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Black British History

Historic England is supporting the current BBC season 'Black and British' with new listings of three historic sites that celebrate black British history. We're also working to improve understanding and recognition of England's diverse heritage in our Inclusive Heritage research.

Written and presented by acclaimed historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, 'Black & British: A Forgotten History' is a fresh approach to history and a lively national event. It vividly demonstrates how the often forgotten world of black history has shaped our world and puts BBC TWO at the heart of a moment of national historical reassessment. David Olusoga's re-telling of our history is a rich and revealing exploration of the extraordinary long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa.

Nelson Mandela Statue
Nelson Mandela Statue, Royal Festival Hall, London © Historic England AA008488

Write your own chapter of history

Historic England is calling on individuals and community groups to contribute pictures, local information and family history to the records of historic places with connections to the rich span of black British history.

It could be inside information about the connection a local church has to a significant figure, or the fascinating associations a world-famous site like Nelson's Column, York Minster or the Royal Pavilion, Brighton has with black history.

It's simple and free to get involved: Find out how to Enrich the List online, sign up and add your story.

Call for evidence:

Samuel Coleridge Taylor and the Royal Albert Hall

We would like to uncover more detail about the 1912 charity event that took place at the Royal Albert Hall to support the widow and children of Samuel Coleridge Taylor, respected 19th century black British composer. We would like an image of Coleridge Taylor, and copies of newspaper reports, invitations or programmes for the event. We'd also like information on who attended to support the family, and which of his pieces were performed.

David Case and College Hall, Cranwell

Voted among the '100 Great Black Britons,' when he was promoted to air commodore in 2000, David Case was the highest-ranking black officer to serve in the Royal Air Force. As a cadet he was awarded the sword of honour at the RAF college at Cranwell in Lincolnshire, and later served there leading the Department of Specialist Ground Training. We would like good images of College Hall, Cranwell, insight on how David's career has inspired others, and the historically important role men and women of African and African-Caribbean heritage have played in the Royal Air Force from the First World War onwards.

An unknown poet and St Andrews, Chesterton

We would like to track down the name of the poet who composed the verse on the 1797 plaque for Anna Maria Vassa in the Church of St Andrew in Chesterton, Cambridgeshire. Anna Maria was the young daughter of 18th century activist Olaudah Equiano, the pre-eminent black voice in the British abolitionist movement. He lived and worked in the area in the 1790s, marrying Susanna Cullen at nearby St Andrews in Soham in 1792. How did this hero of the abolition movement find life in rural 18th century Cambridgeshire? How did he touch the life of the person who wrote a poem to mark the death of his child?

Portrait of Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano ('Gustavus Vassa') by Daniel Orme, after W. Denton, stipple engraving, published 1789 © National Portrait Gallery, London D8546

Bill Morris and Birmingham Town Hall

Bill Morris' exceptional career saw him rise through the ranks of the Transport and General Workers Union, eventually becoming General Secretary. He has campaigned on issues including health, employment, education and discrimination. He has contributed to running institutions including the Bank of England, the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Commission for Racial Equality, been knighted by the Queen and has a life peerage. He settled in Birmingham as a teenager, moving to the city from Jamaica to join his mother. His remarkable achievements have given him striking associations with many locations around London and the Midlands, including the Trade Union Congress and not least Birmingham Town Hall where he was once invited to join band Jazz Jamaica on stage to perform Marvin Gaye's track 'What's Going On'. We want anyone who can recount ways in which Bill Morris has contributed to public life in any of these places to add their personal experiences to the List.

George Bridgetower and the historic venues where he performed

George Bridgetower was born in Poland but lived for most of his life in England. He was a celebrated child prodigy and violin virtuoso in the 18th and 19th century. He played with Ludwig van Beethoven, who originally dedicated his Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower, but the two men argued and Beethoven removed Bridgetower's name and could not be persuaded to reinstate it. During his career, Bridgetower played for the Royal family at Windsor Castle and thrilled audiences, including the Prince Regent at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton and the Assembly Rooms in Bath with his astonishing skills. By the end of his life his fame had waned and he died in relative obscurity. We would like to add details of his story to the list descriptions for these buildings, cementing their connection to a celebrated musician of African heritage playing and composing in England over 200 years ago. We would love details of when and where his work was last performed, and if it is still being played today.

Places featuring in the BBC's 'Black and British' series

David Olusoga's BBC series 'Black & British: A Forgotten History' is crammed with tantalising glimpses of the fascinating stories concealed behind the buildings and streets around us. Throughout the series Historic England will be calling on the public to add what they can to records of places like those listed below, that link to the stories featured in the programmes. You can also see the information David Olusoga has added to list entries such as Greenwich Palace and Hadrian's Wall.

Francis Barber and St Mary's, Stafford

St Mary's Church in Stafford, where the remarkable story of Francis Barber came to a close when he was buried in 1801. He was born into a family of slaves in Jamaica, and brought to England where he worked as a valet, later becoming the close friend and heir to famed writer Samuel Johnson. In the latter part of his life he lived in Litchfield, Staffordshire and died after an operation performed in a Stafford hospital. We'd like a great image of the church and historical accounts of his life in the area.

Black and white image of Dr Johnson's House
Dr Johnson's House, Breadmarket Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire © Historic England AL0077/045/07

Nelson's Column

Nelson's Column is a familiar London landmark, but how many sightseers spot the brass relief on the monument that depicts a black sailor standing over the mortally wounded Nelson? What more do we know about the work - can we have a striking contemporary photograph, detail about the artist, or the story of who sat for it?

A historic meeting at Manchester Free Trade Hall

On New Years Eve 1862, Lancashire cotton workers attended a historic meeting at the Manchester Free Trade Hall where they wrote a letter to President Lincoln supporting him in his stand against slavery. Can we have more detail about this momentous day? How many attended? Who spoke at the meeting? The workers' support of the northern states was to cost them dear, as they lost their livelihood processing the cotton produced in the south.

Free Trade Hall, Manchester
Free Trade Hall, Manchester © Historic England AA026921

Walk the history of Brixton

Brixton is the fifth neighbourhood in London to be mapped for Historic England's free Walk History app. The latest route will explore the history of black Brixton from the post war period to the present day, starting with the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948. Each tour is designed to reveal the hidden stories behind the streets we walk down every day.

England’s role in the slave trade

Explore our research into connections between England's historic environment and The Slave Trade and Abolition.

Historic England has published these fascinating books about the relationship between slavery and English historic houses:

Slavery and the British Country House

Slavery and the British Country House

Published 31 July 2013

This is the first scholarly publication to focus on British country houses, their owners and their links to the slave trade in all its forms.

£60.00

The slavery connections of Bolsover Castle

The slavery connections of Bolsover Castle

Published 1 July 2010

This report was commissioned by English Heritage in November 2008 and research was carried out from December 2008 to September 2009 to establish the slavery and colonial connections of the case study property and its owners, including their wider families.

Black lives in England in the 18th and 19th centuries

People of African origin have been part of English history since Roman times. By the latter half of the 18th century, England had a black population of around 15,000 people. Read what we know of their lives from evidence in the historic environment.

A portrait of a young Caribbean man.
Francis Barber © Dr Johnson’s House Trust Ltd

Black British history blogs

During the BBC season 'Black and British', our Historic England blog is focusing on some of the fascinating stories highlighted by the series:

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