These striking pictures, taken by a young photographer nearly 60 years ago, show the final migrants arriving at Waterloo Station in 1962.
Now they are to share the significance of such remarkable ‘journeys’, as they are given to the National Railway Museum (NRM) collection, in York.
Stations are often the backdrop to such human stories, said Karen Baker, curatorial lead for the museum’s Station Hall project as it prepares for exhibition, serving as a “gateway” to a new start.
Mrs Baker said: “It’s reaching through time, almost, to a linked understanding of what that must have been like, passing through a station on the way to a new life.”
Windrush was the name of the first ship from Jamaica in 1948, as Britain encouraged immigration from Commonwealth countries amid labour shortages in the postwar years.
For untold numbers of families, arrivals day would have been a “momentous occasion”, said Mrs Baker, with the move having consumed a whole family’s savings.
In May 1962 photographer Howard Grey, then aged 20, had travelled to Waterloo Station to watch as some 150 people arrived from Southampton, greeted by friends and family who lined the halls.
He used three rolls of film, but the images he caught that day were underexposed, and remained unseen until seven years ago when new technology and a chance TV documentary enabled him to recover them.
Mr Grey, now aged 79, said it was “incredible” to see the pictures he had taken in the 1960s finally brought to life, as they join the National Railway Museum’s collection before an exhibition.
He said: “When the negatives didn’t develop initially to produce prints, I just put them away and didn’t think about them.
“Looking at them now and seeing them tell the stories of the time is wonderful.”
Little is known about the people whose faces were captured on camera, other than that they arrived in the chilly spring of 1962, shortly before the Commonwealth Immigration Act was introduced.
The act was to end the automatic right to settlement in the UK for citizens of Commonwealth countries, signalling the beginning of the end of a boom which still shapes society today.
Some 37 of the photographs are to be exhibited in the museum’s refurbished project of Station Hall, illustrating how such spaces play witness to “untold stories” from railway history, and the way that stations can impact on people’s lives.
Every image tells a story, of hope and fear, and with figures impeccably dressed in bow ties and bowler hats or Sunday best.
Such dress signifies a sense of occasion, said Mrs Baker: “To them this was a major life event. What we see on their faces is a mixture of uncertainty, expectation and hope.
“This was seen very much as an opportunity for a better life, and better chances for their children. Through these photographs and others we can really understand what this must have felt like.”
A selection of the Windrush photographs are to feature in a permanent exhibition called ‘Passing Through’ for the National Railway Museum’s refurbishment of Station Hall.
This building, a former railway goods depot, is to undergo a programme of refurbishment under the museum’s Vision 2025 masterplan, supported by the NRM’s Friends and due for completion by 2023. Within the scheme will be works for a new roof and a permanent exhibition.
Also to feature are exhibits and objects such as ‘Waterloo Station’ by Terence Cuneo, a former WH Smith station bookstall, and the museum’s five original royal carriages.
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