Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

194 : Not allowed in the school sports team, London ca 1920

Amy Barbour-James was born in west London in January 1906, of African descent through her parents Caroline and John Barbour-James who had lived in British Guiana (today: Guyana). Her father relocated to the Gold Coast (today: Ghana) in the post office in 1902, and worked there into 1917 with many months on several leaves in Britain where his wife and their five Guiana-born children had settled in Acton, west London. [see page 005 for Amy B-J, and pages 016 and 017 on her father.]

I got to know Miss Barbour-James in 1982-1983. She told me she had been taken by her mother to the prestigious local girls school Godolphin and Latymer, and that she had there been a victim of discrimination in that she was not allowed to be in the school netball team. Her exact words are forgotten, but she was still upset by this bigotry. In 2018, thirty years after Amy Barbour-James died, I obtained the unpublished autobiography of Margaret Collard, who had worked for decades as a primary school teacher in the Sudan and Uganda. Daughter of an architect, born in west London in 1903, Collard had also gone to Godolphin and Latymer school. Her sister had been there for five years, and headteacher Miss Clement requested Margaret Collard’s mother to send her to Godolphin in 1910. The fees were ¬£3 per term.

Her typescript has this: ‘We had had a West Indian girl in school for many years. She was a great sport and very popular. She was elected to the first netball team. After a time we had a new headmistress who thought that other schools might object if a coloured girl was to be included in our team. We went to the Head to demand that our friend should be given her rightful place, and we came away with permission to write to the Games Secretaries of all the schools against whom we played, to ask their feelings on the matter. Every one wrote back welcoming the opportunity for their girls to meet and play with her. It was some fifty years later that she heard of this battle for her rights and was very surprised’.

In September 2018 I made contact with the Alumnae Relations Officer at Godolphin and Latymer school, who recalled seeing a photograph which might include Amy Barbour-James. That document will be searched for this autumn.

Then this page will be updated.