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Gretchen Gerzina explores the lives of black people who settled in Britain during a time of slavery.

Professor Gretchen Gerzina explores a largely unknown past - the lives of black people who settled in Britain in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

She reveals a startling paradox - although Britain was at the heart of a thriving slave trade, it was still possible for many black people to live here in freedom and prosperity. A few even made it to the very top of fashionable society.

But there were others who were brought over by slave-owners from the West Indies and who were never free, despite living for the rest of their lives in Glasgow or Bristol or London. Some took the law into their own hands, and managed to free themselves, others went further and advocated violent revolution. Free or unfree, they all saw Britain as a place of opportunity that could become a home.

Over two weeks, Professor Gerzina travels across Britain and talks to historians, unearthing new evidence about Britain's black past. From a country estate in Chepstow, via the docks of Liverpool, to grand houses in London and Bristol, she evokes the daily texture of black people's lives, using first-hand accounts from letters and autobiographies.

The first week of the series focuses on the 18th century, with the lives of servants, sailors, and two extraordinary figures who made it to the top of English society - the butler Ignatius Sancho and the former sailor Olaudah Equiano.

Readers: Paterson Joseph, Jonathan Keeble, Kathy Tyson.

With music by the 18th century composer Ignatius Sancho, performed by the Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Available now

58 minutes

Last on

Fri 7 Oct 2016 21:00


"I Have a Dream"

"I Have a Dream"

A collection of programmes and content marking Black History Month.