Families hail new Windrush exhibition at Mansfield Museum

Photo of attendees at the opening of the Windrush exhibition at Mansfield Museum
Opening of the Windrush exhibition at Mansfield Museum

The families of Mansfield's Windrush generation have been speaking about a major new exhibition that has opened at Mansfield Museum.

‘It Runs Through Us' was officially opened on Saturday (4 March) at an event attended by more than 100 members of the local Caribbean community and their loved ones.

The packed crowd explored the exhibition before enjoying a Caribbean buffet supplied by Black History Ambassadors Jennifer Glenn and Tony Green.

The exhibition is on display until the 30 November and celebrates the post-war contribution made by the Windrush generation and black history in Mansfield.

It has been co-curated with the local Caribbean community who have loaned many items of clothing and homewares from the 1950s.

The project, led by Mansfield District Council, aims to document and collect oral histories from local people of the Windrush generation and their descendants as the UK marks the 75th anniversary this year of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks.

The Mansfield-born children of these families, many now grand-parents themselves, are featured the oral history videos, sharing positive experiences of childhood, friendships, and working lives, alongside challenges faced.

These videos are being shown in the exhibition and form the first archive of black-led oral histories in Mansfield.

Among those local Windrush pioneers was Samuel Case and the exhibition follows his family story shared from the late 1700s as told by his son, Carl Case, who features in a video being shown in the exhibition.

The story begins with Richard Case who was born enslaved on a Jamaican plantation owned by Joseph Case, and follows the family through freedom from enslavement, post-enslavement emancipation and rural poverty.

This led Samuel Case, along with three of his brothers and several cousins, across the Atlantic to Nottinghamshire to earn a living in coal mines and local hosiery mills. 

Samuel, who lived on Western Avenue in Mansfield, and worked at Welbeck Colliery in Meden Vale, left Jamaica in his mid-20s. He later became first ever black man elected as a Deacon by a 120-strong congregation at Mansfield’s Baptist Church, the highest honour the church can bestow on a person.

The exhibition features a variety of thought-provoking displays, vintage artefacts, carnival costumes, artwork, stories and a reconstructed 1960s Caribbean ‘front room’ from a house in Littleworth.

Paul Morrison, UK Education lead at global tech firm Zoom, whose parents were among the district's Windrush pioneers, are among the local families who contributed to the exhibition.

He said: "I am very proud of growing up in Mansfield and seeing the contribution my parents and other local Windrush pioneers made in Britain becoming a multi-cultural nation, and how they helped to rebuild it after the war. Well done Mansfield!"

Wesley Dawes, a retired engineer, whose mother, Violet Dawes, and aunt, Millicent Fraser, settled in the district in the mid 1950s and was another key contributor to the exhibition.

He said: "Our exhibition highlights that, like many of the women during the early period, they found work in hospitals and at Metal Box, Mansfield Hosiery Mills and a variety of factories."

His father was a carpenter and worked on the construction of the Four Season's shopping centre.

“Similar to many of the men who didn’t enter the mining industry, he worked local firms like John Eastwood," said Wesley. "The photographs in the exhibition of some of these men working at James Maude at Forest Road, where dad also worked, along with some of his actual work tools on display, is a touching tribute to my dad, who, along with too many of these pioneers, are sadly no longer with us."   

Research conducted by Carl Case for the exhibition also unearthed pre-Windrush industrial links from the area to the Caribbean. These included farm implements used in sugar plantations originating from local foundries, and cotton derived from Caribbean plantations used in the Hollins owned Pleasley Vale Mills, who were later to invent Vyella, the first branded fabric in the world.

To highlight the link, a portrait in the museum's collection of Laetitia Hollins, wife of William Hollins whose family ran the Viyella mill, has been placed next to a new version in which panels of Laetitia’s black mourning dress have been exchanged for colourful Ankara wax prints.

Visitors to the exhibition will be also able to interact with video screens, visit a House through Time, add memories to a Living Wall and contribute to the Wings of Hope display.

The exhibition will run in tandem with a free carnival and dance workshops, taking place at Ladybrook Community Centre (Thursdays 7pm to 9pm) and Mansfield Palace Theatre (Tuesdays 6.30pm to 8.30pm).

Dancers taking part will form the Mansfield Carnival Troupe who open the inaugural Mansfield Carnival on Saturday 17 June in Mansfield Market Place.

The free dance classes are open to everyone and Mansfield Museum welcomes all communities to become part of the carnival parade.

Stuart Richardson, the council's Portfolio Holder for Regeneration and Growth, said: “I would encourage people to take the time to take the opportunity to visit this fascinating exhibition.

"I would also like to thank the museum staff for putting together this excellent exhibition and the local African Caribbean community for all their work and help contributing to it and, indeed, their families' invaluable contribution to our post-war reconstruction and in shaping Britain as a modern multi-cultural and inclusive nation. In fact the Windrush generation have nourished our country." 

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) awarded the council a grant of £17,949 last year to support the Windrush project.

Windrush educational sessions for Key Stages 1 to 3, can be booked by emailing Rachael Boaler (link opens in email app).

Mansfield Museum can be found on Leeming Street and is open 10am to 3pm, Tuesday to Saturday. It can be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the tag @mansfieldmuseum or visit its website (link opens in new window) for more details of this and other upcoming events and exhibitions. 

Published: March 7th 2023