A cosmopolitan society – Preston in the 1950s, 60s and 70s

Posted on - 10th October, 2021 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Nostalgia, Preston News
Children in the 1960s Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Labour shortages are nothing new in Britain. For example, in 1962 there was, you guessed it, an acute shortage of labour for transport and in the health sector. Consequently immigrants plugged the gap. Most came from the new Commonwealth countries such as India, Pakistan and the West Indies.


In the 1960s there was still a textile industry in Lancashire. Indeed the factories were working shifts, 24 hours a day, using immigrant labour on the night shift. By 1981 over 10,000 people in Preston were from the New Commonwealth or Pakistan.

Additionally some Hong Kong (a British colony) Chinese came, in the 1950s. Also, as a result of purges, East African Asians took residence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So what was the experience of Lancashire, for the new immigrants?

The immigrant experience, textile mills

One early immigrant was Mudassir from Pakistan. Not intending to stay, he came over to study textiles at Blackburn Technical College. He said: “Having been first established in Karachi, the textiles industry had spread quickly in India and Pakistan about that time and it was booming in 1956. The mills were seeking spinning, weaving and dyeing masters and Blackburn was the place to come for qualifications.”

Men in the 1960s Pic: Dawn

In fact Mudassir was one of the few Asians in Blackburn at the time. The local textile industry was in terminal decline and most of his college class were from abroad. However, Mudassir had taken a liking for Preston and decided to start work as a weaver at Courtaulds. His father, who had funded his course at Blackburn College was not pleased.

Courtaulds Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Courtaulds Pic: Preston Digital Archive

With glorious irony a lot of textile factories were running night shifts, mostly using immigrant labour. This was in response to foreign competition!

The reaction of the locals to Mudassir was mostly positive. He said: “I remember going once to Clitheroe and being stopped by a lad of about ten who asked me if he could take me and show me to his friend as he had ‘never seen a coloured man before’. That’s how unusual we were then.”

Mudassir later worked for other mills in Blackburn. He moved to the personnel department where his language skills helped with the immigrants who were manning the night shifts. He also spent 10 years teaching Urdu at Accrington and Rossendale college.

Finally, what else was happening in Preston, in the 1960s?

Teaching Urdu Pic: two
Pic: two

Preston in the 1960s

While textiles were in decline, engineering was booming. Horrocks‘ yard works closed in 1962 and by the 1970s few textile mills remained.

During the war aircraft had been produced at Dick, Kerr’s Strand Road site. Due to lack of space the company, now English Electric, relocated to Samlesbury Aerodrome. They had gained much expertise in efficient aircraft production during the war. Consequently, Preston became a major site for aircraft production. For example, the First Vampire jet fighter flew from Samlesbury in 1945 and 1,366 were eventually produced.

The Vampire jet developed during WWII and built in Preston Pic: Corgi
The Vampire jet developed during WWII and built in Preston Pic: Corgi

Many thousands of immigrants eventually settled in Lancashire and now form an important part of local culture.

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