Black Histories of 31 Places in England
From the first public sculptures of Black Britons to the home of Britain’s first West Indian newspaper, we’re celebrating the Black histories of 31 places in England and the accomplishments of those associated with them.
We have plotted the places on the map below, and highlighted why each is significant. The map celebrates places where history happened and honours the great contribution Black Britons have made to our vibrant and diverse society.
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George Africanus (1763 to 1834) is Nottingham's first recorded Black entrepreneur, starting an employment agency called the Africanus Register of Servants. A formerly enslaved man from Sierra Leone, George moved to Nottingham where he married a local woman. He went on to own his own home, land and several businesses meaning that he was eligible to vote.
Cy Grant, originally from Guyana, was the first West Indian actor to be regularly seen on British Television, appearing from the 1950s onwards. Previously, during the Second World War he had been a Royal Air Force Officer and survived being shot down and imprisoned by German forces. He was part of a brutal forced march of prisoners towards the end of the war.
Often little information survives about the individual enslaved or formerly enslaved men, women and children brought to England. However, we know that St James' Church is where many settlers from West Africa, the Caribbean and America were baptized.
The West Indian Gazette or 'WIG' is thought to be Britain’s first West Indian newspaper. It was issued monthly. The WIG was established above a music shop in Brixton Road in 1958 by Claudia Jones, originally from Trinidad. Claudia Jones was also an early organiser of West Indian Carnival in this country and is commemorated for the latter contribution by a plaque on Portobello Road.
Our featured picks 5-11
Unveiled by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008 to mark the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, this sculpture was created by Michael Visocchi in collaboration with poet Lemn Sissay. The sculpture project was initiated by Black British Heritage and the Parish of St Mary Woolnoth and commissioned by the City of London Corporation and the British Land Company.
This Second World War facility, which had once seen Londoners sheltering from V-Rockets, was used as a temporary hostel for 492 Windrush Generation migrants in 1948.
Ignatius Sancho is the first known Briton of African heritage to have voted in a general election. He was also a composer and a passionate advocate for the abolition of slavery. His letters express the lived experience of being a Black man in 18th-century England. He kept a shop in the area now occupied by the Commonwealth Office.
Cesar Picton (about 1755 to 1836) became a successful businessman and owner of a wharf and a malt house, despite being taken from his family in Senegal as a child. From 1790 Picton lived at 52 High Street, Kingston upon Thames, known as Picton House and now marked by a Kingston local history plaque.
Jimi Hendrix arrived in England in 1966. His talent was soon noticed and he earned rapturous praise from contemporary musicians. In 1968 he moved into a flat with his girlfriend at 23 Brook Street, W1. Though Hendrix only lived there briefly, it is his only recognised residence in the world. In 1997 English Heritage commemorated Hendrix with a blue plaque.
This may be the first Black Briton that we have evidence for. An Afro-Roman woman was identified by scientific analysis of human remains from the Roman period previously discovered by archaeologists at Eastbourne. The study suggested this woman had either been born in England or had come to Britain at an early age. The evidence for her health, diet and careful burial suggests she was not an enslaved person.
The Brixton Recreation Centre has been a social centre for the local community since 1985. The centre served as a venue on Nelson Mandela’s first state to in 1996 on his first state visit to Britain.
Our featured picks 12-18
Tues 20 Oct: Plaque to Anna Maria Vassa at St Andrew’s Church, Chesterton, Cambridgeshire.
The plaque dated 1797 commemorates Anna Maria Vassa, daughter of Olaudah Equiano, a former enslaved person and one of England's most effective campaigners for abolition. The plaque tells us that she was buried ‘near this place’, but she does not appear in the church's burial records. Anna Maria (Ann Mary) was only three years or four years old when she died.
In the 1950s, Brixton became a hub for the Afro-Caribbean community as immigrants from the West Indies, in particular Jamaica, settled in the South London suburb. By the late 1960s, the area had become one of the largest and most important sites of Caribbean settlement in England. Brixton’s markets soon formed the commercial and social heart of the new community, with grocers and butchers selling rice, dried codfish, ackee and exotic fruits like mangoes, pineapple and avocados.
George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (about 1780 to 1860), a virtuoso violinist, is best remembered for his association with Beethoven, who composed a Sonata for him. Bridgetower's father was of African descent. As a child prodigy, in 1789 he played at The Assembly Rooms, Bath. He was first violinist in the Prince of Wales' private orchestra.
From 1949 British health organisations launched campaigns to recruit hospital staff directly from the Caribbean. Despite facing racial prejudice, by the end of 1965, there were 3,000-5,000 Jamaican nurses working in British hospitals, many of them concentrated in London and the Midlands.
An important 1930s London jazz club frequented by bohemians and those considered ‘outsiders’ by society at the time, including members of the Black community. Garland Wilson, an African American jazz pianist who came to England in the 1930s, regularly performed at the club.
Sarah was born a princess in Africa but was enslaved through warfare between African states. Once freed, she became a protégé of Queen Victoria after being introduced to the Court at Windsor Castle.
Our featured picks 19-24
The presence of people of African origin in Britain may go back a lot further than you might think, as Professor David Olusoga points out in his contribution to the National Heritage List entry for Burgh by Sands Roman fort, where a unit of North African Moorish troops were stationed to protect the frontier of the Roman Empire.
John Blanke is thought to be the first Black Briton who can be identified by a name and possibly a face. He was a black trumpeter who arrived in Tudor England as part of the entourage of Catherine of Aragon. Documentary evidence shows he was present at the courts of monarchs Henry VII and Henry VIII and may be depicted in an illustration of a tournament. It is likely that he played at Greenwich Palace.
Many people who arrived on the Empire Windrush found a home in Notting Hill and North Kensington, which was also home to a struggling white working class. Tension culminated in the 1958 race riots and the murder of Kelso Cochrane in 1959. Notting Hill Carnival started as an expression of Caribbean culture and to help bridge the cultural gap between the communities.
Inspirational American civil rights activist Martin Luther King visited Newcastle in 1967 to receive an Honorary Doctorate in Civil Law from Newcastle University. The University was the only British institution to award King an Honorary Degree and Newcastle was the only place, outside of London, that King visited.
When settling in Bristol, many people of the Windrush Generation found poor housing in the centre of the city, in St. Pauls and Easton. These areas had been badly damaged during the Second World War so housing prices were cheaper and landlords were more likely to rent to Afro-Caribbean people.
The Empire Windrush, the ship that has given its name to a whole generation of West Indians who sought a new life in Britain, arrived at Tilbury Docks, on 22 June 1948.
Our featured picks 25-31
The first truly West Indian carnival parade in England is thought to have taken place in Leeds in 1967, organised by Arthur France from the Caribbean Island of Nevis. The end point for the parade at this time was the Town Hall. The Soca style of music played at the parade evolved from Calypso.
A plaque commemorates Olaudah Equiano at the site of his house, no 73 Riding House Street, Marylebone. He was an influential 18th-century Black campaigner for the Abolition of Slavery. In London he wrote his powerful autobiography about his experience as an enslaved person in Virginia.
Renowned Black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, called by some contemporaries “The Black Mahler”, joined the Royal College of Music in London in 1890. He was one of the first Black students at the College.
Joseph Emidy, who died in 1835, may have been the first African composer in England, and his memorial is a reflection of contemporary appreciation of his achievement.
This older building is home to The Basil Griffith Library, named after a contemporary local educator. The library houses a collection of books and learning aids that champion the Black experience in the diaspora, giving representation for Black British writers of African and Caribbean descent. The list entry for the Victorian building was enriched by The Stephen Lawrence Trust
The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 arose from the insistence of the Bristol Omnibus Company that they would only employ White people in the city's bus crews. The decisively successful boycott was a watershed moment and a step on the road towards the UK's first-ever laws against race-based discrimination.
'Platforms Piece' is thought to be the first sculptural representation of Black Britons in the context of public art in England. The bronze figures depicting people waiting for trains were created in 1985-6 by artist Kevin Atherton. They are located at Brixton Station.
Mapping: 31 places connected to Black history in England
We will be featuring a new place on the map every day during October 2020.