in London. After four weeks, all of the migrants had eventually moved away from the short-term residence in Clapham South.
These enterprising individuals helped to rebuild Britain after the war when there were labour shortages in housing, transport and hospital work. This site forms part of the UK’s diverse history and was also used for civilian sheltering during the Second World War and as budget hotel accommodation in the post-war years during the Festival of Britain in 1951.
The new season of the Hidden London tours, hosted by London Transport Museum (LTM), launches on 11 August. LTM, in partnership with the Windrush Foundation, invited Mr John Richards, 92, to return to the Clapham South Subterranean shelter he lived in when he first arrived in London.
‘The trains that ran overhead in the morning woke me up,’ said Mr Richards. ‘There were beds all around with crisp white sheets. They had a tea cart at the station… pie in the evening… I survived, because friends know friends. It was hard but in the long run you find a way.’
I survived, because friends know friends. It was hard but in the long run you find a way
After leaving the Clapham South shelter, Mr Richards moved to a hostel and then found work at British Rail, and a great number of Caribbean people were invited by London Transport to work on London’s public transport system, when it began a big recruitment drive in the Caribbean in February 1956.
‘It was a real honour to meet Mr Richards,’ said Chris Nix, Assistant Director of Collections and Engagement at London Transport Museum. ‘He is now 92 and was able to share some fascinating insights into what life was like for Caribbean people back in 1948 when they first arrived in London and lived in this former Second World War bomb shelter.’
‘I am looking forward to communicating these precious moments of history with people on our Clapham South Hidden London tours.’
Tickets are £38.50 (concs £33.50). The tunnels will be open to the public Wednesdays to Sundays from 11 August till 16 September. To book see ltmuseum.co.uk