Prior to the 18th century Africans arrived in London through travel with different prominent people and were given many different jobs and titles.

Roman London (c.AD 50)Edit

Many of the first London residents came from Africa and all over Europe. Many Africans came to London after fighting for the Roman Army. Proof of these early African Londoners can be found in wooden spoon carvings found at the South bark bridge. These carved wooden spoons were often referred to as Negro Heads.

16th centuryEdit

Early in the 16th century Africans arrived in London when Catherine of Aragon travelled to London and brought a group of her African attendants with her. Around the same time African-named trumpeters, who served Henry VII and Henry VIII came to London.

When trade lines began to open between London and West Africa, Africans slowly began to become part of the London population. The first record of an African in London was in 1593, whose name was Cornelius.

London’s residents started to become fearful of the increased black population around Elizabethan times. Elizabeth I then declared that all black "Negroes and Black Moors" were to be arrested and expelled from her kingdom.

Mid-17th centuryEdit

During this era there was a rise of black settlements in London. Britain was involved with the tri-continental slave trade. Black slaves were attendants to sea captains and ex-colonial officials as well as traders, plantation owners and military personnel. This marked growing evidence of the black presence in the northern, eastern and southern areas of London. There were also small numbers of free slaves and seaman from West Africa and South Asia. Many of these people were forced into beggary due to the lack of jobs and racial discrimination. [1][2]

Around the 1750s London became the home of many of Blacks, Jews, Irish, Germans, and Huguenots. The number of Blacks in London reached between 10,000 to 15,000 during the 1760s. Evidence of the number of Black residents in London was found through registered burials.

The status of Blacks in London became public debate. The whites of London had widespread views the Black people in London were less than human; these views were expressed in slave sale advertisements. The Blacks of London resisted through escape. Well known Black activists of this era include Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho and Ottobah Cugoano. With the support of other Britons these activists demanded that Blacks be freed from slavery.

Supporters involved in this movements included workers and other nationalities of the urban poor who themselves suffered under the rule of the upper class. London Blacks vocally contested slavery and the slave trade that was widespread throughout Britain. At this time the slavery of whites was forbidden, but the legal statuses of these practices were not clearly defined. Free black slaves could not be enslaved, but blacks who were bought as slaves in Britain were considered property of their owners. During this era Lord Mansfield declared that a slave who fled from his master could not be taken by force or sold abroad.

This verdict fuelled the numbers of Blacks that escaped slavery. This led to the decline of slavery in England and called for the elimination of the slave trade. During this same period many slave soldiers who fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War arrived in London. These soldiers were deprived of a pension, and many of them became poverty-stricken and were reduced to beggars on the streets.

The Blacks in London lived among the whites in areas of Mile End, Stepney, Paddington and St. Giles. The majority of these people did not live as slaves, but as servants to the wealthy whites. Many became labelled as the "Black Poor" defined as ex low wage soldiers, seafarers and plantation workers.[3]

18th centuryEdit

During the late 1700s their were many publications and memoirs written about the "black poor". These publication and memoirs were written by the Equiano, who was the Black spokesman for Britain’s Black community. A memoir about his life and attributions in Black London is entitled, The Interesting Narratives of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.

19th century and the abolition of slaveryEdit

Coming into the early 1800s more groups of black soldiers and seaman were displaced after the Napoleonic wars and settled in London. These settlers suffered and faced many challenges as did many Black Londoners. In the late eighteenth century the slave trade declined, as a direct result of industrial capitalism. These changes were of great importance to London. The evolution of industry in London, and the decline in the slave trade had a great effect on London's economy.

This was also a time when scientific racism flourished. Many white Londoners claimed that they were the superior race and that blacks were not as intelligent as whites. They tried to hold up their accounts with scientific evidence, for example the size of the brain. Of course all of these claims were later proven false, but this was just one more obstacle for the blacks in London to hurdle over. The late 1800s effectively ended the first period of large scale black immigration to London and Britain. This decline in immigration gave way to the gradual incorporation of blacks and their descendent into a predominantly white society.

In 1807 the British slave trade was abolished and throughout this early time period different parliaments throughout Britain followed suit and abolished the salve trade completely in the British empire by 1834. The number of blacks in London was steadily declining with these new laws that abolished the slave trade. Fewer blacks were brought into London from the West Indies and parts of Africa.[3]

During the mid-1800s there were restrictions on African immigration. In the later part of the 1800s there was a build up of small groups of black dockside communities in towns such as Canning Town, Liverpool, and Cardiff. This was a direct effect of new shipping links that were established with the Caribbean and West Africa. As these small groups of black communities made their lives as a part of London many of the London-born blacks began to make a significant mark on London life. There was a continuous influx of African students, sportsman, and businessmen mixed with this dominant white society. These black-born Londoners were gaining professional positions as doctors, politicians and activists. Slowly they were being accepted into London and British society.

World War I (19141918)Edit

World War I was another growth period for blacks in London. Their communities grew with the arrival of merchant seaman and soldiers. At the same time there was also a continuous presence of small groups of students from Africa and the Caribbean slowly immigrating into London. These communities which housed London’s first black immigrants survived and now are among the oldest black communities of London.

World War II (19391945)Edit

World War II marked another growth period for black immigrants into London and Britain societies. Many blacks from the Caribbean and West Africa arrive in small groups as wartime workers, merchant seaman, and service man from the army, navy, and air forces. It is estimated that approximately twenty thousand black Londoners lived in communities concentrated in the dock side areas of London, Liverpool and Cardiff. One of these black Londoners by the name of Learie Constantine who was a welfare officer in the RAF was refused service at a London hotel. He stood up for his rights and later was awarded damages. This particular example shows the slow change of racism towards acceptance and equality of all citizens in London.[3]

Post-war period (1945—)Edit

During the mid nineteenth hundreds the first groups of Britain’s post war Caribbean immigrants settled in London. There were about four hundred and ninety two immigrants that were passengers on the SS Empire Windbrush. These passengers settled in the area of Brixton which is now a prominently black district in Britain. From the 1950s into the 1960s there was a mass migration of worker from all over the English-speaking Caribbean, particularly Jamaica that settled in Britain. These immigrants were invited to fill labour requirements in London’s hospitals, transportation venues and railway development. They were a major contributing factor to the rebuilding of the post-war urban London economy.

In 1962 the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was passed in Britain along with a succession of other laws in 1968, 1971, and 1981 that severely restricted the entry of Black immigrants into Britain. This brought the period of Black growth in Britain to an end. During this time period emergent blacks and Asians struggled in Britain against racism and prejudice. In 1975 a new voice was resurrected for the black London population: David Pitt, and he brought a new popular tone to the House of Lords. He spoke against racism and for equality in regards to all residents of Britain. With this new voice also came the chance for the black population, workers and community activists the opportunity to elect four black members into the British Parliament.

By the end of the 1900s the number of black Londoners numbered half a million. This number was taken from the 1991 census. An increasingly number of these black Londoners were London or British born. Even with this growing population and the first blacks to elected to Parliament there was still discrimination and a socio-economic imbalance in London among the Blacks. In 1992 the number of blacks in Parliament increased to six and in 1997 they increase their numbers to nine.[3]


  1. Banton, Michael (1955), The Coloured Quarter. Jonathan Cape. London.
  2. Shyllon, Folarin, "The Black Presence and Experience in Britain: An Analytical Overview," in Gundara and Duffield eds. (1992), Essays on the History of Blacks in Britain. Avebury, Aldershot. [1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 File, Nigel and Chris Power (1981), Black Settlers in Britain 1555-1958. Heinnemann Educational. [2]