Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire

The British Council in wartime Liverpool: cosmopolitanism, colonialism and the colour Bar

Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (2012), 161, (1), 1–24.

Abstract

Based upon the author’s presidential address to the Society of February 2012, this article examines ethnic and racial politics in Liverpool during the Second World War, focussing upon the British Council House. Existing tensions and concerns in the global port-city were exacerbated during wartime by the presence of US troops and West Indian servicemen, as well as African and lascar seafarers on a significantly greater scale than in peacetime. Drawing principally upon the records of the British Council and the Colonial Office at the National Archives in Kew, the article demonstrates the complexities of ethnic interactions, the impact of wider imperial and colonial issues upon local developments in Liverpool, and institutional disputes and imperfections. By the end of the war, the struggle between the Colonial Office and the British Council had apparently been won by the latter as it took over responsibility for all visiting students. At the same time, however, this demonstrated an ongoing British official concern to segregate the colonial ‘elite’ from so-called colonial ‘undesirables’ as well as the ‘black British’ population of Liverpool.

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Author details

Belchem, John