Celebrating 75 years of Windrush on board the SS Great Britain!

29 June 2023


29 June 2023


On Friday 26 May, we kick-started a season of national and local events to celebrate 75 years since the HMT Empire Windrush arrived in Britain.

On Friday 26 May, we kick-started a season of national and local events to celebrate 75 years since the HMT Empire Windrush arrived in Britain. The ship docked at Tilbury in Essex on 21 June 1948, carrying 492 citizens from British colonies in the Caribbean – many of whom were veterans of the Second World War. This historic event marked the start of a post-war migration story that has shaped our country today.


One hundred years before the Empire Windrush arrived here, the SS Great Britain played her role in the global migration story as she took passengers over to Australia to start new lives there. So, it was fitting to host a Windrush celebration on board the ship. Moreover, Bristol is a city with a large Caribbean Diaspora community and the event was a great opportunity to connect with local Bristolians – many of whom had never visited before.


Windrush Day has been celebrated in the UK since 2017 and this year, on the 75th anniversary, there are hundreds of events happening across the country. In Bristol, St Paul’s Carnival are organising a range of celebrations starting on Windrush Day (22 June) and culminating in St Paul’s Carnival on 1 and 2 July (the Trust is a Friend of the Carnival once again).



Our event which kicked off the Windrush 75 celebrations in Bristol, took the form of a dinner in the First-Class Dining Saloon. We welcomed nearly 100 guests from a wide range of communities, including extra special guests – over 30 Windrush elders. It was a privilege to be able to celebrate the contributions this generation of pioneers made to British society. It was a beautiful sunny evening and guests were greeted by the newly formed Windrush Reggae Choir singing in the Historic Dockyard. In the Dining Saloon, traditional Jamaican food and a complimentary rum punch were provided by Glen’s Kitchen, a well-loved St Paul’s establishment, and DJ Nytro from BCFM provided music throughout the evening.

Iona Keen, Head of Interpretation, opened the evening by welcoming guests and briefly telling her own Windrush story (her father came over from Jamaica as a child in 1952, settling in London). Matthew Tanner, CEO, gave a warm welcome, inviting guests to explore the ship, and James Boyd, Deputy Director of Research, talked about the SS Great Britain’s migration stories, making the connection to Windrush. Shani Whyte, Community Researcher, told guests about her experience researching the archive in the Brunel institute and read a passage from her book Tying the Tides. After dinner, Bristol poet and jazz singer Nia Bimkubwa sang and performed her poem Windrush in Jamaican patois, and some of the elders told their Windrush stories of arriving in Britain in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The event was supported by a crack team of SS Great Britain staff who worked tirelessly to make it a success and make guests feel at home.

We have had some wonderful feedback from guests. One guest said:

Amazing ship! Had a great personal tour of the boat with Shani – she was so informative! I never knew the history growing up in Bristol and the myth which was smashed tonight. Look forward to helping to bring black people to understand Bristol’s history.

Following the event, several of the attendees signed up to take part in the Trust’s new Community Researchers Programme, to find out more about the ship, Brunel, and maritime history. In all, it was a successful evening and we hope to make it an annual event going forwards. Watch this space…


Made possible with The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players, we were able to host this event.

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