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Early Black Presence in Birmingham

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Pre Windrush

Even prior to the arrival of the Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948, historical sources in the Archives and Heritage reveal, there has been a Black presence in Birmingham since the eighteenth century.

Unfortunately, the information provided by many of these sources is limited, so it is difficult to know why some of the individuals were here. However, some evidence indicates that Black people were involved in religion, worked, established their own businesses, attended school, provided entertainment and came as visitors to the city before 1948.

This page provides a chronology of some of the early black presence sources as well as to other pages. The collection reference details given in brackets can be viewed in the Archives and Heritage. Please contact them before your visit to find out about their procedures and services.

There is also material that relates to the Slave Trade and is available in the Sources for the study of The Slave Trade Pack


Chronology of some of the sources of Early Black Presence



1734 - Church warden pays for passage of 'Arabian man'
On the 24th February 1734/5 the churchwarden of Sutton Coldfield was ordered by Chrs.[sic] Veasey, Warden, to 'give to a poore man comeing oute of Arabia towards paiying of his passage in his owne Contery as other places have done...0.1s.6d' [ref:Sutton Coldfield Borough 78/111]

1774 -Church Registers - Burial of George Pitt Charry
Church registers reveal that Black people were buried and baptised in Birmingham during the 18th and early part of the 19th century. A Church of England parish record mentions the burial of
George Pitt Charry a Black bachelor on 10 February 1774.


1778 - Jacoba Swellengrebel lived in Handsworth.
Jacoba Swellengrebel(died 1796) lived in Handsworth from about 1778. Her father was Dutch and her mother was Indian. Her husband was a relative of Boultons partner, John Fothergill. Correspondence in the Matthew Boulton Papers [ref: MS3782] discusses her financial situation, and a volume of papers relates to financial matters [ref: 270189 [B&W 530] MS3069].

1800s -William Davidson was a cabinet maker who set up in business in Birmingham and was a member of the infamous Cato Street Conspirators.

1808 - Burial ofJoanna Cruz
The register of St Philip's Church contains the record of Joanna Cruz a Black woman who was buried on 19 October 1808.


1821 - Baptism ofLevi Baldwin
A church record of St Martin's states the adult baptism of Levi Baldwin on 10 April 1821. The record mentions that he was a 'man of colour' born around 1770 in North America. It is also recorded that he was a musician which may indicate that Black people have contributed to entertainment in Birmingham since the early part of the nineteenth century. The address of this gentleman was given as Little Wharf Street.


1833 - In 1833 Mr Selim Aga a military officer from Egypt makes a visit.
In 1833 James Watt jr. wrote to Matthew Robinson Boulton that he had shown the Mint at Soho to Mr Selim Aga, a military officer from Egypt [ref: MS3782/13/56].


1843 - Affifi Sallah lived in Redditch and worked for Mr Samuel Thomas
A letter from Boulton & Watt to Naysmyth & Co. there is a mention of a man called Affifi Sallah who was living at Redditch and working for Mr Samuel Thomas, a needle manufacturer [ref: MS3147/3/134].


1847 - Appearance of theAmerican Serenaders
There is an advertisement held in the City Archives for the performance of theFemale American Serenaders at the Town Hall on 9 June 1847 which depicts seven 'coloured ladies' who were musicians.


1850 - Dr.Pennington & Rev.H.H.Garnet address public meetings in Birmingham

1857 - The Aris's Gazette mentions the visit of two Princes from India
The newspaper Aris's Gazette (6 April 1857) mentions the visit of two princes from India the heir apparent to Oude and his uncle. They came to Birmingham at the invitation of the Lord Mayor to gain knowledge of Birmingham and its manufacturers. A commemorative medal was struck by G R Collis, silversmith, of Church Street. As a demonstration of their gratitude, the princes left £100 for charitable purposes.

1860 - A Christian missionary Joseph Salter found three houses for Indians in Birmingham
By the 1860s Birmingham had a population of Asian people. Joseph Salter, a Christian missionary, went on a tour of Britain in 1869 "in search of the wandering Asiatic". He found three lodging houses in Birmingham for Indians. Some of the Asian people were professionals while others were students or former sailors on British merchant ships

1903 - Racial Harassment: An account
In October 1903 an Asian solicitor by the name of George Edalji was convicted and sentenced on an unproved charge of horse maiming. Prior to this his family had received hoax letters and George was wrongly accused of writing these letters by the chief constable of Staffordshire police.


Religion and the early black presence

There is no detailed account of the Black individuals who lived in Birmingham before 1948. However, there is one individual, the Rev Peter Stanford, who arrived in Liverpool on 14 February 1883 and later moved to Birmingham in June 1887. His autobiography provides a fairly in-depth account of his life in Birmingham. While in Birmingham he became a minister of his own church.

(More information on Black People and Religion in Birmingham)

Children and the early black presence

1903 -Street Robins and the winter treat
There is an article in the Birmingham Daily Gazette (12 January 1903) of the Birmingham Street Robins' winter treat. Over 5,000 children assembled in Smithfield Market and marched to the Drill Hall in Thorpe Street, where they had tea and cakes and Christmas gifts of fruit, clothing, books and toys, provided by numerous charitable organisations and individuals. The description notes, "over a thousand flags and bannerettes were borne by the robins, who rejoiced also in the presence of a spice of interest in a dozen coloured people and 80 Italian children".

1913 - Ablack pupil attends Nelson Street Girls School
In a volume of photographs of individuals and schools subscribing to the Children's Hospital Brick League 1913 there is a photograph of Nelson Street Girl's School in Winson Green. This photograph includes a Black girl. This therefore reveals that there was a Black presence in the schools during the early part of the twentieth century.

(More information on the black preesence and Education in Birmingham)


The early black business presence

It was in 1786 that Henry Smeathman sent a letter to James Watt concerning his attempt to open a new trade with Africa by establishing a colony of poor Black people in Sierra Leone. [ref: MS3219/4/94). Julius Hardy, button maker of Birmingham, left a diary for the years 1788 to 1793, which contains a reference to a collection being made to fund Christian missionaries to the West Indies [ref: MS839/53].

1924 - Evidence of earlyblack businessmen
Black People had established business places in Birmingham during the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century. William Davidson set up business in Birmingham as a cabinet maker in the early 1800s.
In a 1924 edition of the Evening Mail, there is an advertisement for The Indian Eye Specialists Jahangir and Sons.



An early Black experience and racial harassment

In October 1903 an Asian solicitor by the name of George Edalji was convicted and sentenced on an unproved charge of horse maiming. Prior to this his family had received hoax letters and George was wrongly accused of writing these letters by the chief constable of Staffordshire police.


The Early Black Visitors

Apart from the Black people who apparently lived in Birmingham prior to the arrival of the Windrush the city also had a number of Black visitors during the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century. For example, some came to provide entertainment while others apparently visited on business and other interests.

1851 - Ardaseer Cursetjee, a visitor from Bombay to James Watt & Co.
Alongside the two princes from India in 1857 (see above), previously in 1851, East India House sent a request to James Watt & Co. that they would receive the Chief Engineer from their steam factory in Bombay as a visitor and help him to increase his professional knowledge. He was described as native of India named Ardaseer Cursetjee [ref: MS3147/12/52].

1879 - School visit by an Indian gentleman
In a school log book from St Paul's Spencer Street Girl's School the visit of an
'Indian gentleman' to the school on 17 March 1879 is recorded. This was his first visit to an English school and he heard the children sing The Slave's Dream.


Anti Slavery Movement

Black people visited Birmingham as part of the anti-slavery movement during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1789 the African
Olaudah Equiano, also referred to as Gustavas Vasa, visited Birmingham as part of his campaign against slavery and the slave trade. It is said that his visit increased the indignation of the friends of the slave trade by the circulation of a narrative he had written.

On August 1838, Joseph Sturge (1793-1859) led a march from Birmingham Town Hall to Heneage street to lay foundations of Birmingham's Emancipation school.

Notes in 1840 by the Rev Thomas Swan, Baptist minister, born in Manchester, one time professor of theology at Serampore, India, and later pastor of Cannon Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, 1829-1857, show how one British campaigner perceived slavery.


The 1851 annual report of the Birmingham Female Society for the Relief of British Negro Slaves mentions the visit of two Black individuals Dr Pennington and Rev. H. H. Garnet who spoke at two of their public meetings against slavery.


World War 1

1918 - Evidence of indirect black involvement during First World War

A photograph held by Birmingham City Archives from 'Win the War Day' celebrations for
Kynoch Ltd. provides some evidence that there may have been some indirect Black involvement during the First World War in 1918.


The Early Black Foreign Students

1935 - Black people also came to Birmingham before 1948 in order to pursue educational studies. In 1931 the Chief Officer of the City Fire Brigade "reported as to a letter he had received from the Secretary of the High Commissioner for India with respect to an Indian student, who was desirous of receiving training in the brigade to enable him to take up a position in the Fire Service in India. He had already received training with the Stafford Fire Brigade, but desired to obtain fuller experience." The student, Das Gupta, commenced duties on 21 April 1931 and had six months training before returning to India.

A scrapbook from Birmingham Settlement includes a cutting from the Evening Despatch around the period 1935/6 about Dr Alemkaram, an Indian woman, visiting Birmingham to study public, social and medical services, who was attached to the Birmingham Settlement.


The Early Black Involvement in Politics

Black people also became involved in local government before 1948. Dr Dhani Prem was the first Black or Asian immigrant to become a Birmingham City councillor in 1945.

For more information on the Early Black Presence in Birmingham read the chapter "The Black Presence in the West Midlands" in West Africa, West Indies and West Midlands (1982) by Ian Grosvenor and Rob Chapman. This book is available in Archives and Heritage, Floor 6, Birmingham Central Library.

1948 - Arrival of theEmpire Windrush generation


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