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BBC sheds light on Britain’s first black community

TOO OFTEN the arrival of the SS Windrush in 1948 is considered the beginning of the black story in Britain.

But a BBC2 documentary tonight will shed light on Britain’s very first African community during Elizabethan times.

There are records of black people living in Britain as far back as the Roman era and early Tudor period in both England and Scotland.

Historian Michael Wood will focus on these black Elizabethans who settled in Whitechapel, east London, in The Great British Story: A People’s History.

In an article in BBC Magazine, Wood wrote: “Employed especially as domestic servants, but also as musicians, dancers and entertainers, their numbers ran to many hundreds, maybe even more.

“And let's be clear - they were not slaves. In English law, it was not possible to be a slave in England…In Elizabeth's reign, the black people of London were mostly free. Some indeed, both men and women, married native English people.”

One record shows that in 1599, in St Olave Hart Street, John Cathman married Constantia "a black woman and servant". A bit later, James Curres, "a moore Christian", married Margaret Person, a maid.

The Great British Story: A People’s History airs tonight on BBC2 at 9pm. It will also be available on iPlayer

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