WITH CLAUDIA VERA JONES (1915-1964), AMY ASHWOOD GARVEY (1897-1969), UNA MARSON (1905-1965), RAS T. MAKONNNEN (1909-1983)


It was of course fortunate that Manchester became a base for many of these black troops once America had entered the war, because when these black boys heard they came like wild men. It now took all my time, and I had to buy 58, Oxford Road which I used as a central base. This is where I did all my 'white-market' operations—I won't say black-market! I made a big item of goats, because at that time they were not rationed, but we also used turkeys and other meats. My job was to keep the two restaurants supplied. We formed a link with chaps from Cyprus (they became fraternal members in our Pan-African Federation later); I tended to use them as managers, and employ a few Indian waiters and Chinese. So it really was Cosmopolitan. We had two Chinese cooks whom I had brought over from Cardiff in charge of the Chinese menu which was some thirty dishes, and the Indians made curry dishes. 


Claudia Vera Jones (1915-1964)




In December she was met off the boat-train in London by two West Indians active in socialist, anti-colonial politics, and who drove her off through the thick London fog on a motorbike barely capable of taking even one of them. [...]

In March 1958 she launched the West Indian Gazette or, to give it its full title, the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News. Like many such ventures, this was the product of colossal human energy (hers mainly) and minimal material back-up. The paper functioned as an organiser for West Indians in the UK, but in addition addressed issues more strictly particular to the Caribbean.


Bill Schwarz, “Introduction: Crossing Seas”,  in:  Bill Schwarz (Ed.), West Indian Intellectuals in Britain. Manchester: Manchester University Press 2003, 14.


Soon, however, the two restaurants were not enough, and so I opened another, The Orient, near the University, and this was only curries. Finally, I opened a club. It was difficult to get a drinking licence, and the easiest way was to open a club and we called it Forum Club. This again had a good cuisine, and I added the element of music here with performances by the great calypsonians like Lord Kitchener. A number of my African and West Indian colleagues helped with the organization: Jomo Kenyatta, for instance, at one time was in charge of the Cosmopolitan; George [Padmore]  helped out with another small place I acquired called the Belle Etoile. But the crucial thing was planning the menus and the supplies, and once we had organized this, the thing went like clockwork. 



Ethiopian sympathizers at London meeting. Created: 2 September 1935. With Amy Ashwood Garvey on the left. Photographer: unknown, 


[…] After reconstruction, I was able to fit in twenty-two tables, eleven on the ground floor and eleven above. In the basement I installed two toilets, and used another part as a coal room. I also rigged up a primitive fridge. The running of it was also straightforward; I found a Hungarian woman, Mrs. Adler, who was one of the many Jewish refugees in the city. (We met at the international club.) She took over the place from eight in the morning until five, when I came back from the University. I then joined them in the preparations because most of our trade was done in the evenings up to midnight. Originally I had calculated that if I was able to take £10 a day for four days that would bring in  £40 between Monday and Friday; then if one was able to take  £20 per day over the weekend (the English worker is paid on Friday), it would bring us about  £100 a week. Well, this is exactly what happened for about three months, then suddenly a jump, and we skyrocketed to  £50 per day. I felt ashamed that I seemed to be becoming a bloated plutocrat overnight; however, it was a godsend from the business angle hat I was kicked out of the Co-operative College, for I was able to give myself full-time to the new work. I now proceeded further down Oxford Road four blocks, towards All Saints Cathedral and nearer the University. There I found a tremendous building for £8 per week—four floors of it.


“Besides cultural affinities, these individuals would have no work permit problems in England. Black music historian John Cowley has described the ease of which British West Indian-born, New York resident stars such as singer-comedian Sam Manning and band leading Trinidadian pianist Lionel Belasco were able to forego fooling around with the Home Office for work permits in 1934; Manning left Britain for New York City in 1938 but had made Stateside audiences laugh before, playing a parody of Marcus Garvey in a 1927 New York-to-New Orleans stage revue Hey ! Hey ! – produced by the political feminist Amy Ashwood (the first Mrs Marcus) Garvey.“


Andy Simons, Black British Swing: The African Diaspora’s Contribution to England’s Own Jazz of the 1930s and 1940s. 




It took me some  £3000 to renovate this, and I called it the Cosmopolitan. What distinguished it were its murals. You see, I had a good friend who was an Austrian Jew (I'd met him by chance in London) and just at the time I needed him, Jean appeared in Manchester. I told him, 'It's not a question of money, but racial prestige. We have to make these white folks know that we are enlightened. I want you to go to town on this.' Well, he did and it took him four months to complete it. He created murals of humanity, showing the contribution of each, wether African, Scots, Welsh or Austrian; he showed the common humanity through depicting the gardens of the world from Japanese style to English. But it wasn't all just decorative. Take the mural on the Poles; one part of the canvas showed the death of Poland in Europe with the cannons and the invasions, and then in the New World we could see the Pole reappearing, but this time what was portrayed was the typical immigrant Pole leading the charge against the blacks. I had him write above this, 'Whiter Mankind??' It made a big impact on the Black American soldiers who were pouring into England at this period, and they reached also to the picture of the big Texan with his hat and his pistols, drawn as a threat to the darkies. 



Una Marson, BBC Producer, 1941.


Indeed, London was not initially an open stage of opportunity for Marson and, as a black woman and a novice traveller, she was daunted by the hostility and the loneliness of the metropolis. Moreover, arriving in 1932, she came to Britain twenty years before mass immigration, before the flourishing of West Indian literary voices and before the recognised presence of a difference had ‘creolised the metropole’. Her story cannot invoke the familiar images and narratives of shared crossings, of boats, railway stations and landladies. Rather its telling demands that we extend our history of this creolisation backwards, to account for the smaller but significant places of exchange and encounter between West Indians, Africans and Indians in Britain, such as the Florence Mills café in Oxford Street, London, run by Amy Ashwood Garvey from the early 1930s [...]. “

Alison Donnell, "Una Marson: feminism, anti-colonialism and a forgotten fight for freedom", in:  Bill Schwarz (Ed.), West Indian Intellectuals in Britain. Manchester: Manchester University Press 2003, 116.

A lot of the blacks were frustrated in Manchester at that time; those at the University had no facilities beyond the bar for relaxation, and in town the Africans and West Indians who lived in the area also had few places to go. So I called a meeting and made an appeal: 'The Indians and Chinese have restaurants, what about us?' 'We have no objections but we have no money.' 'All right' I said. 'I'll do it.' So through my savings I was able to get a license for the Ethiopian Teashop; it was a building for which I only paid  £4 per week and it had a basement, first and second floors; prices in property were very low, because Manchester had receded greatly during the period before the war, and things hadn't picked up again.