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A short history of Preston’s Caribbean community – from colour bar to cricket to Carnival

Posted on - 8th February, 2024 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Avenham, Deepdale, Friargate, History, Nostalgia, Preston News
A banana boat arrives at Preston Dock Pic: Preston Digital Archive
A boat arrives at Preston Dock Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Preston is home to many diverse communities that have helped shape the cultural landscape of the city as it stands today. Home to people from Ireland, Eastern Europe, Hong Kong, Africa, South East Asia and the Caribbean, this former dilapidated mill town has benefited immensely from the presence of these immigrant and migrant communities.

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Some were former citizens of the British Empire and formerly the Commonwealth of Nations who made Preston their home. The early arrivals from the Caribbean were formerly ex-servicemen who aided the Mother Country in her hour of need. Jamaican, Charles Edward Knuckle arrived in 1947.

Mr Knuckle served three years and two months in the RAF during World War II. After helping Britain’s war effort, dispelling the myth that it faced Nazi Germany alone, this gentleman along with thousands of his fellow West Indians were swiftly demobbed in 1946 and sent home. They had served their purpose and were no longer required by the government which wanted these men and women off their payroll. Furthermore, society in general expressed a desire that their Colonial cousins go back home. Whilst landladies accommodated West Indian servicemen during wartime, they expressed a severe reluctance to do so in peacetime.

Labour Office files illustrate how employers refused to employ skilled tradesmen from the Caribbean in favour of Eastern Europeans and ex-Axis Prisoners of War. A blanket refusal to employ foreign workers over British subjects was in place. The European immigrants possessed the correct skin colour. Those migrating from the far-flung reaches of the British Empire did not. This was the reception awaiting Charles Knuckle who sailed from Jamaica on board the SS Almanzora arriving in Southampton in December 1947.

Read more: A voyage of discovery into Preston’s Windrush history

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He was a skilled worker, his trade was listed as a mechanic and his destination was 19 Essex Street, Deepdale. It’s possible that this gentleman knew he may not be welcome in Preston but he had somewhere to stay. Others who followed in his wake the ensuing decade may not have been so fortunate. It is possible that Mr Knuckle like other early arrivals accommodated fellow West Indians seeking a better life in Preston. One person who provided this service was Dominican Woodley
Wiltshire.

His house in Oxford Street, Avenham, a former handloom weaving colony, was described by his neighbours as being nicely decorated and immaculate. One lady told the Lancashire Evening Post it was so clean that you could eat your dinner off the floor. After four years in Preston working in Leyland Motors, Mr Wiltshire bought his house and lived here with his cat Tommy. Some locals were not happy with him and sent him a note tied through a rock that smashed through his window. This missive warned him to go back home as he was not welcomed. It was signed K.K.K. – the initials of the rabidly racist white supremacist group Klu Klux Klan. This abhorrent incident occurred in January 1959. Openly racist incidents were increasing. Evidence would soon emerge of a colour bar being run in the town.

Blackburn resident George Hibbert from Jamaica was stationed in Kirkham during the war. One day in 1961 he found himself in Preston with a Guyanese friend on business. Both men were ex-RAF servicemen and frequented the Black Bull on Friargate during their service without any problem. On this occasion, however, the landlord immediately refused the gentlemen’s service as they entered his establishment. He explained to a Lancashire Evening Post correspondent, that he was not prejudiced but West Indian men frequently bought young teenage girls drinks, thus inciting anger and violence among the locals who objected to this practice. Two years later the same newspaper reported that this racist trope was recycled by a barman at the Britannia in the same street, who had placed a sign saying no coloureds above the bar. Lancashire Evening Post letter writers expressed support for this barman and thought he deserved a medal for his actions. Another wrote that West Indians are not one of us and never will be. Both incidents occurred in a street that would be heavily frequented by the National Front in the 1970s.

The New Britannia Inn, August 1979 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The New Britannia Inn, August 1979 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

This decade ushered in an era of progression for Preston’s Caribbean community. During the 1972 Preston Guild, schoolchildren from Deepdale County Primary celebrated the presence of West Indians in Preston and paid homage to the colour and joy they brought to the town streets and their adventurous cricket exhibited on Moor Park every Sunday. The formation of Jalgos West Indian CC in 1962 and their entry into the Preston District and Cricket League in the 1963 season would change the cricket and the cultural landscape in Preston forever. Over time other teams such as Caribbean CC, Star CC, Gujarat CC and Caricom would follow Jalgos West Indian CC in joining the local cricket league in Preston.

The latter was formed in Jalgos Sports and Social Club in the late 1970s as an outlet for the disaffected Caribbean community youth suffering the effects of a discriminatory education system and harassment from an overtly racist police force. This short-lived team unlike their predecessors had a home. Jalgos acquired a permanent home in 1976, their first home was in the Empress Ballroom on Fylde Road from 1971 to 1973. When the proprietor of this premises realised he was letting this room to a West Indian cricket team, he insisted on a deposit of £200 and £25 a week rent. The initial security was raised between eight of the cricketers. The Caribbean Club opened its doors in 1972.

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Dominoes at Jalgos Pic: Joseph Gudgeon
Dominoes at Jalgos Pic: Joseph Gudgeon Photography

Founder member Julius Prevost remembered on opening night that locally-born Prestonians outnumbered the West Indians. He also recalled his joy at having somewhere he could frequent with his white friends. West Indians in Preston were unwelcome in most of the town’s 365 public houses except a small handful including the Mitre on Lancaster Road and the Jazz Bar on Church Street. Both bars allowed the Caribbean cricket team to hold fundraising events for the Caribbean Sports and Social Club. Tommy, the landlord of the Jazz Bar was frequently called upon in the early hours to supply house parties that ran out of alcohol. These social occasions were also the setting for the Caribbean Carnival in Preston.

Different islands across the Caribbean celebrate Carnival at various times throughout the year. Reflecting the diverse nature of the Caribbean, disparate islands across the region had various Carnival traditions that were celebrated throughout the year. The Caribbean diaspora in Preston was a microcosm of the islands as it contained many different islanders. The Carnival traditions were initially celebrated at house parties hosted by Roland Thomas. Affectionately known as Pyro, Mr Thomas would become a prominent Carnival figure.

Read more: Save the date to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Preston Carnival

The first outdoor Caribbean Carnival took place in the 1972 Guild in Moor Park. Inspired by the Guild a small group of West Indians gathered together and held an impromptu Carnival in a few streets surrounding Moor Park in 1974. The following year 1975, the first official Carnival took place on the May Bank Holiday weekend. According to the Lancashire Evening Post, it was 100 yards long, took place on New Hall Lane and started an hour late. This annual event would grow and encompass an entire weekend of festivities including the Calypso competition and Carnival Queen contest, Samedi Gras, J’ouvert, Grand Carnival Parade and Carnival Dance in the evening time. Carnival is a joyous occasion of togetherness, a colourful kaleidoscope, and a cacophony of sounds enjoyed by all strands of Preston’s diverse communities. It was established in Deepdale, the neighbourhood where Charles Knuckle settled on his return to Preston in 1947.

Preston Caribbean Carnival procession 2023 Pic: Mark McLoughlin
Preston Caribbean Carnival procession 2023 Pic: Mark McLoughlin

Mr Knuckle was an early pioneer of what is now known as Preston’s Windrush generation. Despite having a place to stay on arrival, he would receive a hostile reception. Possessing a skilled trade was no guarantee for suitable employment. A menial low-paying job may have been all he could hope to obtain. There was no recourse for socialising as a wide-ranging colour bar was enforced across the town. Social activities took place at blues parties or gambling and playing informal games of cricket and football in Avenham Park. The cricketers of Jalgos West Indian CC and the footballers of Dominican FC, the forerunners of Caribbean CC, all played their respective sports in this park. The success of Jalgos ensured West Indian families in Preston came out in their droves every week to watch them play. The accomplishment of Jalgos paved the way for Caribbean CC. They then opened Preston’s first multicultural venue where everyone was welcome regardless of skin colour or creed. Jalgos Sports and Social Club opened in 1976. Both venues quickly became cultural institutions in Preston. These clubs alongside Carnival are an important legacy from the Windrush generation not just to their children but to the wider community. A safe space for the Caribbean community where all are welcome with open arms.

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