The Roving Reader Files
Ever found that once you set off in search of someone, signs of them are just about everywhere? That’s how it was for me as I began rummaging around the Centre trying to find Barrington Young. I must have been the only person never to have come across him in my travels…
And that’s the key to Barrington. Travelling. Is he a prime minister, pianist, brain surgeon, astronaut or footballer? No. He’s far more important than that. As well as being one of the most kind and humorous individuals around, Barrington Young was the first Black railway inspector in Manchester. What Barrington doesn’t know about trains and the railways of Britain just isn’t worth knowing.
So, where did I find Barrington Young?
As it happens, the Centre’s home to certain local oral history collections, unpublished primary sources of great significance. There’s the Roots Family History Project (from1980s and 90s, relating to Moss Side), Mapping Our Lives: The Windrush Project (late 1990s), and the Community History Project: Exploring Our Roots (mid-2000s). Combined, they represent a fascinating storehouse of memories, which vividly record the life of Manchester’s varied communities over the decades.
What exactly was the Roots Family History Project?
The origins of the Project (as well as the Roots Festivals from which it stemmed) were in the imagination of Elouise Edwards, an unwilling migrant who’d come from Guyana to join her husband Beresford as he studied here in Manchester back in the early 1960s.
The push towards independence in African and Caribbean countries was becoming unstoppable, and Elouise dreamt of highlighting the contributions of people of African and Indian subcontinent heritage to world history and culture, which were being systematically ignored by mainstream media and school curricula.
Elouise decided a community event should be organised involving local schools, since a massive gulf divided community and school at that time. Bringing them together was no mean feat. Elouise never took “No” for an answer, and with the help of other tenacious Moss Side individuals, after eleven long years the struggle to establish the Roots Festival was eventually won. The first of many Festivals was held over a weekend in 1977. Pageants, displays, music, food – all played their part in the success of these wonderful school-based extravaganzas.
As a major breakthrough in community involvement in education, these Festivals were important. But in our search for Barrington Young, it’s the tape and slide shows that accompanied the displays which are of the most interest. Building on this experience, the Festival Committee proposed an oral history project to research the story of Moss Side’s Afro-Caribbean residents. And so the Roots Family History Project was born.
Barrington was not one of the earliest interviewees, but on 28 July 2000 he could be found reminiscing about his strict though much-appreciated upbringing in Jamaica. He also reported the disillusionment migrants like him had felt when they came face to face with the dispiriting conditions endured by the poorer classes in the so-called ‘Mother Country’.
Getting married in the mid-1950s to a White Austrian girl he’d met in the mills of Shaw, Barrington compared Britain unfavourably with her homeland. He and their children were accepted with open arms on visits to her community in Austria, whereas in Britain there were always obvious (as well as more hidden) forms of prejudice for interracial couples like them to overcome.
Barrington’s rise to the status of railway inspector at Piccadilly Station was not easy. Once described by a disgruntled White train driver as the “scrapings of the barrel”, he had to employ his superior Jamaican education and innate intelligence to gain the upper hand in what could have ended early as a sad saga of racial discrimination.
Through it all, Barrington prevailed, winning over his colleagues with his professionalism, even-handedness and integrity. Even so, it can’t have been encouraging when his ever-supportive boss had warned, “I can protect you while you are doing the job when it comes to the rules and regulations, but I cannot protect you for your colour.” Barrington had become inspector in 1984. Although racial discrimination had been outlawed in 1976, his boss knew Barrington might experience problems. In practical terms, when it came to the reality of workplace ‘politics’, even a boss might be powerless to intervene…
So there we are. That’s Barrington. Courageous pioneer and railway enthusiast. Next time we’ll see him from a different angle.
The early history of the Roots Festival in Moss Side is recounted by the Roots Festival Committee in Roots Five Years On, published in 1982. Barrington’s reminiscences can be found in the related collection Roots Family History Project under the title Interview with Barrington Young. The Roots Family History Project comprised life story interviews carried out with members of the Manchester African and Caribbean communities in the 1980s and 1990s. They are available to study as audios and transcripts, having been kindly donated to the Centre by Maria Noble and Elouise Edwards. We’ll look at Mapping Our Lives: The Windrush Project and The Community History Project: Exploring Our Roots next time.