Joe Clough - London's First Black Motorbus Driver Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Joe Clough - London's First Black Motorbus Driver

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Joseph 'Joe' Clough arrived in Britain in 1906, one of the first West Indians to emigrate there from the Caribbean. He would never see his old home again. He had travelled over from Jamaica with his employer and friend Dr White, and was to become the first black man ever to drive a motorbus in London.

Joe was born in 1887 in Kingston, Jamaica, but lost both his parents while still young and was taken in by a Scottish doctor, Dr RC White. He worked as a stablehand looking after polo ponies during his childhood, and was the doctor's servant. Joe was driving1 the doctor home from a dance one evening in 1905 when the doctor asked him, 'Joseph, how would you like to go to England?' Joe replied 'Well, I'd like that very much'. The following February, Joe arrived at Bristol Docks, seasick and freezing cold. Dr White took him to London, where Joe would drive him around in a carriage with horses. Later on, motorcars became popular, and so Joe learned to drive so that he could be the doctor's chauffeur. Eventually, he decided to find a new challenge, and ended up becoming a skate-fitter at a roller-skating rink in Hackney. Joe still remained good friends with Dr White, who treated Joe as an equal despite the attitudes of those days.

Driving an Omnibus

In 1908, Joe applied for a job with the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC), and was taken on as a spare driver. Soon after having passed the driving test, Joe was driving a B-type bus along the route from Liverpool Street station to Wormwood Scrubs. As he braved the freezing winter weather in the bus's exposed cab, he was completely unaware that he was making history.

Joe married his wife Margaret in 1911 after a period of taking her out each week to the music hall - a common form of entertainment in those days. Margaret was a white domestic servant and the daughter of a local publican, and although such occurrences were rare in those days, no comments were ever made about their mixed-race marriage. Joe held an unblemished driving record for several years until he was suspended for speeding at a speed of 28 miles per hour. Luckily, his wife confronted the official responsible, and the trumped-up charges were dropped on the basis that the official was a racist.

The World Wars

Wanting to play his part in protecting his adopted country, and also driven on by warnings not to, Joe enlisted in the Army Service Corps at Kempston barracks in 1915, making him one of the first in the area to do so. He drove a field ambulance for four years in the Ypres area, one of the bloodiest arenas of battle in the entire Great War. During his time in Belgium, he was treated as an equal by his fellow soldiers, and was even the captain of the cricket team.

Joe was demobbed in 1919, and started work for the National Omnibus Company, later renamed the Eastern National Omnibus Company (ENOC), in a placement that his wife had secured for him, and which he kept for the next 29 years. Joe worked out of a depot in St John's, The Broadway, Bedford, and would stop for a pint of bitter with his colleagues at The Dolphin public house after work. By the 1930s, Joe had driven on several of the routes in the area, and was instructing learner bus drivers. He even played the part of Father Christmas in the annual ENOC Christmas party.

On Remembrance Day each year between the wars, Joe would drive the 'poppy bus', a bus collecting money for the Earl Haig Poppy Fund, refusing wages as a mark of respect for the soldiers he'd served alongside. He also drove buses for school trips and excursions, and so was the victim to a degree of taunting from children who had never seen a black person before. However, Joe always acted unoffended, and gained a great degree of respect from others through his own form of peaceful protest.

Despite the general acceptance of Joe by the people who knew him, it was inevitable that some day someone in a position to cause a problem would object to the colour of Joe's skin. This happened when he accompanied Margaret to the corporal's dance at Kempston barracks, where Joe had been enlisted in 1915. He was invited back, only to be forced to leave due to objections of an officer there. Joe decided to just let things be, but Margaret wrote a letter to the commanding officer of the barracks, resulting in a letter of apology and Joe being granted freedom of the Kempston barracks for life.

Driving a Taxi

In 1947, Joe was eager to do something different, and so he left his job as a bus driver and started work for a truck contractor. However, he quickly got bored of the lack of people to talk to, and so he became a taxi driver for a company in Bedford instead. Joe was now instantly recognisable on the streets of Bedford, not as for the colour of his skin but for his trademark chequered cloth cap and long coat. However, after the war many people from the West Indies came over to Britain, and Joe was sometimes mistaken as being a new arrival, much to his irritation. Joe still encountered the odd racist, including one who worked out of the same taxi rank and had been a supporter of fascist leader Oswald Mosely2. The racist would generally speak badly of Joe to the other drivers, but they would stand up for their black friend, and so luckily no harm came of it.

Joe bought a taxi cab in 1949 and set up on his own. He was very successful due to the general post-war lack of taxis, and was also highly respected by then. He formed an important part of the community, and was often called upon as a chauffeur for weddings due to the fact that most people considered Joe to be 'good luck'.

The Later Years

Joe was a keen sports fan, and saw his first football match at Stamford Bridge, leading him to support Chelsea FC for the rest of his life. Still, Joe was forever a cricket fan at heart, and umpired a local Bedford cricket team once he was too old to play. Eventually Joe retired from his job as a taxi driver, and by that time the year was 1968 and he was 82 years old. A couple of years later he became a minor celebrity when he helped write The Un-Melting Pot by John Brown3, in which an entire chapter was devoted to Joe and Margaret. This led to interviews with several UK national papers, as well as one with The Gleaner, the main Jamaican newspaper at the time.

Joe's wife Margaret passed away in 1975, and Joe himself died in two years later at the age of 91. Joe's friends and family raised funds for a memorial bench at Southway Residential Home, where Joe spent his final days, and his daughter, also called Margaret, paid for some roses for the garden of remembrance. Joe left behind two daughters, the other of which was Jean. Both have now died, but Margaret had a son, Jimmy. He in turn had a daughter, Victoria, and a stepdaughter, Krysia, who described old 'Pop' Joe as 'the man with the smiley brown face'.

1But not in a motorcar.2Oswald Mosely was the founder of the British Union of Fascists, an anti-immigration society founded in 1932, one which became less and less popular as the years went on.3And published by Macmillan Publishing

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