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Sites of Memory: Black British History in the 18th and 19th Centuries

In this section we uncover the history of black people during the 18th and 19th centuries by exploring the stories behind our local streets, buildings and landmarks.

Black people have been part of British history since Roman times. They worked as servants, musicians, trades people and businessmen. Some, but not all, were enslaved. 

It is difficult to research the lives of black people from the official records alone. It was 1991 before ethnic origin was included in the census. Parish records can be a useful source of information, but colour, race and nationality are inconsistently recorded. Historic England has therefore researched the ways in which the historic built environment can help us to find out more about Black British history.

Britain's involvement in the slave trade was most active from the late 16th to early 19th centuries. The buildings and memorials around us tell us about those who grew wealthy on this trade in human lives, as well as those who campaigned to end slavery. These people, from a range of backgrounds, all left their mark on history.

  • An 18th century town house.

    Black Lives in England

    People of African origin have been part of English history since Roman times.

  • Front of large medieval town hall with turrets

    Slave Traders and Plantation Wealth

    Here we look at the personal fortunes made from the slave trade and the impact it had on Britain and people's lives.

  • Sugar bowl with gold inscription "East India sugar not made by slaves".

    Ending Slavery

    Here you can read about the abolition movement, the legal cases and the actions that marked its progress and the legacy of the slave trade.

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