Before Windrush

Precious glimpses and surprising rediscoveries: snapshots of black Britain in the decades before the great postwar migrations.

There was a substantial black presence in Britain long before the Empire Windrush arrived from Jamaica in June 1948. Some of the earliest moving images of black Britons survive in the extraordinary Mitchell and Kenyon collection from the dawn of the 20th century. WWI newsreels offered occasional glimpses of black soldiers from Britain - or more likely the Empire. In WWII the contribution of black servicemen and women was more prominently acknowledged in newsreels and documentaries. Between the wars, black performers began to make a splash, from music hall entertainers Scott & Whaley to Britain's first black screen star, US-born actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson. Stars like these had an easier time than many, but still faced unthinking stereotypes and prejudice. But they forged a path for others to follow. The films in this selection span some five decades, serving as a vital record of a much longer history of black people and culture in Britain than is often remembered.

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Miners Leaving Pendlebury Colliery (1901)Miners Leaving Pendlebury Colliery (1901)

Non-Fiction19011 minsSilent Location: Pendlebury

A black miner makes an intriguing addition to an already captivating film of coal workers up from their pit.

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Mr Smith Wakes UpMr Smith Wakes Up

Public Information Filler193723 mins

A patient African dinner guest learns much about the state of 1930s Britain in this revealing film.

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From Trinidad to Serve the EmpireFrom Trinidad to Serve the Empire

Non-Fiction19161 minsSilent Location: London

Colonial recruits from Trinidad meet the Lord Mayor of London during WWI

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England Beats West Indies in the Final TestEngland Beats West Indies in the Final Test

Non-Fiction19281 minsSilent

The first West Indies Test cricket team visits England and loses all three matches.

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Jack Johnson Paying a Visit to Manchester DocksJack Johnson Paying a Visit to Manchester Docks

Non-Fiction2 minsSilent Location: Salford

The legendary world heavyweight boxing champion, John Arthur 'Jack' Johnson, visits Manchester.

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Trafalgar Day in Liverpool (1901)Trafalgar Day in Liverpool (1901)

Non-Fiction19015 minsSilent Location: Liverpool

Huge crowds turn out in Edwardian Liverpool for the annual celebrations marking the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

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A World Is TurningA World Is Turning

Documentary194845 mins

A lost chapter in black British film: extraordinary rushes from a documentary showcasing talented members of the black community.

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Hull Fair (1902)Hull Fair (1902)

Non-Fiction19024 minsSilent Location: Kingston upon Hull

The ornate pavilions of cinematographs, boxing booths and menageries at Hull Fair.

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Springtime in an English VillageSpringtime in an English Village

Documentary19447 mins Location: Stanion

An extraordinary and unexpected snapshot of rural life in wartime in which a young black girl is crowned Queen of the May.

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Mining Review 2nd Year No. 11Mining Review 2nd Year No. 11

Industry sponsored film19499 mins

American actor and singer Paul Robeson visits an Edinburgh colliery, where he regales miners with a rendition of 'I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night'.

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Regent of Abyssinia in LondonRegent of Abyssinia in London

Non-Fiction19240 minsSilent

Abyssinian state ministers visit London during Prince Regent Haile Selassie's diplomatic tour of Europe.

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Shooting StarsShooting Stars

Comedy193732 mins

Black music hall stars Scott and Whaley perform stereotypical minstrel routines in blackface in this 1937 touring revue.

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Victory ParadeVictory Parade

Documentary194621 mins

Soldiers from the far reaches of the British Empire arrive in London to take part in the official commemoration of the end of war in Europe.

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The Black EmperorThe Black Emperor

Drama19498 mins

Paul Robeson demonstrates his vocal talents in this short extract from Song of Freedom

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Hello! West IndiesHello! West Indies

Government sponsored film194323 mins

WWII propaganda messages back home

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For the WoundedFor the Wounded

Non-Fiction19151 minsSilent

'Our Day' charity fundraising badges are pinned to the coats of two black soldiers during WWI.

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Merrie TerritorialsMerrie Territorials

Non-Fiction19151 minsSilent

Boisterous Territorial soldiers put on a show in Islington.

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Learie ConstantineLearie Constantine

Biopic19459 minsSilent Location: Liverpool

The West Indian cricketing legend is filmed in his role as a welfare officer, working to help African and Caribbean factory workers in Merseyside.

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When Giants FoughtWhen Giants Fought

Sport192631 minsSilent

A bruising fight in black and white sets the tone for conflicts to come.

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The Man Who Stayed to Dinner (Rinso Advert)The Man Who Stayed to Dinner (Rinso Advert)

Advert19432 mins

Explorers, 'cannibals' and minstrels sell soap powder.

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Gorno's Italian MarionettesGorno's Italian Marionettes

Comedy19286 mins

Early sound film of a popular stage puppet show that reveals the unpleasant stereotypes of its age.

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African Visitors to the Tower of LondonAfrican Visitors to the Tower of London

Documentary19496 mins Location: London

An African entourage makes a spectacular appearance in postwar London.