‘Peoples of Essex’ is a three year project learning about the history of the people who settled in Essex and representing their stories through digital media.

Migrants to Colchester have contributed to the history and heritage of Essex, developing the face of Colchester through its fame for textiles. Colchester became a creative hub for weaving and textile work due to the skills and knowledge different cultures brought over.

We spent this October, Black History Month, researching Black stories in Colchester. Our research uncovered a range of stories from an Indian beauty queen in Colchester promoting Asian beauty in Essex to showcase history and tradition, to people who moved to Essex to improve their tailoring skills. It was also interesting to learn about the Colchester Ladies Anti-Slavery Association who played a significant role in the emancipation of slaves by 1830. We will continue to look into Black stories in our inclusive research.

This project was made possible with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.


What have we learned about Black history in Colchester and Essex?

Windrush in Essex

Between 1948 and 1971, 492 migrants from Caribbean countries docked at Tilbury, Essex. Among them were artists who played important roles in introducing their culture to Essex. One man came specifically to improve his tailoring skills. Others demonstrated a variety of techniques of playing dominos which resulted in Caribbean dominos teams being set ups in Colchester, Harlow, Basildon and Chelmsford.

Textiles was important to the identity of the migrants who associated them with their culture and history. Many brought textiles as keepsakes such as Winston Levy who packed a shirt, explaining that it reminded him of Jamaica. Textiles designer Althea McNish introduced her culture to England through the creation of a textile print pattern designed from the traditional Caribbean style and Caribbean plant life. There was also a celebration of Caribbean textiles called the Claudia Jones Carnival which celebrated Black beauty with black fashion models representing their heritage through traditional fashion and textiles. The Caribbean communities who arrived from the Windrush were encouraged to participate and challenge racist views against black beauty and models. The pageant showcased black fashion, influencing the creation of tailoring of black fashion in British workshops. This fashion and textile heritage is still important today and has been demonstrated in Tihara Lazare’s ‘Black and British’ exhibition where she designed an outfit from the photographs of her family who were brought to England through the Windrush. Tilbury has also displayed the stories of the migrants who came with the Windrush along the Tilbury Walk.

These individuals from the Caribbean islands have had a beautiful impact on Essex’s textile heritage by sharing their culture and contributing to the diverse multicultural make up of Essex.

Althea McNish’s Caribbean textile print.

Tihara Lazare’s ‘Black and British’ outfit.



How are we telling these stories in our workshops

In our after school digital club we have been discussing how to animate positive stories of migration. We have worked on animations of people and boats moving across felt maps to tell the textile history of Colchester involving the Dutch Weavers. We have also made and animated our faces to display the varied culture of the people of Essex. The participants have engaged in the history of migration and textiles in Colchester whilst developing animation skills.

Here is our most recent animation from Digital Club. The children were given the task of animating anything of their choice to represent the positive aspects of migration. They worked together to develop the idea of the flags of all the countries coming together to form a heart, representing the ideas of shared culture.

Want to attend Digital Club?

Our next term of Digital Club focuses on video game making. We look forward to working with our members to develop ways of telling the stories of People of Essex through interactive games.

One of these Digital Club sessions will feature a presentation from video game writer Corey Brotherson, who recently announced his exciting new game based on the history of Windrush. Windrush Tales follows the story of two siblings in the 1950s. Players will make decisions through a choice-based narrative which will explore the struggles and reality of how the the Windrush generation found jobs and a sense of community in ‘a relatively alien world’.

Corey’s presentation with the digital club participants will focus on the process of writing for video games, and the importance of ethics when working with real life stories.

Windrush Tales video game

‘Windrush Tales’: an illustrative text-based narrative game.

What is coming up and what to we want to learn

We recently visited Colchester Archaeological Trust and learnt about their Asian and African Roman burials. It was fascinating to learn the diversity of the Roman settlers in Essex and we were lucky to meet the skull of one African woman who was buried with nice jewellery. We would love to tell her story to bring awareness to the multicultural history of Roman Colchester. We are looking forward to developing interviews, documantaries and animations of the migration history of Colchester and Essex.

We would love to hear from local textiles and craft artists to learn the history of their craft. We are also looking to get involved with schools, craft groups, migrant communities and anyone who has a relation or interest to our project. If you would like to get involved please email info@signals.org.uk.