History KS3 / GCSE: Black people in Britain during the Atlantic slave trade era

In this short film, historian David Olusoga looks at the lives of Black people in Britain in the 1600s and 1700s.

He looks at portraits in Ham House in Surrey, which feature images of young Black men and women as part of family groups of aristocrats.

Olusoga talks to Professor James Walvin, who suggests that often these figures were invented and were part of the exoticism associated with international trade and enslavement.

Walvin describes Black people in the UK as the ‘flotsam and jetsam’ of the slave trade, individuals who found themselves in the UK.

Most were in domestic service. Some were sailors in transit in and out of the ports. By the late 18th century the ideas of the French Revolution were spreading and some Black people were starting to have a political impact on British society.

These included Robert Wedderburn, who argued passionately for the emancipation of Black slaves and poor whites.

This short film is from the BBC series, Migration.

Teacher Notes

Key Stage 3

This short film enables students to focus on how the enslavement of Africans and the British Empire affected the lives of some Black people living in Britain.

The paintings in Ham House could be compared with other paintings showing Black servants:

  • How were they used to show wealth and power?
  • Were these servants enslaved?

Slavery was legal in the colonies but not in England:

  • Were Black servants treated in the same way as white servants, or were they treated as slaves?

Your class could try to find out about the 18th century Black presence in their own locality, using the help of their local museum or archive.

Key Stage 4

Students could compare paintings showing African and Indian servants and discuss the relationships with their employers.

These could be compared with other representations of urban life showing Black people living ordinary lives as a part of wider society.

At the end of the film David Olusoga stresses that Black people could live independent lives.

Slavery did not exist legally in Britain but most were treated as slaves or, as recent research suggests, did most Black people live alongside white people with similar freedoms, depending on their status?

The section on Wedderburn could lead students to research other working class activists such as William Davidson and William Cuffay, or abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano.

They could also find out what is known of the 18th century Black presence in their local area, a good starting point being their local museum or archive.

Curriculum Notes

This short film is suitable for teaching history at KS3 and KS4/GCSE in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Fourth Level and National 4 and 5 in Scotland.

More from Migration:

The story of black migrants in Tudor England
The story of the Palatines who migrated to Britain in the 1700s
The story of British indentured workers emigrating to America
How British migrants made fortunes working for the East India Company
The Irish migrants who moved to Liverpool during the Industrial Revolution
Jewish migration to Manchester in the late 1800s