Black History Month: Some Writing Ideas From Across London

| 12 September 2006
an 18th century business card

A business card belonging to 18th century writer and grocer Ignatius Sancho, now held in the V&A.

Here are a few objects from across London that tell a story from Black history. If you're entering our Black History Month Journalism Competition you're welcome to write about any of these things - or choose a completely different subject yourself.

painting of a black man in 18th century dress

Francis Williams. Courtesy of the V&A.

This portrait of Francis Williams, the Jamaican scholar was painted in 1745. At a time when so many Black people were enslaved in Jamaica, it begs fascinating questions about the life and status of the sitter, and of Black people outside Africa during that period. You can see it on display in the British galleries of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

drawing shows black man taking bat at victorian cricket match for retired seasmen

Courtesy of Greenwich Heritage Centre.

This picture is from the Illustrated London News of 9th September 1848. It shows a cricket match between pensions at the Royal Greenwich Hospital. All are seamen, and all have lost either an arm or a leg at sea. Many Black people came to London as sailors in the 19th century, so it's not surprising to see a retired Black salt seizing the bat, centre frame. You can see this image at Greenwich Heritage Centre from 22nd September, as part of their 'Men Of Colour' exhibition.

photo shows black child in victorian pinafore dress

Courtesy of Stephen Bourne

This is Esther Bruce, a seamstress born in the reign of Queen Victoria. Her nephew, Stephen Bourne has written a book and a number of articles about her life, and what it meant to be Black in pre-Windrush London. Do you have an older friend or relative with a story to tell?

photo shows painting of ackee on ceiling

Courtesy of the Natural History Museum.

This is a patch of ceiling from the Natural History Museum. It shows an ackee: first introduced to Jamaica by Captain William Bligh to feed enslaved Africans working on the plantations. Never widely eaten in Africa, it's now the national fruit of Jamaica. It appears next to other 'economic' plants of the British empire, including tobacco, cotton and sugar.

photo shows three dimensional embroidered sculpture

Courtesy of the Horniman Museum

This is an ijele, made by the Igbo people of Nigeria, now in the collections of the Horniman Museum. The building of the ijele is complex and demanding and takes up to one year. As the building of the ijele is a social and historic event the entire community becomes involved in the process and families visit the builders to follow progress. You can see the ijele in the Horniman's Africa Gallery.

drawing shows childrens jamaican abc

Courtesy of London Metropolitan Archive.

This is just one of the books issued by Bogle-LOuverture, the publishing house founded by Eric and Jessica Huntley. Born and educated in British Guiana (now Guyana) they were actively involved in politics and trade union movements. They migrated to London in the 1950s and participated from the outset in the struggles of African, Caribbean and working class peoples both in England and abroad. Their publishing and personal archive collections were acquired last year by London Metropolitan Archives and are now available to the public for the first time. It includes books, manuscripts, letters from writers, politicians and artists, photographs, vinyl records, posters and art work.

Much of the material is still uncatalogued, so if you'd like to explore this story, then email London Metropolitan Archives first. They say they will give you as much help as possible in finding the material you are interested in.

painting shows impressionist picture of trapeze artist

Courtesy of the National Gallery.

This painting shows MissLaLa, a trapeze artist who amazed audiences in Paris in 1879. Here she is shown suspended from the rafters of the circus dome by a rope between her teeth. The painting is currently part of the Black History Month trail at the National Gallery.

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