Category: Black London

Sarah Forbes Bonetta, an African princess in Victorian England

Few people know that Queen Victoria had a black goddaughter, named Victoria after her patron. The mother of this girl had been under the protection of the queen since arriving in England as a young child. Her name was Sarah Forbes Bonetta. Sarah’s story begins with tragedy. Born into a royal family in West Africa, as a five year old child she was orphaned, her parents … Read More Sarah Forbes Bonetta, an African princess in Victorian England

Thomas Birch Freeman – a black Christian missionary

Usually when we think of the Christian missionaries of the nineteenth century, we think of white men, sometimes with their wives, going out to Africa to save the natives. Thomas Birch Freeman (1809-1890) was different: he was black. Freeman was born in Hampshire in 1809, his father black, thought to be a freed slave, his mother white. In his younger days Freeman worked as … Read More Thomas Birch Freeman – a black Christian missionary

Fanny Eaton – the forgotten Pre-Raphaelite model

You may not have heard of Fanny Eaton but, if you are an admirer of the works of the Pre-Raphaelites, you may have seen her without realising. She is the forgotten model, though she was used by many artists of the time and admired by them. Fanny Eaton was born in Jamaica in 1835. Her mother, Matilda Foster, came to London at some point … Read More Fanny Eaton – the forgotten Pre-Raphaelite model

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born on 15 August 1875 in Holborn, son of a Sierra Leonean doctor and an English mother. It is thought that his father had already returned to Sierra Leone before Samuel’s mother, Alice, knew that she was pregnant (the couple were not married) and so he never knew he had a son in London. Alice named her son for the poet, … Read More Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

The daughters of Ira Aldridge

Until recently many people hadn’t heard of the actor Ira Aldridge, a black Shakespearean actor. Aldridge was at one point, in the mid-nineteenth century, the highest paid actor in Russia. I came across his story when I started researching my novel, set in 1850s London, and decided to use his experiences as a template for my fictional family,  the Johnsons. After successful runs of Lolita Chakrabarti’s play … Read More The daughters of Ira Aldridge

Black History Walks in London

Last weekend I went on a guided walk with Black History Walks. These guys run several tours around London, from Elephant and Castle to St Paul’s, each taking around two hours. I did the Secrets of Soho walk (though most of it is actually in Bloomsbury, finishing at Soho Square). There is so much forgotten and hidden black history around this area which neither I … Read More Black History Walks in London