British Jamaicans

British Jamaicans (or Jamaican British people) are British people who were born in Jamaica or who are of Jamaican descent.[1][2] The community is well into its third generation and consists of around 300,000 individuals, the second-largest Jamaican population, behind the United States, living outside of Jamaica.[3] The majority of British people of Jamaican origin were born in the United Kingdom as opposed to Jamaica itself.[citation needed] The Office for National Statistics estimates that in 2015, some 137,000 people born in Jamaica were resident in the UK. The number of Jamaican nationals is estimated to be significantly lower, at 49,000 in 2015.[4]

British Jamaicans
Total population
Residents born in Jamaica
146,401 (2001 Census)
340,000 (2007 "Jamaica: Mapping exercise")
160,776 (2011 Census)
137,000 (2015 ONS estimate)
Population of Jamaican origin
300,000 (2007 Jamaican High Commission estimate)
Regions with significant populations
Greater London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Brighton, Leicester, Wolverhampton
English (British English, Jamaican English), Jamaican Patois
Majority of Christianity
Rastafari · Islam · Others
Related ethnic groups
British African-Caribbean community, British mixed-race community, Chinese Jamaicans, Jamaicans of African ancestry, Jamaican Americans, Jamaican Canadians, Jamaican Jews, Indo-Jamaicans, Jamaican Australians

Jamaicans have been present in the UK since the start of the twentieth century; however, by far the largest wave of migration occurred after the Second World War.[3] During the 1950s, Britain's economy was suffering greatly and the nation was plagued with high labour shortages.[3] The British government looked to its overseas colonies for help and encouraged migration in an effort to fill the many job vacancies.[3] Jamaicans, alongside other Caribbean, African and South Asian groups, moved in their hundreds of thousands to the United Kingdom; the majority of Jamaicans settled in Greater London and found work in the likes of London Transport, British Rail and the NHS.[3]

History and settlementEdit

The Caribbean island nation of Jamaica was a British colony between 1655 and 1962. More than 300 years of British rule changed the face of the island considerably (having previously been under Spanish rule, which depopulated the indigenous Arawak and Taino communities[5]) – and 92.1% of Jamaicans are descended from sub-Saharan Africans who were brought over during the Atlantic slave trade.[5] Jamaica is the third most populous English-speaking nation in the Americas and the local dialect of English is known as Jamaican Patois.[3] The tight-knit link between Jamaica and the United Kingdom remains evident to this day. There has been a long and well established Jamaican community in the United Kingdom since near the beginning of the 20th century.[3] Many Jamaicans fought for Britain in World War I, with the British West Indies Regiment recruiting solely from the British overseas colonies in the Caribbean.

Jamaican passengers disembark the HMT Empire Windrush at the Port of Tilbury, June 1948

Volunteers originally only came from four nations (excluding Jamaica), however as the regiment grew thousands of Jamaican men were recruited and ultimately made up around two-thirds of the 15,600 strong regiment.[3][6] The British West Indies Regiment fought for Britain in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign as well as the East African Campaign. Many of these men became the first permanent Jamaican immigrants in the United Kingdom after World War I, some of whom also subsequently fought for the country in World War II.[3][6] Despite this, by far the largest wave of Jamaican migration to the United Kingdom including people of all genders and ages occurred in the middle of the 20th century. A major hurricane in August 1944 ravaged eastern Jamaica leading to numerous fatalities and major economic loss after crops were destroyed by flooding. This acted as a push factor in the migration of Jamaicans and at the time by far the largest pull factor was the promise of jobs in Britain.[3] Post-war Britain was suffering from significant labour shortage and looked to its overseas colonies for help, British Rail, the NHS and London transport were noted as being the largest recruiters. On 21 June 1948, the HMT Empire Windrush arrived in Britain with, amongst other migrants from the Caribbean, 492 Jamaicans on-board who had been invited to the country to work, they officially disembarked from the ship on 22 June 1948. Many more followed as the steady flow of Jamaicans to the United Kingdom was maintained due to the continuing labour shortage.[3] Between 1955 and 1968, 191,330 Jamaicans settled in the UK.[3] These first generation migrants created the foundation of a community which is now well into its third if not fourth generation.

A scene from the April 1981 Brixton riot which was one of the most violent and destructive riots in British history.

Jamaicans continued to migrate to the United Kingdom during the 1970s and 1980s, albeit in smaller numbers, the majority of these people were from poor households and went to extreme lengths to get to Britain.[3] There is an uneven distribution of household wealth throughout Jamaica and during the economic crisis of the 1990s lower class Jamaicans continued to migrate in significant numbers. A lot of these later arrivals came from Jamaica's capital and largest city, Kingston where the divide between rich and poor is much more evident than other places on the island.[3] Most first generation immigrants moved to Britain in order to seek and improved standard of living, escape violence or to find employment. Jamaicans followed the pattern of other irregular immigrant groups where they tended to work in poorly paid jobs in poor working conditions as these were often the only ones available to them.[3] Throughout the late 20th century and to this day in fact, the Jamaican community in the United Kingdom has been brought into the spotlight due to the involvement of Jamaicans in race-related riots. The first notable event to occur was the 1958 Notting Hill race riots when an argument between local white youths and a Jamaican man, alongside increasing tensions between both communities lead to several nights of disturbances, rioting and attacks.[7]

Due to instances of police brutality by the Metropolitan Police, the sus law which overwhelmingly targeted British Jamaicans to be stopped and searched, and the unprovoked shooting of a Jamaican woman in her Lambeth home after police believed she was hiding her wanted son, a riot broke out in Brixton in 1985.[8] In 2005, another series of race riots in Birmingham occurred as a result of the alleged rape of a 14-year-old Jamaican girl by a group of up to 20 South Asian men including the Pakistani store owner it was reported she initially stole from.[9] The Murder of Stephen Lawrence occurred in 1993, the London teenager of Jamaican parentage was stabbed to death in a racially motivated attack. The murder was handled in such a bad way by the Metropolitan Police that an inquiry into this established that the force had been institutionally racist, the investigation has been called 'one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain' and contributed heavily to the creation and passing of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.[10] Many Jamaicans live in the UK having no legal status, having come at a period of less strict immigration policies. Some Jamaican social groups have claimed asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, this only continued until 2003 when Jamaica was placed on the Non-Suspensive Appeal list when restrictions on UK visas came into place, making it more difficult for Jamaicans to travel to the UK.[3]


Population and distributionEdit

The 2011 UK Census recorded 159,170 people born in Jamaica resident in England, 925 in Wales,[11] 564 in Scotland[12] and 117 in Northern Ireland,[13] making a total Jamaica-born population of 160,776. According to the previous census, held in 2001, 146,401 people born in Jamaica were living in the UK, making them the seventh-largest foreign-born group in the UK at the time.[14] The equivalent figure for 2015 has been estimated at 137,000 by the Office for National Statistics, making them the 16th-largest foreign-born group.[4] The Jamaican High Commission estimates that there are around 800,000 British people of Jamaican origin in the UK.[3] Jamaicans in the UK are fairly widely dispersed, although there are some locations with much larger numbers and higher concentrations of Jamaican people than others – namely London.[15] The Greater London area is home to some 250,000 Jamaicans, whilst the second largest number which is 45,000 individuals can be found in the West Midlands.[15] 25,000 Jamaicans are thought to live in South West England, 18,000 in the East Midlands, 40,400[16] in South East England, 14,000 in North West England and 11,500 in Yorkshire and the Humber.[15] Much smaller numbers are located in Wales (3,000) and Scotland, which the International Organization for Migration suggests that a mere 40 Jamaicans call home.[15] Within the stated regions of the United Kingdom, most people of Jamaican origin can be found in the larger cities and towns. The largest Jamaican communities in the UK are listed below (all figures are 2007 estimates by the IOM, as there isn't a specific 'Jamaican' tick box in the UK census to identify where Jamaicans live within the country).[15]

Year Number of Jamaicans
granted British
by residence
by marriage
of a minor child
by other means
1997[17] 732 327 279 114 12
1998[18] 1,370 571 564 221 14
1999[19] 1,437 678 526 226 7
2000[20] 1,882 927 664 281 10
2001[21] 2,070 1,025 710 330 0
2002[22] 2,025 1,035 705 285 0
2003[23] 2,795 1,285 985 520 5
2004[24] 3,180 1,415 1,060 640 65
2005[25] 3,515 1,585 1,080 770 80
2006[26] 2,525 1,110 710 655 55
2007[27] 3,165 1,575 825 725 45
2008[28] 2,715 1,275 695 700 45
  • London – 250,000
    Brent, Croydon, Hackney, Haringey, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark, Waltham Forest and Enfield.
  • Birmingham – 35,000
    Handsworth, Winson Green, Aston, Ladywood, Newtown and Lozells
  • Bristol – 20,000
    St. Paul's and Redfield
  • Nottingham – 12,200[29]
    Hyson Green, St. Ann's
  • Manchester – 10,000
    Old Trafford, Moss Side, Cheetham Hill, Chorlton, Didsbury, Wythanshawe, Urmston and Sale
  • Gloucester – 4,000
    Barton, Tredworth
  • Leeds – 4,000–5,000
    Chapeltown and Harehills
  • Leicester – 3,000–4,000
    Highfields and St Matthews
  • Sheffield – 2,000
  • Liverpool – 1,000–2,000
    Granby and Toxteth
  • Preston – 800

Besides the above locations, the IOM has also identified the following towns and cities as having notable Jamaican communities: Bath, Bedford, Bradford, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Ipswich, Liskeard, Luton, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Swansea, Swindon, Truro and Wolverhampton.[15] The majority of British Jamaicans are in the age range of 18 and 45, and investigation by the IOM into the ages of community members found that it is more or less on par with the general makeup of the British population. Around 8% of people investigated were under the age of 25, around 13% were in between the ages of 25 and 34. 22% were between 35 and 44, 27% were between 45 and 54 whilst 18% of respondents were aged between 55 and 64. The remainder were 65 years of age or older. As stated earlier, this investigation only involved a few hundred community members it is a balanced representation of the Jamaican community in the UK.[15] Evidence that the Jamaican British community is a long established one is the fact that only around 10% of Jamaicans in the UK moved to the country in the decade leading up to 2007.[15] In terms of citizenship, all Jamaicans who moved to the UK prior to Jamaican Independence in 1962 were automatically granted British citizenship because Jamaica was an overseas colony of the country.[citation needed] Jamaican immigrants must now apply for citizenship if they wish to become British nationals. The above table shows the number of Jamaicans granted citizenship in recent years.


The 2001 UK Census showed that 73.7% of Black Caribbeans adhered to the Christian faith, whilst 11.3% of respondents claimed to be atheist. This ranks as a higher percentage of Christians per head compared to Black Africans (68.8%), but a slightly lower percentage than White British Christians (75.7%).[30] Jamaicans and people of Jamaican descent are regular religious worshippers and the majority of them worship across a wide range of mainly Black led Christian denominations as well as in the more mainstream Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. Over recent years the number of regular White worshipers in Anglican churches in particular have decreased significantly, numbers however have been maintained by Black Caribbeans and (mostly Jamaicans) who have taken their places.[15] Other common Christian denominations followed by Jamaicans in the UK include Pentecostalism, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Pilgrims Union Church, the Baptist church and Methodism.[15]



Scotch bonnet peppers imported from the Caribbean on sale at London's Brixton Market. The peppers are a key ingredient of "Jerk" dishes

The earliest Jamaican immigrants to post-war Britain found differences in diet and availability of food an uncomfortable challenge.[31] In later years, as the community developed and food imports became more accessible to all, grocers specialising in Caribbean produce opened in British high streets. Caribbean restaurants can now also be found in most areas of Britain where Jamaicans and other such groups reside, serving traditional Caribbean dishes such as curry goat, fried dumplings, and ackee and saltfish (the national dish of Jamaica). "Jerk" is a style of cooking from Jamaica in which meats (including pork and chicken) are dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a very hot spice mixture. The best known Caribbean food brands in the UK are Dunn's River, Tropical Sun, Walkerswood and Grace Foods. Grace Foods is originally from Jamaica but is now a multi national conglomerate.

In March 2007, Grace Foods bought ENCO Products, owners of the Dunn's River Brand, as well as "Nurishment", a flavoured, sweetened enriched milk drink, and the iconic Encona Sauce Range. Tropical Sun products and ingredients have been widely available in the UK for over 20 years and were originally known as Jamaica Sun with products mainly sourced from the Caribbean. Walkerswood is now owned by New Castle Limited has a range of sauce and marinade products.[32][failed verification] In 2001, Port Royal started manufacturing Jamaican patties in London, which are available in supermarkets and Caribbean takeaways across the UK. A patty is the Caribbean version of a Cornish Pasty, pastry with a meat filling.


An investigation by the IOM found that in general Jamaicans in the UK don't have a particular preference of favourite newspaper, many choose to read local newspapers and the national British press (such as The Guardian the Daily Mail and Metro), however the investigation also showed that some 80% of British Jamaicans show an interest in Black or ethnic minority newspapers.[33] The Weekly Gleaner which as its name suggests is a weekly publication distributed in the UK and contains specific news from the Jamaica Daily Gleaner.[33] The Voice closely follows in terms of readership; this weekly tabloid newspaper, based in the UK but owned by the Jamaican GV Media Group and established by Val McCalla (who was born in Jamaica), covers a variety of stories that are aimed solely at the British African-Caribbean community.[33] Other popular newspapers and magazines aimed at the Jamaican and Black British populations in the UK in general include the New Nation, The Big Eye News, Pride Magazine, The Caribbean Times and formerly Black Voice.[33]

Radio is the most popular form of media within the British Jamaican community: approximately 75% of Jamaicans in the UK listen to the radio on a daily basis or very often.[33] Statistically pirate radio stations (which are stations which have no formal license to broadcast) are by far the most popular within the community. The same investigation as stated above showed that around one quarter of people surveyed preferred to listen to a specific pirate radio station.[33] Most pirate stations are community based, but there are some that broadcast to the whole country, the most frequently listened to pirate stations by British Jamaicans include Vibes FM, Powerjam, Irie FM and Roots FM.[33] Out of all legally licensed radio stations in the UK, the single most popular one prevailed as Premier Christian Radio; the BBC also has a relatively large Jamaican listening audience, whilst local radio stations such as Choice FM in London and New Style Radio 98.7FM in Birmingham are also popular within the community (both of which are Black orientated).[33]


A wide variety of music has its origins in Jamaica and in the 1960s when the UK's Jamaican community was beginning to emerge there was one hugely popular music genre, ska.[34] The genre which combines elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues became a major part of Jamaican mid-20th century culture, and the popularity of it also became evident in the Jamaican expatriate community in the UK. Despite the presence of Jamaicans in a number of countries at that time (such as the United States), ska music only really triumphed in the UK.[34] In 1962 there were three music labels releasing Jamaican music in the UK (Melodisc, Blue Beat Records and Island Records), as more and more Jamaicans moved to the UK, the country became a more lucrative market for artists than Jamaica itself.[34] "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie was one of the first ska records to influence the British population in general having charted at No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart in 1964.[34] Reggae music is another genre that was introduced to the UK through migrating Jamaicans.

The influence of Jamaicans in the UK has had a profound effect on British music over the last 50 years. Significantly, this has led to new genres of music coming out of London, Birmingham and Bristol.

In Birmingham in the 1970s and 80s, reggae was very popular and three of the leading British reggae groups of the time hailed from the city; UB40, Steel Pulse and Musical Youth. The large Jamaican population was also a massive influence on the emerging genre of Indian music, called "bhangra," that grew out of the city's large South Asian community.

Off the back of punk and reggae came "Two Tone". Often regarded as the second wave of Ska, many of the Two Tone bands had been inspired by Jamaican Ska records of the 1960s. With a faster tempo than Jamaican Ska, Two Tone "Ska" was commercially successful in the UK from 1979 until the early eighties. The Specials from Coventry, The Beat from Birmingham and Madness from Camden in London, are the best known examples of Two Tone Bands.

In late 1970s London, a fusing of Jamaican reggae with a more British pop sensibility led to "lovers' rock," a melodic but distinctively British version of reggae.

In Bristol, a decade later, sound-system culture combining with the emerging digital sampling technology led to the emergence of trip hop. A distinctive mixture of heavy baselines and sometimes complex arrangements and samples, trip hop was born in the St Paul's area of Bristol from the likes of Smith and Mighty, Massive Attack and Portishead.

After the first wave of house music in the early 90s, the rhythmic influence of reggae produced the dance music genre "jungle", in which sped-up beats became popular in clubs combined with reggae sounding "dub" baselines and MC chants. This genre of music became more widely known as "drum 'n bass" by the close of the decade, with the former incarnation now being referred to as "oldschool jungle."

Other genres of British-based music spawned through the influence of Jamaicans living in the UK, are Grime, Funky House and Dub Step.

The influence London-born Julian Marley son of legendary Bob Marley and member of the Rastafari movement is just one of the musicians who helped popularise reggae and Jamaican music in general in the UK.[35] A number of other British Jamaican musicians specialise in reggae and traditional Jamaican music, including Musical Youth[36] and Maxi Priest.[37] It should however be noted that although reggae music originated in Jamaica, reggae musicians and reggae-influenced musicians now belong to a variety of ethnicities and nationalities in the UK (see white reggae and mixed race reggae). Second, third and fourth generation British Jamaican musicians have helped bridge the gap between traditional Jamaican music and contemporary global music. The X Factor Series 5 winner Alexandra Burke focuses mainly on the R&B, pop, soul genres, Chip primarily focuses on the hip-hop, grime, R&B and pop rap genres[38] whilst Goldie is a popular electronic music artist.[39] This shows the diverse array of music produced by the current generation of British Jamaican musicians. Amongst some other current contemporary British musicians of Jamaican ancestry are Keisha Buchanan,[40] Alesha Dixon,[41] Jade Ewen,[42] Jamelia,[43] Kano,[44] Beverley Knight[45] and Caron Wheeler.


Former Liverpool and England striker Daniel Sturridge, who born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents

Linford Christie was the first man to win every major 100m title in world athletics (and to this date the only British man to have done so).[46] Kelly Holmes was one of the success stories of the 2004 Summer Olympics having won multiple gold medals and still holding numerous British records in distance running.[47] Other notable British people of Jamaican origin who have successfully competed in the Olympic Games include Colin Jackson,[48] and Tasha Danvers.[49]

Besides athletics and gymnastics, British Jamaicans have also become heavily associated with the sport of boxing. Frank Bruno is one of the more notable individuals, he won 40 out of 45 of his contests and held the title of WBC Heavyweight Championship in the mid-1990s.[50] Chris Eubank also held world boxing titles including Middleweight and Super Middleweight champion (his son, Chris Eubank, Jr. is also a well established boxer). Lennox Lewis of dual British/Canadian citizenship is one of the most successful boxers in the sports history, he is one of only five boxers who have won the Heavyweight championship three times.[51] Errol Christie is also a former boxer, he is the Guinness World Record holder for achieving the most amateur title wins.[52] In more recent times David Haye has become the new face of British Jamaican boxing, Haye has won numerous titles and in 2009 beat Nikolai Valuev to become the WBA Heavyweight Champion (the fifth Briton to do so, and the third British Jamaican – the other two being Britons of Nigerian origin).[53] Dillian Whyte is another well established British boxer who was born in Jamaica.

John Barnes is the most capped English Jamaican to have played for the England national football team, and a number of the current national team players have origins in Jamaica, including Darren Bent,[54] Aaron Lennon,[55] Raheem Sterling,[56] Theo Walcott[57] and Daniel Sturridge.[58] In turn, Nottingham born and raised Wes Morgan chose to represent the Jamaica national football team which he captained.[59] In 2021 alone in the Jamaican squad there were 11 British born and raised players: Amari'i Bell, Liam Moore, Ethan Pinnock, Wes Harding, Michael Hector, Adrian Mariappa, Kasey Palmer, Andre Gray, Jamal Lowe, Greg Leigh, and Bobby Decordova-Reid.[60][61]

Television and filmEdit

An investigation by the IOM in 2007 found that 67% of British Jamaican respondents reported watching television on a daily basis, 10% had no particular preference as to what channels they watched.[62] 31% of respondents claimed to favour the original terrestrial commercial channels such as ITV1, Channel 4 and Five, whilst 23% of people stated a preference to satellite and cable channels such as MTV Base, the Hallmark Channel and Living.[62] There are a number of TV channels in the UK aimed at the Black British community, however none specifically at the British Jamaican community. The same IOM investigation found that minimal numbers of British Jamaicans actually watch these black-orientated channels, this is thought to be down to a heavy focus on Black African culture and issues (as opposed to Afro-Caribbean).[62] In terms of actual members of the British Jamaican community, a number of individuals have found fame in television and film in the UK, and even across the world. Manchester-born Marsha Thomason is noted for her roles in the US shows Las Vegas and Lost,[63] whilst Oxfordshire-born Wentworth Miller of Prison Break fame is also of partial Jamaican descent.[64] Some British Jamaicans who have starred in Hollywood blockbusters include Naomie Harris in Miami Vice and Pirates of the Caribbean[citation needed] and Adrian Lester in The Day After Tomorrow.[65]

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit