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The “black” presence in London, and indeed the UK as a whole, is today defined very much by the ways in which Britain and the idea of being British has been shaped, particularly in the latter half of twentieth century. This period beginning after 1945 is marked by mass immigration from the Caribbean islands and other British colonial territories. In the immediate post-war period, a generation of mainly ex-service men and women, students, and a few professionals were soon joined thousands of migrant workers, to establish an undeniable presence in London and other British cities.

Now known as the Windrush generation, these people became part of an expanding London, whose cosmopolitan character had long been established. Today, in their reminiscences, the Windrush generation are increasingly being documented. Conversations between the generations and with the wider British society became evident towards the end of the century. With a growing recognition of the importance of both contemporary and oral histories the Museum of London’s 1993 exhibition, The Peopling of London acknowledged in the accompanying publication [The Peopling of London, ed. Nick Merriman, 1993] that even though London had long and important history as “a centre for immigrants and refugees” [p.ix], no such history of city existed. The exhibition was indeed conceived to fill this gap. However, it also served to provide a new approach to the history of London and the constantly changing identity of this cosmopolitan city.

On embarking on Black London Film Heritage, the curators became immediately aware of the significant initiatives already in place to collect, preserve and archive the material cultural of the African Caribbean presence. In addition to the Museum of London, the Black Cultural Archives had already been established. As part of a wider national trend, the collections of the Imperial War Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum were being given new significance. The establishment of the George Padmore Institute and the acquisition of the Huntley Collection by London Metropolitan Museum marked the opening up a new institutional in British society. Here, not simply the “world in a city” as in the Museum of London’s exhibition, but the world in Britain is been reinscribed as part of the narrative of Britain.

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, this holds a special significance in relation to the moving image. At this particular juncture the role of film and television and the related generic media, are a principal site for social interaction and communication. Here from the 1980s, is to be found the most impressive its lists of titles and images. Contemporary experiences are increasing been recorded and an unprecedented body of work has already been produced. The documents of social presence and memory are impressive. These will no doubt be the subject for ongoing and future archival work.

Against the background of these current trends, Black London’s Film Heritage set out to address the absence of an African Caribbean narrative in the history of moving image depicting London. A focal idea for the curators was that to speak of London is to speak of a city that has expanded and grown over at least two centuries. This is a city whose identity has been defined by its diverse communities and the incorporation and transformation of peripheral areas through the expansion of public transport networks, urbanisation, and migration. It a city that has been, regardless to the changing demarcation of its boundaries, a cosmopolitan city. As numerous written histories and studies have already it is equally a city that has been influenced by global connections and events.

This was an expanding city driven by urbanisation and industrialisation. In the modern sense of fast moving metropolis, the lives of the city’s inhabitants were set for new challenges. Whether consider to be a native of the city, or an immigrant, a new era of “Big City Stories” was about to unfold. In many ways these stories speak of the different ways that the diverse inhabitants of London sort to negotiate and establish their claim to citizenship. For the African Caribbean community this has spurned its own unique narrative. It is this that the curators aim to discover and compile using moving images.

In approaching this archive project, it seemed poignant to note that in the year 1838 when slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire, the Great Western Railway was opened linking London with the west of England. At its hub was Ealing, the first “rural” area to be linked to “London” by an expanding transport system, and probably the first to be transformed by its impact. Notably, as documented in Ealing – The growth of London through transport1, in 1874, “(H)orse tram services (were) introduced in Acton, providing the first cheap public transport in Ealing. 1879: Metropolitan District Railway offers first commuter service to central London. 1901: First electric tramway in London starts services along Uxbridge Road. 1930s Major new main road, now the A40, constructed through Perivale, Greenford and Northolt.”

By this time, London had already benefited from the services of the city’s “first black bus driver”, Joseph Clough. He would no doubt have been a citizen of the “cosmopolitan London” recorded in some of the earliest films.

Defying tradition:
Joseph Clough, London’s first black bus driver, was born in Jamaica in 1886. Orphaned, he worked as a stable hand for a Dr White, who brought him to London in 1906 as his coachman. Clough became a motorbus driver in 1908. His route ran from Liverpool Street to Wormwood Scrubs. Although generally accepted by his colleagues, he was wrongfully suspended for speeding by a racist company official, despite an unblemished driving record. From 1914–19, Joe served in the British Army as an ambulance driver. He drove buses and later taxis to the age of 82. After enjoying fame on television in later years, Clough died in 19772.

Ealing – The growth of London through transport, London Transport Museum © Transport for London publication,

© Transport for London, Collection of London Transport Museum