Black people have lived in Britain since Roman times. By the 18th century, when the African slave trade was at its height, the 'Gentlemen's Magazine' of 1764 gave a figure of 'near 20,000' for London alone. Some were the slaves of planters, while others were sailors or soldiers who had served or fought for British interests. (Modern scholars estimate that about 10,000 black people were living in Britain at this time, about half of them in London.)
They were depicted in art variously as beggars, prostitutes, fairground performers, musicians, peddlers, sailors and servants in the households of the aristocracy. But artists were also fascinated with the relations between blackness and ideas of beauty. As Sir Joshua Reynolds wrote: '...custom alone determines our preference of the colour of the Europeans to the Aethiopians, and they, for the same reason, prefer their own colour to ours.'