Black history is deeply entrenched in our culture but often, Black history and Black figures are unfairly kept to the margins of history. Despite this, there have been countless Black individuals who have shaped London and the wider United Kingdom, to make it what it is today.
Black history is deeply entrenched in our culture but often, Black history and Black figures are unfairly kept to the margins of history. Despite this, there have been countless Black individuals who have shaped London and the wider United Kingdom, to make it what it is today. Here in East London, the history goes as far back as the 1850s. In honour of Black History Month, the Students' Union has created a brief list of Black History Landmarks for you to explore in London both in October and beyond.
Statue of Mary Seacole
Address: Westminster Bridge, The Queen's Walk, London SE1 7G
Image by Owen Blacker - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50184924
Mary Seacole was a nurse and businesswoman from Jamaica, best known for her courageous efforts providing medical aide to soldiers during the Crimean War.
Although not formally trained, Mary learned how to nurse ailments from her mother who ran a boarding house in Jamaica. From the young age of 12, Mary helped her mother nurse the many sick and injured soldiers who stayed in the home. Her mother was a healer and taught Mary traditional Jamaican healing methods which she would later use in her own practice.
During the Crimean War, Mary wanted to provide medical aid to wounded soldiers by becoming an army nurse. She approached both the British War Office and Florence Nightingale’s nursing group to serve as a nurse on the frontlines of the Crimean war. She was ultimately rejected by both.
In her autobiography, Mary Seacole expresses disappointment about the numerous rejections of her offer of help, eventually coming to the realisation that perhaps prejudice underlies the reasons for her rejections. She shared;“...Was it possible that American prejudices against colour had some root here? Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?” Despite the numerous rejections, Seacole was determined to help and chose to independently go to Crimea by funding her own travels; “I had no more idea of what the Crimea was than the home authorities themselves perhaps, but having once made up my mind, it was not long before cards were printed and speeding across the Mediterranean to my friends before Sebastopol.”
In Crimea, Mary nursed many soldiers, even going to the battlefields herself. She soon came to be known warmly by the soldiers as ‘Mother Seacole.’ In 2016, Mary Seacole was honoured with the unveiling of a statue in front of St. Thomas’s Hospital. Mary became the first Black woman to have a statue erected in the United Kingdom. The sculptor of the statue, Martin Jennings notes; “…The sculpture represents her marching defiantly forward into an oncoming wind, as if confronting head-on some of the personal resistance she had constantly to battle…”
Address: 8 All Saints Road, Notting Hill, W11 1HH
Image by Ewan Munro from London, UK - Rum Kitchen, Notting Hill, W11, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97204836
Image By The National Archives UK - Battle for Freedom at the Old Bailey poster, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=125344929
The Mangrove restaurant was a hub for Caribbean cuisine and culture in the late nineties. Frank Crichlow was a fierce activist, and owner of the Mangrove Restaurant. The restaurant was not only a place for Black community members to gather and enjoy delicious Caribbean meals, but it was also known as a centre for the Black rights movement. Young black men unfairly arrested by law enforcement could come to the Mangrove to seek legal advice. The restaurant was notably a meeting place for the British Black Panthers, a Black Power organisation that fought for the rights of Black people in the UK. The restaurant had also been paid visit by many notable celebrities such as Diana Ross, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and Muhammed Ali.
Image Credits: National Archives (catalogue reference: MEPO 31/21)
Due to its activist-nature, the restaurant frequently fell victim to police raids and heightened scrutiny. According to the National Archives, the Mangrove restaurant was raided 12 times between January 1969 and July 1970 – despite no illegal activity being discovered. In 1970, a group of Black Power activists including Frank Crichlow staged a protest against the constant police harassment of people in the community. 150 people marched in the protest, which is now known as the ‘Mangrove Nine Protest.’ In his complaint Crichlow directly states ‘I know it is because I am a black citizen of Britain that I am discriminated against.’
By The National Archives UK - Battle for Freedom at the Old Bailey poster, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=125344807
During the protest, police and protesters clashed, with the violence eventually leading to the arrest of nine men and women (whom the title ‘Mangrove Nine’ refers to). The Mangrove Nine are; Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Frank Critchlow, Rhodan Gordon, Darcus Howe, Anthony Innis, Althea Lecointe Jones, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett. These nine protesters were arrested and tried for ‘inciting riots.’ Of those tried, Althea Jones-Lecointe and Darcus Howe chose to represent themselves.
After an extensive 55-day trial, all nine defendants were acquitted of the most serious of charges. The landmark decision was the first in the UK to formally acknowledge, at the judicial level, evidence of racism within in the Metropolitan Police. This marked not only a huge victory for the community cause but also the Black Power movement as a whole.
Image by Megalit - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90668902
Now, in the place where this restaurant once stood, is a blue plaque commemorating Frank Crichlow’s work and life. Today, though the restaurant is closed, it serves as a reminder of the resistance by Black members of the community at the time.
African and Caribbean War Memorial
Windrush Square, Effra Rd, London SW2 1JQ
Image by Kelly Foster - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61971739
The African and Caribbean War Memorial in Windrush Square, Brixton, is the United Kingdom's national memorial to African and Caribbean service personnel who fought in the First and Second World Wars. It is estimated that 2 million African-Caribbeans fought in both World Wars, with over African 165,000 service people dying. Many people are unaware of the significant contributions and sheer number of African-Caribbeans involved in defending the United Kingdom. This memorial aims to raise awareness of their contributions and provide proper recognition for these heroes.
The Bronze Woman
Stockwell Memorial Gardens, S Lambeth Rd, London SW8 1UQ
Image by Stephen McKay, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
The Bronze Woman, located in London’s Stockwell Memorial Garden is a tribute to the strong, powerful Caribbean women who make up the United Kingdom. It is the first ever statue of a Black woman to be put on permanent display in the UK. The statue is based on a poem by the late Cécile Nobrega – a Guyanese-British educator, poet and activist. She was a staunch advocate and petitioner for the creation of the statue and celebration of Caribbean culture – leading a decade long campaign to make the Bronze Woman a reality. Engraved on the plinth of the statue, is a passage from Nobrega’s poem, “Bronze Woman”;
“Find me a place
In the sun
In the sea
On a rock
Near an Isle
In the Caribee;
There I will set her,
Honoured, Free ..."
Image by Bruce Nobrega,https://www.flickr.com/photos/olmec-ec/5808059616/
A3, Elephant and Castle, London SE1 6SD
Image Credits: Metropolitan Tabernacle
The Metropolitan Tabernacle is a Reformed Baptist Church founded in 1650. In 1873, the Tabernacle famously hosted the Fisk Jubilee Singers – an acapella group from the United States who were touring to raise funds for a new University for Black students. At the time, there was a need for educational institutions serving Black students in the United States which inspired the group to tour all over America and Europe. The group was made up of eleven men and women – with many of its members having been former slaves. The group performed to an audience of 10,000 and managed to raise proceeds which helped pay for the first permanent building of the university. Notably, Queen Victoria and Prime Minister William Gladstone were part of the audience. Today, Fisk University is classified as a Historically Black College/University (HBCU).
By Unidentified Artist - https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.2002.92, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=115289437
Olaudah Equiano in Telegraph Hill Park
Telegraph Hill Lower Park, Kitto Rd, London SE14 5TY
Image by Monument to Olaudah Equiano, Telegraph Hill Park SE14 by Robin Sones, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106015674
Olaudah Equiano is a notable abolitionist and formerly enslaved person. Having been forced into slavery at the age of 11, he successfully bought his freedom in 1766.
Remarkably, in 1789, Equiano published an autobiography titled, ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.’ In this book, he detailed how him, and his sister were kidnapped by the British and forcefully separated to be sold off into slavery. His personal account of the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade are incredibly compelling and proved to be influential in challenging the societal norm of slavery at the time. Equiano travelled far and wide to spread the word of his book which gained immense popularity and was subsequently translated into 9 languages.
Image by Daniel Orme, after W. Denton - National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG D8546, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55086682
In his autobiography he pleads for society to recognise the inhumanity of slavery; “O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice?”
After publishing his autobiography, Equiano continued to write widely on the abolition of slavery and was a staunch advocate and campaigner for the cause. He was a founding member of the Sons of Africa, an organisation which campaigned for abolition. He tirelessly lobbied many influential figures such as Members of Parliament, to end the slave trade and was a prominent voice for the movement. In 1807 Parliament passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act which legally abolished the transatlantic slave trade. Olaudah Equiano’s life is a story of courage and resilience and his work provided a crucial foundation for the abolition of slavery today.
National Windrush Monument
Waterloo Station, Waterloo Rd, London SE1 8SW
Image By The wub - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=119729180
The National Windrush Monument features a woman, man and child holding hands atop a mountain of suitcases. This sculpture, located in Waterloo Station serves as both a commemoration of the resilience of the Windrush generation and a celebration of the countless contributions made by the community to British society. The ‘Windrush generation’ refers to the passengers aboard the HMT Empire Windrush who arrived from Jamaica to London in 1848. The Empire Windrush carried some of the UK’s very first Carribean immigrants.
These immigrants were brought to the United Kingdom, as a means of addressing the ongoing post-war labour shortages at the time. Many of these passengers had served England in the Royal Air Force and most were hopeful to build a better life in the “Mother Country.”
However, from when the ship initially docked to today, the passengers of the Empire Windrush faced challenges and hostility from England. They were met with discrimination and prejudice by British society and the British government. 2018 marked the height of the Windrush scandal, when the government was exposed for improperly telling members of the Windrush Generation that they were living in the country illegally and faced deportation. In the aftermath of the scandal, the British government issued personal formal apologies to members of the Windrush generation. The statue is accompanied by a list of the members of the Windrush Committee and a poem entitled; “You called...and we came” by Prof. Laura Serrant OBE.
New Beacon Books
76 Stroud Green Rd, Finsbury Park, London N4 3EN
Image Credit: New Beacon Books
Founded in 1966 by Trinidadian-British activist John La Rose and anti-racism activist Sarah White, New Beacon Books was the UK’s first Black publishing house and bookstore. Known as “specialists in African and Caribbean literature”, the bookstore, located in Finsbury Park, has been a hub for several notable social movements.
Image Credit: New Beacon Books
Although the bookstore has had a long and impressive history, the growing popularity of online retailers in the present day has caused numerous economic hardships. In 2017, shortly after celebrating their 50th anniversary, the New Beacon Books faced imminent closure. Fortunately, crowdfunding raised over £50,000 and the bookstore was saved. In 2019, Sarah White retired as director of the bookstore and John La Rose’s son Michael La Rose serves as director today. Presently, New Beacon Books remains one of the only bookstores of its kind and plays a vital role in preserving and celebrating the stories of Black Britain.
The Four Aces Club
12 Dalston Lane, E8, London
Image by David Corrio - https://www.cafeoto.co.uk/events/legacy-in-the-dust-the-four-aces-story/, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60559103
A legendary black music venue located in Dalston; the Four Aces Club is believed to be one of the first places to play Caribbean music like reggae and played a highly influential role in popularizing Black music.
Newton Dunbar founded the club with Charlie Collins, a Jamaican music producer in 1966. Dunbar is part of the Windrush generation and came to the UK in the 1950s. Dunbar first opened the club in a basement, but soon its popularity led to their relocation to 12 Dalston Lane – which at the time was an old Victorian Theatre.
Dunbar ran the club for 33 years, hosting a wide range of performers like Bob Marley, Ben E King and Billy Ocean. The Four Aces quickly became a significant gathering place for Afro-Caribbean immigrants.
Image by Nicholas Thompson, https://www.eastlondonlines.co.uk/2017/04/50-years-an-interactive-history-of-london-club-culture/newton/
Desmond Dekker had his first-ever live performance at the club – three weeks later climbing to number 1 in the UK charts. However, much like in the case of the Mangrove Restaurant, the Four Aces was not spared from the frequent racially motivated raids. In an interview with VICE News, Dunbar detailed the constant suspicion he was under; "The police's heavy-handed raids were creating an adverse atmosphere. It was a struggle to keep the doors open and hold onto the licence." In 1998 the Club was forced to close after being acquired by the Hackney Council and was eventually demolished. Although the club no longer exists, today, Dunbar works as a DJ mixing reggae, going by the stage name ‘DJ Newton Ace’.
The Strangers’ Home in Limehouse
West India Dock Road Limehouse. London, E14 8HB
Image by Unknown author - Scan of original, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67736565
Here in East London, Black history goes far back. The Strangers’ Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders was a home opened by Prince Albert in 1857 in what is now known as Limehouse in the borough of Tower Hamlets. This was a place for lodging and repatriating sailors who were hired by the East India company to come to England and perform labour on ships. A number of lodging houses were located on West India Dock Road – the largest and most prominent being The Strangers Home. The Home provided a place to stay, eat and gain re-employment as sailors. Many of these sailors were from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Today, the area is home to the residents of the West India House flats; opened in 1946 by former Prime Minister and local East London politician, Clement Attlee.
Westminster Station Roundel
Underground Ltd, Westminster Station, Bridge St, London SW1A 2JR
Image Credit: Art on the Underground
The Westminster Station Roundel is a unique roundel paying tribute to African Britons. The 54 stars represent the 54 countries in Africa. Being made up of numerous cultural symbols, the roundel is a tribute to African culture and heritage. Artist Larry Achiampong drew inspiration from his background and included traditional Ghanian symbols and designs. For example, the roundel features Adinkra symbols, which convey meaningful knowledge and proverbs relating to the life and culture of Ghanaian people. Achiampong explains that the roundel, is made up of the Pan-African colours; red symbolising struggle, yellow gold symbolising prosperity and a ‘new day’, green symbolising plant life and resources, and Black symbolising the African people. In an interview discussing his work with Art on the Underground, Achiampong explains the significance of the location of this new roundel; “Opposite this very underground, you have the Houses of Parliament which, you know, has a range of connotations, historically speaking, connected with that. And I’m kind of speechless at the thought of where and how that travels, in the mind, the memories of the people who pass by the work. I’m hopeful that it will inspire conversation, agitate conversation. But especially, I think inspire the next generations. I say this as a parent of two beautiful young Black children, whom will inherit a planet where there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Nelson Mandela Statue
Parliament Sq, London SW1P 3JX
Image by Prioryman - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38052624
Featured prominently alongside other significant historical figures, Nelson Mandela stands tall as a beacon of hope and courage in Parliament Square. The statue was erected in 2007 to commemorate the tremendous life and contributions of Mandela. His resistance and fight against apartheid led to the end of the oppressive system and inspired millions around the world.
If you’d like to learn more about Black history in London, Black History Walks offers tours and further resources to expand your knowledge.
For more information:
“9 Important London Black History Landmarks: Southbank Centre.” Southbank Centre, July 10, 2017. https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/blog/articles/9-important-london-black-history-landmarks.
Achiampong, Larry. “Pan African Flags for the Relic Travellers’ Alliance (Westminster).” Larry Achiampong. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://www.larryachiampong.co.uk/list-of-artworks/PAN-AFRICAN-FLAGS-WESTMINSTER.
Ambrose, Tom. “UK’s First Black Bookshop Weighs Move to New Site after £50k Raised to Save It.” The Guardian, January 1, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/jan/01/uks-first-black-bookshop-weighs-move-to-new-site-after-50k-raised-to-save-it.
The Black Presence in Britain. “Memorial Plaque Dedcated to Olaudah Equiano.” The Black Presence in Britain, March 13, 2009. https://blackpresence.co.uk/memorial-plaque-dedcated-to-olaudah-equiano/.
Brain, Jessica. “The Sons of Africa.” Historic UK, July 28, 2021. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Sons-Of-Africa/.
“Bronze Woman.” London Remembers. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/bronze-woman.
“Bronze Woman.” Olmec, September 26, 2023. https://www.olmec-ec.org.uk/bronze-woman/.
East End Review. “Newton Dunbar: ‘The New Four Aces Is Wherever I Play.’” Hackney Citizen, August 8, 2014. https://www.hackneycitizen.co.uk/2014/08/08/the-four-aces-newton-dunbar/.
Historic England. “5 Black Heroes of the Abolition Movement in Britain.” The Historic England Blog, March 8, 2023. https://heritagecalling.com/2016/11/14/5-black-heroes-of-the-abolition-movement-in-britain/.
“History of the Empire Windrush.” History of the Windrush | The Story of the Windrush Generation. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/windrush-histories/story-of-windrush-ship#:~:text=The%20story%20of%20the%20Windrush,-Discover%20the%20history&text=HMT%20Empire%20Windrush%20is%20best,Jamaica%20to%20London%20in%201948.
Iglikowski-Broad, Vicky, and Rowena Hillel. “An Afternoon with the Mangrove Nine.” The National Archives blog, August 1, 2016. https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/afternoon-mangrove-nine/.
Iglikowski-Broad, Vicky, and Rowena Hillel. “Rights, Resistance and Racism: The Story of The Mangrove Nine.” The National Archives blog, October 21, 2015. https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/rights-resistance-racism-story-mangrove-nine/.
John-Baptiste, Ashley. “The Mangrove Nine.” BBC News. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/extra/jGD9WJrVXf/the-mangrove-nine-black-lives-matter.
Khomami , Nadia. “Windrush Generation ‘Moved to Tears’ as Monument Unveiled in London.” The Guardian, June 22, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/jun/22/windrush-basil-watson-monument-unveiled-waterloo-station-london.
Larry Achiampong, PAN AFRICAN FLAG FOR THE RELIC TRAVELLERS’ ALLIANCE (UNION), 2022. YouTube. Art on the Underground, 2022. https://youtu.be/zo1RZBQ9b90?feature=shared.
“Making Britain.” Strangers’ Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders | Making Britain. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://www5.open.ac.uk/research-projects/making-britain/content/strangers-home-asiatics-africans-and-south-sea-islanders.
“Mary Seacole Statue.” Mary Seacole Trust, Life, Work & Achievements of Mary Seacole, June 26, 2023. https://www.maryseacoletrust.org.uk/mary-seacole-statue/.
Ministry of Defence, and Sir Michael Fallon. “First Ever Memorial to African and Caribbean Service Personnel Unveiled in Brixton.” GOV.UK, June 22, 2017. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/first-ever-memorial-to-african-and-caribbean-service-personnel-unveiled-in-brixton.
Muir, Hugh. “Mandela Takes His Place in Parliament Square.” The Guardian, August 30, 2007. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/aug/30/southafrica.artnews.
The National Archives. “Mangrove Nine Protest: What Does This Reveal about Police Brutality and Racism in ’70s Britain?” The National Archives, November 25, 2022. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/mangrove-nine-protest/#:~:text=Their%20names%20were%20Darcus%20Howe,nationally%20as%20the%20’Mangrove%20Nine.
The National Archives. “Mary Seacole .” The National Archives, August 19, 2022. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/florence-nightingale/mary-seacole-source-7/.
“National Windrush Monument Unveiled at London Waterloo Station.” GOV.UK, June 22, 2022. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/national-windrush-monument-unveiled-at-london-waterloo-station#:~:text=The%20three%20figures%20%E2%80%93%20a%20man,new%20lives%20in%20the%20UK.
“The National Windrush Monument.” https://upprojects.com. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://upprojects.com/projects/national-windrush-monument.
“The National Windrush Monument.” Windrush Monument. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://windrush-monument.levellingup.gov.uk/.
New Beacon Books, December 29, 2021. https://www.newbeaconbooks.com/.
Oldfield, John. “Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery in Britain.” British Library, February 4, 2021. https://www.bl.uk/restoration-18th-century-literature/articles/abolition-of-the-slave-trade-and-slavery-in-britain.
Oppenheim, Maya. “The Four Aces Club Was the Jewel in Dalston’s Crown.” VICE, July 28, 2014. https://www.vice.com/en/article/xy3de3/club-labyrinth-newton-dunbar-interview.
“Pan African Flag for the Relic Travellers’ Alliance (Union).” Art on the Underground, December 22, 2022. https://art.tfl.gov.uk/projects/pan-african-flag-for-the-relic-travellers-alliance-union/.
Porter, Toby. “South London Memories: Remembering the Liberated Voices of USA Performers The Fisk Jubilee Singers.” South London News, September 28, 2020. https://londonnewsonline.co.uk/south-london-memories-remembering-the-liberated-voices-of-usa-performers-the-fisk-jubilee-singers/.
Rich. “The Bronze Woman – Brixton’s Community Roots Pay Tribute to Poetess and Community Activist Cécile Nobrega.” Brixton Buzz, December 20, 2013. https://www.brixtonbuzz.com/2013/12/the-bronze-woman-brixtons-community-roots-pay-tribute-to-poetess-and-community-activist-cecile-nobrega/.
Seacole, Mary, and Sara Salih. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. London: Penguin, 2005.
“The Strangers’ Home, Stepney.” London Picture Archive. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://www.londonpicturearchive.org.uk/view-item?i=32139&WINID=1695985460341.
Thomas-Jones, Robert. “Olaudah Equiano: The Remarkable Life of an African Writer and Abolitionist.” Black History Month 2023, March 16, 2023. https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/history-of-slavery/olaudah-equiano-the-remarkable-life-of-an-african-writer-and-abolitionist/.
Virgin Radio. “The Story of the Four Aces Club with DJ Spoony.” Virgin Radio UK, October 28, 2022. https://virginradio.co.uk/entertainment/81176/the-story-of-the-four-aces-club-with-dj-spoony.