History April 26, 2022 at 01:00 pm

The unknown story of Britain’s first Black millionaires and how they made their money

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor April 26, 2022 at 01:00 pm

April 26, 2022 at 01:00 pm | History

"How They Made A Million The Dyke & Dryden Story" written by Tony Wade, one of the first Black millionaires. Image via Twitter

In 1954, Tony Wade left Montserrat at the age of 20 to London with three friends hoping to find a good job and better life. But things were not as he expected. Having to live in an overcrowded environment, he and his friends, right after settling in, went to look for menial jobs. They soon found work loading and unloading crockery on and off a conveyor belt in a kitchen at Lyons Corner House, at Hyde Park in London, Wade later said.

“Work in the kitchen was without a doubt a major learning curve to what the real world was about,” Wade writes in The Adventures of an Economic Migrant. “In any case it helped to install and cement the all-important bricks of self-awareness, assertiveness and the need to take seriously one’s personal responsibility for life’s journey.”

Amid the discrimination and unfavorable environment, Wade at some point thought of going back to Montserrat but he decided to stay and work hard to buy his own house. He was able to achieve this in 1957, in joint ownership with his sister and her husband, three years after arriving in the UK. Wade was at this time working at Commercial Radiators, an engineering company in Tottenham. He soon headed to the College of North East London to pursue a course that would help him gain employment in public administration.

Later, Wade got a job in the accounts department at Smart Weston group of companies, which was then the owner of more than 100 men’s wear stores in the UK. He earned good money working there but entrepreneurship started calling. And so without thinking twice, he left Smart Weston and started a trading company called Carib Services.

During this period, he had become friends with Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden, who would later found Dyke & Dryden, one of the first Black afro hair and beauty companies in the U.K. and the first multi-million-pound company from the Black British community. Dyke and Dryden had started business in the UK distributing records, particularly pre-releases from Jamaica. From along West Green Road, north London, the two sold records that were not found in other local music stores, enabling them to attract a huge West Indian customer base, The Gleaner reported.

Later, they moved into hair and beauty products, which they started initially by selling out of boxes before setting up their first shop, on West Green Road, in Tottenham, north London when business boomed. Besides selling their hair and beauty products aimed at Black women across the UK, they were also doing a travel and shipping business, offering counsel on passport and citizen issues.

By this time, Wade had joined them as the third partner in the business. Dyke and Dryden had convinced him to leave his Carib Services and join them to help turn things around for their business. On June 12, 1968, Wade officially joined Dyke and Dryden Limited as company secretary and director, and would later urge his friends and now partners to focus on promoting hair and beauty products instead of their record and travel business.

This was a good decision as the company expanded wildly and soon opened new branches and warehouses, enabling Dyke and Dryden to compete successfully in the international market. In fact, Wade and his colleagues moved from importing and distributing to manufacturing Black hair products, exporting internationally.

Dyke & Dryden became one of the largest, if not the largest, West Indian-owned businesses in Britain, and was also famous for its annual Afro Hair and Beauty Show, one of the major international exhibitions in a multi-million-pound international industry. The show was eventually sold off. Dyke & Dryden too was sold to an American competitor in the 1990s at a time competition in the hair care industry was fierce. The pioneers of the British Black Afro Hair Care Industry, who did change the image of Black businesses in the UK, went their different ways after the sale.

A plaque honors the three men today. The sign was put up in November 2020 at the site of a wig and cosmetic shop in north London which was run by them. Rudi Page, who worked as their sales and marketing manager, described Dyke, Dryden and Wade as “very determined men” who inspired the community at the time.

“…They were really focused on the development of young people and giving them opportunities. And I was one of those,” he said. “Their story can inspire all young people… who feel, in their local communities, opportunities are limited.”

“It’s an inspiring legacy of determination and hope for young people today, regardless of their background.”

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