Black Health Care Workers in Surrey

Photograph of a Black Nurse with patient at Netherne Hospital, Coulsdon, c.1955 (SHC ref 6376/12/1/4/1)

A Black Nurse with patient at
Netherne Hospital, Coulsdon, c.1955
(SHC ref 6376/12/1/4/1)

Surrey History Centre holds records of Black men and women in their everyday life and work in the county. At the end of the Second World War, chronic staff shortages in many areas of employment in Britain led to skilled and unskilled workers migrating from several countries, including the Caribbean and parts of Africa. Some of these workers arrived from the Caribbean on the MV Empire Windrush in 1948 and the 70th anniversary in 2018 awakened renewed interest in the more recent Black History of the UK, in particular the significant contribution of Black doctors and nurses to the growing National Health Service from the 1950s onwards.

The records of Surrey’s many mental hospitals feature Black doctors and nurses among their collections. At Brookwood Hospital, Woking, in the 1920s and 1930s most staff came from areas of high unemployment in the north of England and Wales. In the 1940s and 1950s many staff came from Ireland and then in the 1960s they were actively recruited from the Caribbean and Mauritius. In the 1980s many staff came from the Philippines. It was a similar story at Netherne Hospital, near Coulsdon. By the end of the 1950s just under half of the staff came from Ireland, just under half came from West Africa or the West Indies, and only a very few were from the UK.

In this photograph at Netherne Hospital, these two Black women are looking at an exhibition of photographs that may have been held as part of a recruitment drive, c.1955 (SHC ref 6376/12/1/20/17). To see what staffing and other records we hold for Surrey mental hospitals, including Netherne, please see our online guide to mental hospital records.

Did you or a family member come to work in Surrey from Asia, Africa or the Caribbean? Why not record the story, either as a written or oral history memoir and place it in the archives here at Surrey History Centre so that future generations can understand your journey. Please contact us on [email protected]

Photograph of a Netherne Hospital exhibition for possible recruitment drive c.1955 (SHC ref 6376/12/1/20/17)

Netherne Hospital exhibition for possible recruitment drive c.1955 (SHC ref 6376/12/1/20/17)

The Migration Museum has launched an online exhibition called Heart of the Nation (October 2020), which shines a light on the stories and experiences of people who have come to Britain to work in the National Health Service (NHS) over the past 72 years. It has collated dozens of oral histories from NHS workers from all over the world and archival materials, and can be seen on their website https://heartofthenation.migrationmuseum.org/?mc_cid=d23bf5c7c7&mc_eid=f3ceff8792.

Read more about Black history in Surrey.

Find out about Netherne Hospital and other former mental hospitals in Surrey, including Brookwood, Royal Earlswood, and those in the Epsom Cluster.