Housing and work
Avtar Singh Jouhl: We came to Smethwick, my brother's house, it was in Oxford Road, Smethwick. There were many people, I thought maybe waiting for me to come, but when everybody went away there was still fifteen or sixteen people, Indians, staying at the house. In the front room, two double beds, in the bedroom upstairs, each bedroom two double beds and in the small room, one three-quarter bed and those beds with like the metal springs and big wooden headboards. No carpets in the house, it was lino in all rooms. The food was kept under the beds and in the kitchen there was electric cooker and this - not the present-type steel sinks, it was this china-type big sink. No hot water system, the toilet was outside, there was a tin bath tub. It was a surprise to me to see the house, a villa-type house, small one, much smaller than my own house in Jandiala, much, much smaller than that.
Carlton Duncan: Fortunately I didn't have, like many of my compatriots, I didn't have to go house-hunting, find a room to let, that alone would have really killed me off. Because on my journeys to and from college, I used to pass these shop windows and I'd see "ROOMS FOR LET - SORRY NO COLOUREDS, NO IRISH, NO DOGS", this kind of thing, and I couldn't understand that you know, we were in the "Mother Country". I was finding that very difficult to come to terms with.
Esme Lancaster: Black people could not get houses to rent as other people. The conditions of living when we first came here let me cry for months and months and months till we began to find improvement in our living standard. We had to share the kitchen with everybody and every other conveniences.
Avtar Singh Jouhl: Within our group two people unemployed, four employed, and for the unemployed there was, the landlord didn't charge rent. The rent was 50p a week, ten shillings. Then for the food, which [was] generally called in the community "ration", something like £1.50 for the food a week and the unemployed also were not charged for the food, the others shared.
Ryland Campbell: The conditions in tenement thing is something I couldn't adjust myself to because we had to be, you know, fighting for the stove and in those days you didn't have bath in the place, you had to go down to the public bath and that's not the kind of life I know not here, not even if I was living in shanty town I would have, you know, a way of doing it without so public a thing. Then I'm asking my mother to let us buy a house because in those days houses were cheap and she said, "Oh no", she don't want no house, she not intending to stay here forever.
Badrun Nesa Pasha: People they, they used to go to the public bath and in our country we think the bath is more essential one because sometimes in our country we take it twice a, three times a bath you know in the hot weather, whereas in this country, nowadays people take shower more or less every day going to work and in the summer time sometimes, twice you see. But I never, when I came there was no such things and weather was cold so I don't know whether the people were - but they had a Gas Ascot that, in the kitchen. Some houses I visited they didn't have anything, they just boiling the kettle all the times and pouring the water in.
Avtar Singh Jouhl: The environmental issues in those days were never talked about and on weekends we used to do our washings and then put on the garden, particularly in the summer. And if it is put during daytime, working days Monday to Friday, Saturday, and by evening they gone black because of all the smoke coming from the chimneys of the foundries.
Ranjit Sondhi: There must have been a number of factors which created the settlement of pockets of migrant communities in the inner cities. Handsworth is not unlike Sparkbrook in that respect, for instance, or like certain areas of Balsall Heath or Saltley. What happened, I think, was that these areas were in decline at the time migrant communities were coming into the city and they had been in decline many years before. The shops hadn't, were no longer busy. The main areas, the main streets were now depleted in many ways. The housing fabric was old and getting older and the quality of houses was largely of the Victorian terraced type with many, many rooms, and families had shrunk and moved out of the area leaving behind these rather large and cumbersome properties, difficult to heat, difficult to keep the damp out of and that was really the only option available to them at the end of the day. It also suited them to some extent because it was cheap and their idea was to make as much money as possible and not to spend it on themselves or on clothes or on housing but in order to send remittances back home to their families. But it also created for multi-occupation because obviously these houses had a number of bedrooms which could be used by able-bodied workers who were just interested in having a bed for the night or the day as it might happen and then go off to work in the foundries and factories in the area. There was discrimination in those days, people wouldn't lend money to immigrant families, particularly Afro-Caribbean families, with the result that a lot of them had to resort to council housing. So eventually I think, both Afro-Caribbean communities and Asian communities did what was the only option available to them. They grouped together, bought houses in common, pooled their incomes and their savings, formed little co-operatives of their own, indeed some of the earliest co-operative movements were among black people in Handsworth, and bought houses and then only when they had saved more money and they were contemplating bringing their wives and children over to this country did they branch out into smaller houses, into semi-detached houses, for instance, where there would be only one or two families. But initially, they started off, for all kinds of reasons, both external and internal reasons to live jointly in very large Victorian type of housing that characterised Handsworth at the time.
Frank Scantlebury: All the firms then were glad for workers. They weren't getting rid of people and giving us their jobs, they were glad for workers. They were only too glad to get people to do the work and that's why people were coming to the United Kingdom at the time. But in spite of that although it was so easy to get employment at that time, one could leave a job today and you could walk into a job tomorrow, leave it and you would find it easy to get another job. There was no difficulty in finding employment at that time.
Ryland Campbell: First thing you have to sign on to the dole for social security and more or less "big brother" sat watching you and all that sort of thing. And then next thing you must show that you are looking for a job and so on and so this friend start take me to factories and I thought - and again guys who live in that home now they think, well come and try my factory. And I got myself a job and the best job those days were to be a bus operator of some type. So I got a job on the Midland Red as a conductor and I'm telling you everybody think I was the "bee's knees".
Nurul Hoque: My relation he told me not to go out, might get lost on my way and when he went to work and a few people was without jobs as well - they have come like me, you know, newly to this country - I take them too, say, "Come on now, not to sit at the house all the time, let's go out see if we can get a job without anybody's help." So we went to Kitts Green, at that time the company's name was James Booth Aluminium Limited, and I went to the Personnel Office and said, "Is there any vacancies please?" and he say, "You are too young to get a job in the mill." I said, "I can do any job, sir," so he called the maintenance foreman to the Personnel Office and said, "This lad look very bright, could you provide him a job?" He say, "Yes." So I get a job as a maintenance fitter-mate, carrying tools. How you get the job, how I get the job. When my relation come back from work and he was surprised I get a job and I went out and come back, go back to the house safely [laughs].
Avtar Singh Jouhl: In 1958 when I started work was 44 hour in the foundry industry, in the engineering industry plus overtime in the foundry, ancillary overtime. So 44 hours plus another 7, 8 hours, it was no less than 50 hour week. And lunchtime some workers used to go to the public house for two pints or three pints, particularly those workers who working on molten metal area or knockout area, hot, dust and all the smoke. So the lunchtime going to the pub, coming back, having meal, Indian roti, dhal and then starting work again. And that was the typical situation around the foundry industry and that was where most of the, almost all I would say, people worked. I didn't know any school-teacher at that time, I didn't know anybody working in bank or any office jobs, even those people who have been graduated who worked as teachers back home, they were working in the factories and foundries. One example, Comrade Teja Singh Sahota, who came earlier than me around '53, he was, he has Master's degree. He used to teach in a college in India and when he came over here in Coventry and all he was offered a job of a primary-school teacher, that was only temporary job.
Carlton Duncan: It is not until I hit the shores of Great Britain and met with that experience being told that my qualifications weren't recognised here that I begin to search who I am because here I am sitting examinations in the West Indies, set by "the Mother Country", marked by "the Mother Country", I acquire them and when I come to "the Mother Country" about whom I've heard, had heard so much wonderful things etc, even by my own parents etc, suddenly to be told by "the Mother Country" that we don't recognise your qualifications. I mean I took that a little bit hard and really sowed a determination in me, I think, which made me decide to repeat my general education so to speak. It took a great deal of courage to start all over again.
Joan Proctor-Monroe: I didn't have a lot of struggle really, Eventually I got a job at County Hall where there were many other black people from various parts of the world and I worked there for about, from about '56 to about '60, and then a job came up nearer home, nearer where I was living in Hammersmith, to work in a hostel, in a home for young offenders and I was transferred there.
Zahoor Ahmed: My Nanna's [maternal grandfather's] nephew used to sell things along Bull Ring Market, so I saw him selling there. I was quite surprised, I say, "My family people doing such roadside selling," you know, that was something below, you know, our expectation. We didn't expect them to do such things.
Avtar Singh Jouhl: The majority was contented because of the earning they were making and also their occupation in terms of personal occupation, spending time, well most of the time, to save maximum money for sending back home. And when people came their vision was, nearly everybody, that I will work here four, five years, have lump sum of money in Indian rupees and then I will go back. And I remember the example of one comrade who, now in Southall, Vishnu Sharma and it is known about him when he came that, when I would have 20,000 rupees,* then I am going back. He's still here even after his retirement. The - nearly everybody, even I have the same vision, that after some time I will go back when I have some money, and some money means 20,000, 25,000 rupees, then I will go back. But that was, in reality, it turned out wishful thinking. So their mental occupation to save money and also economising on even drink, most of the people, and economising on food in terms of cooking meat once a week. Some of them I would say, very few they did go astray, but most of them they stayed single person, they stayed as they were and the reason particularly that one married to going out, going astray cost money as well [laughs]. Also for them the preoccupation was, preoccupation most of the time thinking back home and getting 20,000 rupees, sending back, pay off the loans they taken and then going back rather than indulging into the extravagances which were considered in those days. So therefore, they stay single, totally single people.
Ryland Campbell: I start realising that it seem that it's the white race that had the money and the black race was the one who had to work for their money.
Avtar Singh Jouhl: My job was a white man moulder's mate. There were other Indians in the foundry, all of them working as white moulder's mate, who [were] on the labourer's job, not skilled job. None of the Indians was a core-maker which is considered skilled and which was highly paid. All labourers, migrant labour, all so-called skilled worker or moulder, white; all fitters white, all electricians white, all cupola operators white, all dressers white. So it was clear-cut division: low pay, hard work, migrant labour. And in the evening we went to pub. I said, "We got to do something about it" - I can't remember the exact words, but it was that we should do something whereby we should organise the Union.
* 20,000 rupees was equivalent in 1956-7 to £1,509, and would have bought 5-10 acres. The 1992 equivalent would be 500,000 rupees, or around £10,000
TRANSCRIPTION FROM CASSETTE 1, SIDE B