Windrush: 75 Years

A set of eight stamps issued by Royal Mail on June 22, titled Windrush: 75 Years, celebrates the contribution made to British culture by immigrants from the West Indies.

The ‘Windrush generation’ of immigrants was named after the high-profile early arrival of over 1,000 passengers from Jamaica on the HMT Empire Windrush, which docked at Tilbury in London in June 1948.

She was not the first ship carrying migrants from the Caribbean, but this was the first arrival to attract large-scale media coverage, and became synonymous with a significant movement of people.

Under the British Nationality Act of 1948, every British subject, whether born in the UK or in a colony, was granted the right to settle and work in the UK. Between 1948 and 1972, more than 500,000 Commonwealth citizens did just that.

Throughout the 1950s, many arrived on ‘banana boats’ (ships carrying tropical fruit to Europe). By the late 1950s, some were coming by aircraft.

Unemployment in the Caribbean was one incentive to seek a new life, and most of the pioneers originally intended to earn money and then return home. But the majority ended up staying, making a major contribution to the workforce of the nascent Natuional Health Service and other industries.

The window of opportunity did not last forever. Changing legislation made work permits harder to get from 1962, and removed Commonwealth citizens’ automatic right to remain in the United Kingdom from 1971.

But that hasn’t stopped the Windrush generation making a huge impact on Britain, to the extent that Caribbean culture is woven into the very fabric of the country.

Among other things, the stamps illustrate the Saturday schools set up to supplement the education of black children, the colourful Caribbean-style carnivals held at Notting Hill and elsewhere, the infusion of musical styles such as calypso, reggae and ska, the increasing popularity of Caribbean food, and the West Indian influence on cricket, played and enjoyed with extra exuberance.

Many Britons feared the original influx of West Indians could undermine the country’s social cohesion. There were race riots in 1958 and later, and immigrants faced discrimination from landlords, employers and educators, testing their resolve and resilience.

Souring the story once again in recent years has been the ‘Windrush scandal’, as it was revealed that a large number of those who arrived from the Caribbean had been wrongly classified as illegal immigrants. Many people were threatened with deportation and some were actually deported; some are still seeking compensation.

On a more uplifting note, a National Windrush Monument, featuring a bronze sculpture by Basil Watson, was unveiled at London Waterloo train station in 2022, to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation to the UK.

Designed by The Chase and Supple Studio, the stamps feature illustrations commissioned specially for Royal Mail by artists from the West Indian community.

Printed in litho by Cartor Security Printers, they come in horizontally se tenant pairs.

1st class
From Small Island Life to Big Island Dreams, artwork by Kareen Cox.

1st class
Ode to Saturday Schools, artwork by Tomekah George.

Carnival Come Thru!, artwork by Bokiba.

Basking in the Sun After a Hard Work Day, artwork by Emma Prempeh.

The March, artwork by Emma Prempeh.

Here We Come, artwork by Bokiba.

Taste the Caribbean, artwork by Kareen Cox.

Dancehall Rhythms, artwork by Alvin Kofi.

The presentation pack, written by historians Colin Grant and Sonia Grant, explores the contribution of the Windrush generation to the UK.

The standard first day cover is augmented by a choice of three coin covers, and stamp cards are available as usual.

Set of 8 stamps £12.60
Presentation pack £13.50
First day cover £15.80
Coin covers from £17.50
Stamp cards £3.60

The West Indian community has made a significant contribution to today’s multicultural British society

Specially commissioned artwork is more interesting and evocative than a photographic approach

The stamps are colourful and eye-catching, so let’s hope they see some postal use, domestically and internationally