Friday, 30 October 2020

Racial discimination in wartime London

I came across this odd little item in a brewing trade magazine. It's about a case of racial discrimination in a hotel. It would have interested brewers as they, through their tied estates, often owned hotels.

"22nd Sept.
Replying to questions regarding the exclusion of Mr. L. Constantine, a West Indian cricketer, on the ground of his colour, from the Imperial Hotel, London, Mr. Emrys-Evans (Under-Secretary of State, Dominion Affairs) said : My right hon. Friend (Secretary of State for the Colonies) is aware of the incident referred to in these Questions. It is understood that legal proceedings are pending, and it would therefore be improper for me to comment on the incident itself. The hotel in question is the Imperial Hotel, Russell Square. I am glad, however, to have the opportunity of stating on behalf of my right hon. and gallant Friend that he most strongly condemns any form of racial discrimination against Colonial people in this country.

Mr. Driberg (Maldon, Ind.) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he will take over the control and administration of hotels and other catering establishments attempting to impose a colour bar or showing any racial discrimination among their customers ?

Mr. Mahane : No, Sir."
The Brewing Trade Review, October 1943, pages 318 - 319.

Intrigued , I made a quick search of the newspaper archive. Mr. Constantine had booked a room at Imperial Hotel, but when he turned the manager asked him to leave.

This statement from the Home Secretary sounds rather modern.

"23rd Sept.
Replying to further questions on the above subject Mr. H. Morrison (Home Secretary) said : As it is reported that this case may be the subject of legal proceedings, it would not be right for me to express any opinion on the legal aspect of any action taken by the management of the hotel in question, but I am advised that hotels which provide accommodation for travellers are under a common law obligation not to exercise arbitrary discrimination and not to refuse a traveller, for whom accommodation is available, except on some reasonable ground, such as that he is not in a fit state to be received. Apart, however, from any question of law the House will, I am sure, agree with me that there is a responsibility on all members of the community, including not only those who manage hotels and places of public resort but also their clients and guests, to avoid any discrimination against a fellow British subject on grounds of race or colour. If in this case there has been failure to accord to a British subject in this country the full equality of status and treatment to which he is entitled, I would assure him that any such failure is deeply deplored and strongly condemned by responsible public opinion throughout the United Kingdom."
The Brewing Trade Review, October 1943, page 319.

 Mr. Constantine won his case, but was only awarded nominal damages of £5 5s. On grounds of the "form in which the action was brought". Otherwise he would have awarded "exemplary and substantial damages". The judge not believing  the hotel's claim that Mr. Constantine left voluntarily.

Does this obligation to accept all travellers still exist in the UK?

Almost forgot. One of the reasons I was struck by the case is that I've stayed in the Imperial Hotel. More than once. Though it's been completely rebuilt in the intervening years.


StuartP said...

Wow. Leary Constantine was something of a pre-war sporting hero. For a modern-day comparison, imagine turning away Usain Bolt from your hotel. What an arsehole.

Unknown said...

Interesting question. It's described as a "common law obligation", which would imply that it's still in force unless it's been explicitly replaced by a law covering the same area; I don't know whether that has happened, though. Of course, there are laws banning discrimination on the grounds of any of the characteristics protected by the Equality Act, which would cover this case - but it would still leave open landlords randomly barring people because they didn't like their face, which this "common law obligation' would prevent.

I also wonder about the "form" in which the case was brought and why it prevented a proper payout - sounds like bad luck, or bad legal advice.

Ron Pattinson said...


and he seems to have been turned away in a particularly nasty way.

What pleasantly surprises me is how the Home Secretary and the judge backed Constantine 100%.

StuartP said...

'What pleasantly surprises me is how the Home Secretary and the judge backed Constantine 100%.'
I'd have expected nothing less!

Marquis said...

The I keepers Act also placed restrictions on landlords but I don't know if they applied to rooms

Edd The Brew said...

Hi Ron ,
Doesn't surprise me much mate,
Cricket đź‘Ť

Anonymous said...

This is another case of racial problems in England during the Second World War, this one taking place at a pub in Lancashire.

What is striking is that the English locals took the side of the African American soldiers who were facing a crackdown by White US Military Police. Earlier, when White US officers insisted that pubs kick out the Black soldiers, the three local pubs put up signs saying "Black Troops Only" in defiance.