Stunning photos of first generation Jamaicans who settled in Leeds in Back to Life gallery

A gallery of newly colourised black and white photos of first generation Jamaicans who settled in Leeds from the 1940s to the 1960s is set to be unveiled by a Leeds charity.

Thursday, 30th July 2020, 11:45 am
Early members of the Caribbean Cricket Club formed by Jamaican ex RAF servicemen in 1948, gather in Hyde Park, Leeds, en route to a cricket match circa 1953. Back row (LR): Vince Stewart, Errol James, Bill Campbell, Warren Lawson. Middle row: Mr Morant (partly hidden), Mac McCarthy, Astley Thomas. Front : Unidentified man, Alford Gardner on guitar. Original black and white photo: Yorkshire Evening News

Chapeltown based Jamaica Society Leeds is due to launch the Back to Life gallery on their website on Saturday (August 1.)

The 40 photos have been drawn from hundreds collected for the society’s 2019 Eulogy Exhibition, which commemorated the lives of the pioneering generation.

The gallery will feature rarely seen colourised photos depicting all aspects of life for the newly arrived Jamaicans.

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The late George (pictured) and Veryl Harriott arrived in Leeds from Jamaica with their three young sons in 1960. Today, many of the citys black musicians credit George with teaching them guitar.

It includes everyday images of young couples, families and people making a living alongside photographs activists and RAF veterans.

Back to Life curator Susan Pitter said: “Pulling together the Back to Life gallery has been an eye opener.

"Colour reveals details that were once hidden in black, white and grey. Landscapes and buildings in colour transport us to Leeds and Jamaica in days gone by; seeing outfit colours give us an idea of the personalities of the city’s first generation Jamaicans as young people.”

“It was important to work closely with their families and friends, who were around when the photos were taken or could confirm the colour of details that are true to their loved ones - style choices, uniforms, the door of a first home in Leeds, and most importantly skin colour.”

The late George and Veryl Harriott arrived in Leeds from Jamaica with their three young sons in 1960. Today, many of the citys black musicians credit George with teaching them guitar. Veryl (pictured) was a nationally respected activist who influenced the formation of the 1968 Race Relations Act.

Homer Harriott’s late parents, George and Veryl Harriott, came to Leeds from Jamaica in 1960 with baby Homer and his two brothers.

Mr Harriott said: “I’ve seen the photos all my life of my dad as a young musician in 1950s Jamaica, and of my mum in the 60s when she was starting out as an activist in Leeds.

"But I was stunned to see how colour has transformed them. It’s like being there in Jamaica and seeing my mum as I did as a child. They’re stunning.”

Back to Life has been made possible with funding from Arts Council England’s Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund, which is supported by the National Lottery and Government.

The late Clarissa Louisa Sewell (front centre) came from Jamaica in 1955. She and her husband Hugh raised 11 children, five of whom are pictured here. Also pictured are her sister Emily Hyde (right ) and family friend Pat (back row, centre.) Mrs Sewell was a nursing assistant at Meanwood Park Hospital until the couples retirement to Jamaica in 1995. Original black and white photo: Gerald Donne

Pete Massey, Director, North, Arts Council England said: “I am so pleased that we have been able to support this project through our Emergency Response Fund.

"The Jamaican community of Leeds has helped to make the city the great place that it is today, and it is important that we are celebrating the contribution of people who uprooted their lives to support not only the war effort but the recovery of Britain in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

"I’m really excited to see the results of this work that brings this important part of our heritage to life and can also be experienced online during the current crisis.

"There is something truly magical about colourised old black and white photos that forces a reappraisal of the subjects and their lives and literally allows you to see them in a new light.”

Jamaican born Charles Charlie Dawkins (1920 1986) is pictured (left) with fellow RAF servicemen circa 1945. Mr Dawkins was among the first West Indians to settled in Leeds after the war.

Prints of the online gallery will also be produced.

Jamaica Society chair Rev Dorothy Stewart said: “At a time when the city’s black communities particularly our older members are amongst those at highest risk from Covid-19 and are shielding, making these glorious colour images accessible to everyone both online and in print is a great way to tackle the pain of loneliness and isolation.”

Back to Life launches on August 1 at

Follow Facebook and Instagram @jamaicasocietyleeds and Twitter @JamaicaLeeds using #JamaicaLeeds for updates and previews of photos featured in Back to Life.

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Thank you

Laura Collins