Understanding Dudley’s Race Riots: pt.1 – What Happened

Black Country Living Museum researcher Dr Simon Briercliffe explores the events of July 1962 and how the Dudley Race Riots unfolded.

2022 marks the sixtieth anniversary of an event often left out of the history of Dudley: a wave of racially charged violence directed towards Dudley’s small black and south Asian community in the summer of 1962. In this blog, I will be looking at how events unfolded, and in a follow-up blog I will look at the broader context for these riots in Britain and the Black Country. Please note that the sources quoted include outdated language which would now be deemed offensive. 

In 1962 Dudley, like the rest of the Black Country, was approaching the annual industrial fortnight – a chance for a workers’ holiday while essential maintenance was carried out. Dudley suffered from a lack of things to do for young people and as such, on the evening of Saturday 28th July pubs in Dudley town centre were crowded with drinkers. With a ready supply of alcohol, fights were almost inevitable. At the Green Dragon, a brawl spilled out onto King Street when it was alleged that a black man had accidentally drunk from a white drinker’s pint, and before long the police were called and three people (including the two black men being attacked, Milton Carr and Harold Green) were taken to the Guest Hospital. 

This event seemed to trigger a series of much larger disturbances over the following week. On the evening of Sunday 29th July, there were reports of “a group of white people who had decided to ‘go on the hunt’ for coloured persons.” Early in the evening on Monday 30th July, gangs of men were again spotted roaming the town centre. One group attacked two brothers from India, Jarmuil and Bharpur Singh, on Castle Hill with “fists, belts, chains and feet.” The brothers and one of their assailants were hospitalised. As pubs closed a crowd of several hundred gathered in the town centre and moved en masse towards Porter Street and North Street, later reported as Dudley’s “coloured” or “Negro quarter.” In reality, as it was still legal to discriminate against people on the basis of skin colour, these streets – some of Dudley’s poorest housing stock – were where landlords had taken the opportunity to let to black and south Asian people at extortionate rates. 

Police arresting an individual during the Dudley Race Riots - Express & Star
Police arresting an individual during the Dudley Race Riots (Express & Star [Chinn])

Carrying makeshift weapons including bricks, stones and iron bars, the crowd smashed windows and shouted racist slogans. Superintendent James Hullah of Dudley Police described the crowd as “like a pack of ravening wolves after their prey.” Sergeant Robert Allardyce (father of the later England manager Sam) reported a lorry loaded with about twenty young men driven at high speed along North Street, throwing stones. It wasn’t until the early hours that order was restored, and the Guest Hospital was flooded with injuries. 

On Tuesday night, even larger crowds – perhaps up to 1,000 – gathered in the Market Place. By this time, the police were well-prepared and local press photographers and television cameramen were there to capture the scenes. Those that stuck in the minds of the police were older ringleaders, such as 34-year-old Derek Anslow, shouting about the “black ‘uns”, and 40-year-old George Jones, calling out “go and get stuck in, let’s do the black ——.” But the list of cases at the magistrates’ court shows that the large majority of participants were young men, mostly under 23, living on estates like the Priory, Old Park or Wren’s Nest, typically working in unskilled jobs in industry. Magistrates worked overtime that week, passing over fifty sentences, many including jail time. The only people of colour arrested were the Singhs and Alwyn Grant, a Jamaican man, all of whom had been carrying a weapon for self-defence. 

The violence died down by Thursday, and politicians and newspapers picked over the events. Many were baffled as to why this had happened in Dudley. Mayor Frank Webb believed that “there is no racial problem in Dudley” and the town’s MP George Wigg found “no evidence of ill will to the coloured people in this town.” Most commentators took a similar line: Dudley was not a racist town; agitators from out of town caused most of the problems; the blame for these events probably lay with alcohol and juvenile delinquency, or “rowdyism for its own sake.”  

However, the few instances in which news reporters spoke to Dudley’s black and south Asian communities reveal a different story. They noted a “bad feeling towards coloured people about,” and confirmed that this was not an isolated incident. In fact, newspaper reports and oral testimonies show that violence against minorities was common across the Black Country and beyond in the early 1960s. Three men had been convicted of assault for a racially motivated attack in Dudley the previous November, and one participant in our recent Windrush Day celebrations recalled having been hospitalised thirteen times in just one year, 1963. This also was not Britain’s first outbreak of large-scale violence against racialised minorities. In 1958, Nottingham and Notting Hill in West London experienced major riots against local black communities, and in 1961 similar events had broken out in Middlesbrough. Teddy Boys were often blamed for this, but as the arrests show, many of the actual instigators of violence were ordinary young men from Dudley.  

Newsreel footage interviewing residents following the Dudley Race Riots – Black British Archives, YouTube

“Dudley’s week of shame” took most – though not all – residents by surprise, and proved difficult to explain at the time. As our next blog post will explore, there are wider events and circumstances that can be explored to understand the context in which this racially charged violence took place. The Black Country was sadly not exempt from the widespread racism of British society in the 1960s, and as the decade progressed, further racist violence followed local MP Enoch Powell’s speeches, and the rise of the National Front in the 1970s. Nevertheless, understanding these histories better can hopefully help to overcome prejudice in the present and future.