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Slave-turned-entrepreneur has tram named in his honour

REMEMBER MY HISTORY: Local historian Norma Gregory (left) at the launch of a tram named after George Africanus

A MAN who broke free from slavery and rose to become a respected Nottingham businessman has had one of the city’s trams named in his honour.

The George Africanus tram was unveiled in the East Midlands city on Saturday, August 22, by historian Norma Gregory.

It is owned by Nottingham Express Transit (NET) and forms part of the city’s tram network.

The launch took place ahead of the annual Caribbean Carnival at the Forest Recreation Ground, in Hyson Green, Nottingham.

Africanus is the latest in a long line of noted Nottingham heroes – and the first person of African heritage – to be honoured in this way.

It includes legends such as Robin Hood, boxing champion Carl Froch, Nottingham Forest football coach Brian Clough, Olympic ice skaters Torvill and Dean, Sir Jessie Boot, founder of the global Boots pharmacy and Salvation Army leader William Booth.

The honour came after calls from the public, including schoolchildren.

NET marketing manager, Jamie Swift, said: “George is obviously very well-known now as his name was put forward on numerous occasions.

“His story is real rags to riches, which inspires people.”

Africanus was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 1763 and brought to England, aged 3, during the transatlantic slave trade.

He worked for the Molineux family of Wolverhampton, but died a wealthy – and free – businessman.

After an apprenticeship as a brass founder in Wolverhampton, Africanus moved to Nottingham, as the Molineux family had relatives in Teversal, Mansfield, in Nottinghamshire.

Documents held at the Nottinghamshire Archives show he married local girl Esther Shaw at St Peter’s Church Nottingham in 1788 and the pair had seven children.

HOME OF HERITAGE: Blue plaque marks where the businessman once lived

He was also involved with the Watch and Ward group, a volunteer police force established to protect against rioting gangs of Luddites in the early 1800s.

Africanus founded what was probably the first employment agency in Nottingham called Africanus’ Register of Servants and became a prominent businessman and freeholder, which enabled him voting rights.

He died in 1834, aged 71, but it was not until the late 20th Century that interest in his life and the contribution he made really took off through the work of local researchers and community groups.

His grave, in the churchyard of St Mary's Nottingham, was uncovered in 2003.

A green plaque was later unveiled on March 25, 2007, and a new gravestone rededicated by the Right Reverend Robert Thompson, Bishop of Kingston, Jamaica and the high commissioners of Jamaica and Sierra Leone.

Most recently, his place of business and residence, formerly 28 Chandlers Lane, was recognised with a blue heritage plaque erected by Nubian Jak Community Trust and sponsored by Nottingham News Centre and Nottingham City Council.

Gregory said: “With a vision to succeed and to contribute to society, George Africanus made himself part of the community of Nottingham through his resilience, ambition and desire to improve his life and those around him, created through his own employment business.”

She added: “George’s legacy and our heritage must be preserved and recognised and we must contribute to this crucial task.”

Gregory has set up the George Africanus Society UK to share knowledge about George Africanus and Castle Rock Brewery, which produced the George Africanus beer in his honour in April 2014.

The former English teacher is author of Jamaicans in Nottingham, an educational resource and is director of Nottingham News Centre, a black history research and publishing organisation.
Nottingham councillor Jane Urquhart, in charge of planning and housing, added: “Naming a tram in his honour further recognises the active and important contribution George Africanus made in our city."

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