Black and white in Britain

It is sometimes thought that there were no black people living in Britain before the 1950s. In fact, black people have been living here for at least 500 years, and there is a history of black people here that goes back almost 2,000 years. The first Africans in Britain were soldiers with the Roman army. A regiment of Africans was stationed near Carlisle, in Cumbria in the north of England, in the middle of the 3rd century AD . The skeleton of a young African girl was found near Norwich in Norfolk, dating to about 1,000 AD. In the early 16th century, a group of Africans, probably taken from Portuguese slave traders by Scottish privateers , went to the court of the Scottish king James IV. A man called John Blanke was employed at the English royal courts of Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII. He was a trumpeter and paid 8d (about 4p, or today about £3.50) per day for his services.

Thus it is clear that Africans have been living in Britain for centuries. Some were here as free men and women, others were slaves. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when the transatlantic slave trade was at its peak, many enslaved Africans were brought here as personal servants. The numbers of black people living here remained low until the 1950s. At that point, because of labour shortages in Britain, the government and businesses advertised in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Commonwealth for people to come and work in Britain. Many responded, and moved here.