Newham Family Tree – Ethnicity Update

I’ve been working with the project for just over a month now, researching stories on ethnicity in Newham. I am currently a History and Philosophy student at Roehampton University and am working with the project as part of my work placement module. I chose the Newham Family Tree Project because it’s an area of history and method of writing not commonly explored in the academic study of history, as the appreciation of smaller communities and importance of being able to write for non-academic communities is often overlooked.
Researching the history of ethnicity in Newham has been absolutely eye opening. When I started out on the project my understanding ethnic diversity was a very narrow one; that it is a modern trend brought about by easy travel. However, after researching into the history of ethnicity in Newham my view began to change.
At the start of my research I looked at the Empire Windrush which arrived in London in 1948, carrying Caribbean workers who had come to Britain to assist with post-war reconstruction. This was the beginning of a programme of naturalisation in which definitions of British nationality were re-defined to encourage colonial residents to come to Britain to help with post-war reconstruction. Many colonial residents flooded into London as a result and took on the British identity. However, upon further research I found that Newham’s ethnic diversity goes back much further then this. There has in fact been a wide variety of people from different ethnic backgrounds contributing to Newham’s development for over 100 years, starting with the industrial revolution. During the revolution an influx of workers came in from India, Africa and China came to Newham as a result of the facilities offered by the docks and railways. A good example of the contribution made by these workers is Morris Steiner, a Jewish immigrant from Austria, who set up a nougat factory in West Ham. Steiner became one of the suppliers for Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica and was heavily involved in local politics. With his role supplying the polar expedition, local politics and role as a local employer Steiner is truly someone to be celebrated for his contribution to the borough and beyond. Thus, rather than being a modern phenomenon, ethnic diversity in Newham is part of the districts identity.
Clive CharlesAs Newham is such an ethnically diverse borough, in fact it is one of the most ethnically diverse districts in the country, there is plenty of material on the positive impact of ethnicity. Thus far, I have produced two stories; one on Clive Charles, a very talented West Ham footballer, and another on Kenny Lynch, an all-round entertainer who I’m sure many will remember appearing on their tv screens in shows such as ‘Curry an Chips’ and ‘Till death do us Part’. I am currently working on an article about Linda Lewis, a singer and songwriter who was once described the ‘Cockney-Jamaican Gracie Fields’. All three of these people come from diverse backgrounds and have contributed significantly to their fields.
I hope the Newham Family Tree Project will continue to challenge uninformed opinions and damaging myths and stereotypes on diversity as it has mine.

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