History of African presence in London

William Hogarth's engraving Four Times of the Day: Noon (1738) shows a black London resident.

There is evidence of the African presence in London, England, from Roman times to the present day.

Roman LondonEdit

Using bioarchaeology, DNA analysis and the examination of grave goods in Roman London have identified one woman from the southern Mediterranean that may have had black African ancestry who had both travelled to London during the Roman period.[1][2]

16th centuryEdit

Early in the 16th century, Africans arrived in London when Catherine of Aragon travelled to London and brought a group of her African attendants with her[citation needed]. Around the same time Africans named trumpeters, who served Henry VII and Henry VIII, came to London when trade lines began to open between London and West Africa. The first record of an African in London was in 1593. His name was Cornelius. London’s residents started to become fearful of the increased black population. At this time Elizabeth I declared that black "Negroes and black Moors" were to be arrested and expelled from her kingdom, although this did not lead to any known legislation.[3][4]

17th–18th centuriesEdit

During this era there was a small rise of black people arriving in London. Britain was involved with the tri-continental slave trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Black slaves were attendants to sea captains and ex-colonial officials as well as traders, plantation owners and military personnel. This marked growing evidence of the black presence in the northern, eastern and southern areas of London. There were also small numbers of free slaves and seaman from West Africa and South Asia. Many of these people were forced into beggary due to the lack of jobs and racial discrimination.[5][6] There is evidence that black men and women were occasionally discriminated against when dealing with the law because of their skin colour. In 1737 George Scipio was accused of stealing Anne Godfrey's washing, the case rested entirely on whether or not Scipio was the only black man in Hackney at the time.[7]

Around the 1750s London became the home of many of Black people, Jews, Irish, Germans, and Huguenots. In 1764 The Gentleman's Magazine reported that there was 'supposed to be near 20,000 Negroe servants' -Evidence of the number of black residents in London has been found through registered burials. The people of London had widespread views that Black people in London were less than human;[citation needed] these views were expressed in slave sale advertisements. Leading black activists of this era included Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho and Quobna Ottobah Cugoano. With the support of other Britons these activists demanded that Blacks be freed from slavery. Supporters involved in this movements included workers and other nationalities of the urban poor. . At this time the slavery of whites was forbidden, but the legal statuses of these practices were not clearly defined. Free black slaves could not be enslaved, but blacks who were brought as slaves to Britain were considered the property of their owners. During this era Lord Mansfield declared that a slave who fled from his master could not be taken by force or sold abroad, in the case of Somerset v Stewart. This verdict fuelled the numbers of Blacks that escaped slavery, and helped send slavery into decline. In this same period many slave soldiers who fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War arrived in London. These soldiers were deprived of pensions and many of them became poverty-stricken and were reduced to begging on the streets. The Blacks in London lived among the whites in areas of Mile End, Stepney, Paddington and St Giles. The majority of these people did not live as slaves, but as servants to wealthy whites. Many became labeled as the "Black Poor" defined as former low wage soldiers, seafarers and plantation workers.[8]

During the late 18th century there were many publications and memoirs written about the "black poor". One example is the writings of Equiano, who became an unofficial spokesman for Britain’s Black community. A memoir about his life is entitled, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Equiano became a landowner in Cambridgeshire and married Susannah Cullen, from Soham. Both his daughters were born and baptised there.

In 1787 4,000 blacks were transported from London for resettlement to the colony of Sierra Leone with help from the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor.[9]

19th centuryEdit

Coming into the early 19th century, more groups of black soldiers and seaman were displaced after the Napoleonic wars and some settled in London. These settlers suffered and faced many challenges as did many black people in London. the slave trade was abolished completely in the British empire by 1834. The number of blacks in London was steadily declining with these new laws. Fewer blacks were brought into London from the West Indies and parts of Africa.[8]

During the mid-19th century there were restrictions on African immigration. In the later part of the 19th century there was a buildup of small groups of black dockside communities in towns such as Canning Town,[10] Liverpool, and Cardiff. This was a direct effect of new shipping links that were established with the Caribbean and West Africa.

Despite social prejudice and racist discrimination in Victorian England, some nineteenth-century black people living in England achieved exceptional success. Pablo Fanque, born poor as William Darby in Norwich, rose to become the proprietor of one of Britain's most successful Victorian circuses. He is immortalised in the lyrics of The Beatles song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" Another famous black Briton was William Davison, a conspirator executed in London for his role in the Cato Street Conspiracy against Lord Liverpool's government in 1820. Britain's first black High Sheriff was Nathaniel Wells, the son of a slave from St Kitts and a slave trader. After his father's death he was freed and inherited a fortune. He moved to Monmouthshire's Piercefield House and became Sheriff of Monmouthshire in 1818. One of the leaders in 19th century chartism was William Cuffay, who was born on a merchant ship in the West Indies in 1788, and whose father, had been a slave in St Kitts.[11]

20th centuryEdit

One of the black Londoners, Learie Constantine, a cricketer from Trinidad and welfare officer in the RAF, was refused service at a London hotel. He stood up for his rights and later was awarded compensation. That particular example is used by some to illustrate the slow change from racism towards acceptance and equality of all citizens in London.[12]

Post-war periodEdit

In 1950, it was estimated there were no more than 20,000 non-White residents in the United Kingdom, mainly in England; almost all born overseas.[13] Just after the end of World War II, the first groups of post-war Caribbean immigrants started to emigrate and settle in London. There were an estimated 492 that were passengers on the HMT Empire Windrush that arrived at Tilbury Docks on 22 June 1948. These passengers settled in the area of Brixton which is now a prominently Black district in Britain. From the 1950s into the 1960s, there was a mass migration of workers from all over the English-speaking Caribbean, particularly Jamaica; who settled in the UK. These immigrants were invited to fill labour requirements in London’s hospitals, transportation venues and railway development. There was a continuous influx of African students, sportsmen, and businessmen mixed within British society .[14] They are widely viewed as having been a major contributing factor to the rebuilding of the post-war urban London economy.

In 1962, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was passed in the UK along with a succession of other laws in 1968, 1971, and 1981 that severely restricted the entry of Black Caribbean immigrants into the United Kingdom. During this period, it is widely argued that emergent Blacks and Asians struggled in Britain against racism and prejudice. In 1975, a new voice emerged for the Black population of London; his name was David Pitt and he brought a new voice to the House of Lords. He spoke against racism and for equality in regards to all residents of Britain. At the 1987 general election, the first-ever Black British MPs were elected to the House of Commons; Diane Abbott for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Bernie Grant for Tottenham and Paul Boateng for Brent South. All were candidates from the Labour Party, and out of these three people; Abbott holds the distinction of being the first Black British woman to be elected to the House of Commons and is also the only one to still be an MP to the present day, as Grant died in 2000 and Boateng stood down in 2005.

By the end of the twentieth century, the number of Black Londoners numbered half a million, according to the 1991 UK Census. An increasing number of these Black Londoners were London, or British-born. Even with this growing population and the first Blacks elected to the UK Parliament, many argue that there was still discrimination and a socio-economic imbalance in London among the Black community. In 1992, the number of Blacks in Parliament increased to six and in 1997, they increased their numbers to nine. There are still many problems that Black Londoners face; the new global and high-tech information revolution is changing the urban economy and some argue that it is driving unemployment rates among Blacks up relative to non-blacks,[citation needed] something which, it is argued, threatens to erode the progress made thus far.[8]

As of June 2007, the Black population of London is 802,300, equivalent to 10.6% of the population of London. 4.3% of Londoners are Caribbean, 5.5% of Londoners are African and a further 0.8% are from other black backgrounds including American and Latin American. There are also 117,400 people who are mixed black and white.[15] At the 2011 UK Census, the total Black population of London stood at 1,088,640 or 13.3% of the population.[16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Redfern, Rebecca; DeWitte, Sharon; Montgomery, Janet; Gowland, Rebecca (1 November 2018). "A Novel Investigation into Migrant and Local Health-Statuses in the Past: A Case Study from Roman Britain". Bioarcheology International. 2 (1). doi:10.5744/bi.2018.1014.
  2. ^ Poinar, Hendrik N.; Eaton, Katherine; Marshall, Michael; Redfern, Rebecca C. (2017). "'Written in Bone': New Discoveries about the Lives and Burials of Four Roman Londoners". Britannia. 48: 253–277. doi:10.1017/S0068113X17000216. ISSN 0068-113X.
  3. ^ Bartels, Emily (22 March 2006). "Too many Blackamoors: deportation, discrimination, and Elizabeth I". SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500–1900.
  4. ^ Davies, Carole Boyce (2008). Encyclopedia of the African diaspora: origins, experiences, and culture. ABC-CLIO Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85109-700-5.
  5. ^ Banton, Michael (1955), The Coloured Quarter. Jonathan Cape. London.
  6. ^ Shyllon, Folarin (1992). "The Black Presence and Experience in Britain: An Analytical Overview". In Gundara, Jagdish S.; Duffield, Ian (eds.). Essays on the History of Blacks in Britain. Aldershot: Avebury. ISBN 978-1856282130.
  7. ^ "Communities – Black Communities – Central Criminal Court". www.oldbaileyonline.org. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  8. ^ a b c File, Nigel; Power, Chris (1981). Black Settlers in Britain 1555–1958. Heinnemann Educational. ISBN 978-0435311735.
  9. ^ http://www.betterworldbooks.com/african-americans-in-the-american-revolution-id-1155512723.aspx
  10. ^ Geoffrey Bell, The other Eastenders : Kamal Chunchie and West Ham's early black community (Stratford: Eastside Community Heritage, 2002)
  11. ^ "William Cuffay (1788 - 1870)". History. BBC.
  12. ^ Rose, Sonya (May 2001). "Race, empire and British wartime national identity, 1939–45". Historical Research. 74 (184): 220–37. doi:10.1111/1468-2281.00125. PMID 18161216.
  13. ^ Haug, Werner; Compton, Paul; Courbage, Youssef, eds. (2002). The Demographic Characteristics of Immigrant Populations. Council of Europe Publishing. ISBN 9789287149749.
  14. ^ "Black British timeline | Black London | Black British History". The Black Presence in Britain. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  15. ^ Resident Population Estimates by Ethnic Group, All Persons
  16. ^ "2011 black population london".