Sunday, 9 October 2011

Black Seafarers in British History

The National Maritime Museum is to be congratulated on organising a one day study day on Monday 31 October (10.30am-3pm) to commemorate the role of sailors of African origin in Britain's naval and merchant fleets. From the enslaved cabin-boy Olaudah Equiano to the frigate captain John Perkins, Black seafarers served in Britain's naval and merchant fleets for over 300 years. You can see some of those at Trafalgar depicted on Nelson’s statue.  

Steve Martin, a historian of British Black History known to many people on my networks, has been Learning Officer at the Museum for some time. He outlines the following as some of the questions to be looked at during the study day:

·         How did enslaved labour affect British expansion in the Atlantic world?

·         What opportunities were available to free Black sailors in the age of sail?

·         How did responses to Black communities settled in Britain's port cities inform later discourse on race and nationality?

One of those who settled in Liverpool was Richard Archer, a ship’s steward from Barbados, whose son John went on to be Mayor of Battersea in 1913/14 and a major figure in that Borough’s Labour Party politics from 1918 to his death in 1932. John may have spent some time in his late teens and early twenties as a seaman.

By introducing the latest research trends, the day aims to challenge popular perceptions of the topic by bringing together academics and researchers to examine the opportunities and mobility offered by naval and merchant fleets as well their reliance on enslaved labour and how these factors influenced British expansion overseas and minority populations at home.

Speakers include:

Dr Ray Costello is a research associate of National Museums Liverpool and a board member of the Centre for the Study of International Slavery. Ray has been involved with many media programmes on Black British history, his latest book being Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships, which examines the contribution of seamen of African origin especially their part in the battle of Trafalgar. He was a former Race Equality Adviser for Liverpool Education Authority Inspection Department. In that capacity I worked with him on the primary school book about John Archer back in 1994. Ray’s sketch on John Archer can be seen on the University of Liverpool’s Black Atlantic Resource website: Ray is speaking on “Black Salt: Early Black Sailors and Nelson’s navy. A talk on the experience of seamen of African descent in Nelson’s Royal navy” at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool on Friday 21 October.

Dr Caroline Bressey graduated from the University of Cambridge with BA Honours in Geography. In 1998 she joined the UCL Geography department as postgraduate student and was awarded her PhD Forgotten Geographies: Historical Geographies of Black Women in Victorian and Edwardian London in 2003. Between 2003 and 2007 Caroline continued to research the Black Presence in Victorian Britain and the role of the anti-racist community as an ESRC postdoctoral student and research fellow. In 2007 she became a lecturer in human geography and founded the Equiano Centre to support research into the Black Presence in Britain. In 2009 she was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize. Caz has been active in Black & Asian Studies Association for many years.

Although not scheduled as a speaker mention must be made of Herman Ross from the United States. He is the inspiration behind the Mariner Griot Programme to promote the history of African involvement in navigation. He has particular interests in 18th/early 19thC mariners like Paul Cuffe. The Programme includes setting up a project to enable young people to experience sailing and giving them information to make sailing relative to their lives and the past; to expose what adults do not seem to see as important, that the method by which Great Britain became reliant on enslaved and free African Diaspora mariners. It is hoped that this part of the programme will be called the Endeavour Project, named after the vessel on which Britain's first Royal Navy Black officer(1800), Captain John Perkins, was given a posted commission.

Herman has been particularly keen to increase knowledge and understanding about Paul Cuffe. Details of the recent recognition of Cuffe in the United States was drawn to my attention by Herman and included in the first issue of the Black British History digest I have started producing. Paul Cuffe was born in Massachusetts in 1759 in British Colonial America. He became a successful seaman and trader and a Quaker abolitionist. He pioneered the emigration of free African Americans to Africa. He visited Britain and its Sierra Leone colony. He died in 1817. You can find out more about Herman on

Study Day Venue: Queen’s House, Greenwich

Cost: £30/£20 Lunch is included.

To book: 020 8312 6608;

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Sports History in the lead up to the Olympics

Like millions of others I was turned off participatory sport at school and there is no way at my age I am going to start getting involved just because the Olympics are on. Millions of course follow sport. I was one of those who was opposed to London bidding in the first place: we have already held two Olympics and if you read Graeme Kent's book Olympic Follies. The Madness and Mayhem of the 1908 London Games. A Cautionary Tale, you will see that the lessons of history have not been learnt. Despite my opposition I saw the potential for local authorities to foster interest in the history of sport and physical activity at local level.  I ended my talk at the launch of the 2009 Wandsworth Heritage Festival on Edwardian roller skating in the area by saying:

In conclusion I hope I have been able to show that like all specialist topics roller skating is another way of opening up a wider view of local history. The Olympics in 2012 give us an opportunity to look seriously at the local histories of sport and physical exercise.
Two interesting sports history conferences are coming up.

Sporting London History Conference
On Saturday 19 November LAMAS is holding its 46th Local History Conference on  Sporting London, 10am-5pm at the Weston Theatre, Museum of London. £8 for LAMAS members, £10 for non-members.  Talks include ‘Sports and Pastimes in Medieval London’, ‘Changing Attitudes to Exercise in Tudor & Stuart London’, ‘Cricket: the History of Lord’s 1787 Onwards’, ‘Rowing as a Way of Life: the Root & Branch of Rowing on London’s River’, ‘Young Women Gymnasts in East London’ and ‘London’s Olympic Yesterdays’. The LAMAS Publication’s Award will also be presented. Ticket applications via (select Local History Conference) or by writing to Pat Clarke, Local History Conference, 22 Malpas Driver, Pinner, Middlesex, HA5 1DQ. Please remember to enclose sae.
Sport in the City Conference. 25 November is the closing date for offers of talks at the Sport in the City Conference which will be held at the University of Westminster on 24 & 25 April next year. It will focus upon the nature and significance of sports and sporting arenas in the life of great cities.  The organisers hope to encourage a wide variety of contributors working on the following key themes:
Class and social control; ethnicity and sport; gender; sportswear, performance and the body; sporting arenas and facilities; sports and town planning issues; cities in relation to national and regional sports; international sporting events and urban regeneration; sports, spectacle and the place marketing of cities; sports and individual and collective identities; archives for sporting history and sports studies.
The scope is global: the organisers hope to receive proposals not only on Britain but on Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia.  The organisers are particularly interested in work being undertaken from the later nineteenth century to the present.  Academics from a wide range of disciplines, including history, sociology, geography, cultural studies, town planning, and architecture and the built environment, are welcome to send abstracts to: Dr. Mark Clapson, Reader in History,  University of Westminster. Deadline for abstracts of 300-400 words: 25 November, 2011

More October Events

Monday 10. 6:30–9pm. African-British Civil Rights and Activism (1965 – 2011) - Where Are We Now? Jessica Huntley and History Academic Dr Hakim Adi will examine the theme & take questions. The session will be moderated by History Consultant Kwaku. Music 4 Causes Rap Artist Kimba will perform to the theme. Refreshments 6:30-7pm. Members' Lounge, Harrow Civic Centre, Station Road, Harrow, HA1. RSVP:

Tuesday 11. 7.30pm. Striking a Light The Matchwomen and Their Place in History. Louise Raw will talk about her book Striking a Light: a new history of the Bryant & May matchwomen’s strike of 1888. Orford House Social Club, 73 Orford Road, Walthamstow, E17. £2.50/£1.50.

Wednesday 12. 7.30pm. Oscar Wilde: Work is the Curse of the Drinking Classes presented by Neil Titley. This event draws on his theatre show to provide an evening of drama, theatre and comedy on Oscar's life with special reference to his Wandsworth Prison experience, followed by a question and answer session.  This talk coincides with Separation & Silence, Wandsworth Museum’s new temporary exhibition charting the 160-year history of Wandsworth Prison. Tickets only £5. Bookings at  Admission includes entry to the Museum’s permanent gallery, and £1 off  entry to the De Morgan Centre (, located in the Museum building. Wandsworth Museum, West Hill, London, SW18.

Tuesday 18. 6pm. Formal and Informal Empire in the Nineteenth Century. Professor Richard J. Evans. Museum of London. See

Wednesday 19. 2pm. Art & Compromise VII: Julian Stallabrass with Clive Stafford Smith. Using Images of War. Beaconsfield, 22 Newport Street, London SE11. 0207 582 6465. Art & Compromise VII investigates questions raised by Beaconsfield's recent exhibition Gaming in Waziristan: What now does it take to confer artistic status on an image of war? At what point does documentary evidence become 'art'? Julian Stallabrass, Reader at the Courtauld Institute will address such issues in conversation with international human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. This event is free but booking is essential. To reserve a place please email:

Thursday 20. 5.30pm. The History of White People.  Nell Painter, Emeritus Professor, Stanford University, California. This lecture, marking Black History Month, suggests that ‘race’ is a human invention, with a meaning and reality that have changed over time. It traces the invention of the concept of race, as well as the historical focus on and frequent worship of ‘whiteness’ for economic, social, scientific and political ends. Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building at Newcastle University. For further details please visit:

Saturday 22. 12-3pm. Bolton Socialist Club Open Day. There will be displays and presentations about the club’s activities and history, and by the various organisations who use it. A buffet lunch will be available. Founded in 1886, the Club is the oldest and one of the few remaining independent Socialist Clubs in the country. It has been at its present home at 16 Wood Street, the birthplace of Lord Leverhulme, since 1905 and has a long and very rich history. Membership is open to anyone who describes themselves as a socialist and the club organises a broad range of regular activities and events, including a film group, a choir, a people’s history group, music and poetry nights and regular talks and discussions on issues of the day. In addition it organises the annual Walt Whitman Walk, celebrating Bolton’s connection with the great American poet, and a well-supported annual celebration of International Womens Day. Bolton Home Start, a charity working with families with young children, are  based in the club and many other organisations use its facilities. The Trades Council hold meetings there, as well as the union UNITE, the Green Party,  Comhaltas (an Irish music organisation), and many more. 16 Wood Street, Bolton. BL1 1DY.

Saturday  22. 10.30am-4pm. 10th Essex Conference on Labour History, jointly organised by Labour Heritage, the Essex County Labour Party & the Cambridge & South West Essex Co-operative Party Council. Labour Hall, Collingwood Road, Witham, Essex, CM8. Talks: The History of Co-operation & the formation of Co-operative Societies in Essex - Stan Newens (Labour historian & former Labour MP & MEP); From Co-operative Pioneer to Labour Minister – the life of Alfred Barnes - John Gyford  (Labour historian & former Essex & Braintree Labour Councillor); The Struggle for the Right to Vote – the Chartist Movement - Malcolm Chase (Professor Social History, Leeds Univ., author of Chartism: a New History; The Development of Working Class Education for Adults - Colin Waugh (lecturer and author on working class education).

Monday, 24. 1pm. Slavery, Ships and Sickness. Professor Stuart Anderson. Museum of London. See

Tuesday 25. 6-8pm. Joseph Wood, Yorkshire Quaker, 1750-1821.  Joseph Wood was a member of High Flatts Meeting in Yorkshire and as a Minister of the Gospel travelled widely throughout England and Wales. He was a true Quaker of the Quietist years and a prolific writer. The speaker this evening, Pamela Cooksey, has transcribed Joseph Wood’s one hundred surviving Notebooks. These unedited and virtually unknown writings will provide a significant new resource for those with an interest in Quaker history and eighteenth and early nineteenth century studies. During her talk Pamela will highlight aspects of Joseph Wood’s life, ministry and travels. There will an exhibition of some of the original Notebooks and related illustrative material. The Transcription has now been published. Register for a free place at: Quaker Centre, Friends House, 173 Euston Rd, London NW1.

Wednesday 26. 5pm. The Making of the National Insurance Act, 1911. Why the Welfare State was invented? Pat Thane. Contemporary British History Seminar, KCL History Department Seminar Room, 8th floor, Strand Building, Kings College London, WC2.

Thursday 27.  5.30pm. Slavery, evil deeds and rethinking the past. James Walvin, Emeritus Professor of History, University of York. Recent acts of genocide have reopened the debate about evil as a historical force. In this context, can we rethink the history of Atlantic slavery? Marking Black History Month, this talk examines the British slave ship, the Zong, and the legal issues of an insurance claim for its ‘cargo’ of slaves. Many slaves had died in the crossing but 132 were thrown overboard. Complex arguments arose as to whether the slaves were ‘things’ and the subsequent outcry ignited the anti-slavery campaign. Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building at Newcastle University. For further details please visit:

27 October 7-9pm. First Positive Money Meetup in Newcastle. Leech Building, room 2.2 - in Newcastle University Medical School, 15-16 Framlington Pl, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE2. Tea and coffee from 7pm.  Presentation with questions and answers from 7.30-pm. See Positive Money’s website for details of meetings elsewhere.

Warnings about the implications of the cuts on voluntary organisations and 'deprived' neighbourhoods

While the press got lathered up about Cameron’s gaffe over households reducing their endebtedness, which of course will simply reduce economic activity, what is really going on in the world of cuts and the banking crisis? There are several pieces of news which have not had proper publicity, many come courtesy of the enewsletter of the National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA -

Fiddling While Rome Burns – The Final Report of Banking Commission.  According to the group Positive Money  the Independent Commission on Banking has not addressed a fraction of the fundamental problems with the modern banking system. Rather than looking at fundamentally changing the nature or structure of banking, they have focused on what to do after the fatally-flawed banking system inevitably implodes. For the group’s critique see Positive Money activists have been involved in writing the new book Where Does Money Come From?" A Guide to the UK Monetary and Banking System. See PM’s website to buy a copy.

Private Sector Take-Over. Here’s an extract from a Guardian letter last March from Peter Taylor-Gooby, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Kent, re-published in NCIA’s enewsletter:

“This government has learnt the lesson of previous attempts to cut state spending: public expenditure bounces back. That's what happened after the Geddes axe in 1922, the 1931 National Government cuts, Callaghan in 1976, even Thatcher in the 1980s and Major in the 1990s. To achieve a permanent shift to a small-state, market-centred society, it's not enough to slash state spending for the life of one parliament. You have also to change fundamentally how the welfare state works, so that private capital and the market are embedded at the heart of public provision. This is what the NHS, local government, social care, social housing, university and all the other reforms are intended to achieve. The objective is simple: the destruction of the public realm.” And what does this mean for the voluntary sector?

Who’s controlling the voluntary sector: new bosses, new control agenda. Are we witnessing a renewed attempt to harness and control voluntary action? Jay Kennedy, Directory of Social Change’s Head of Policy argues that we are - but this time it’s not the Big State but the Big Market which provides the conceptual blueprints. See,J8LC,29RU6V,1KDNJ,1

Cut and dried? What’s the real impact of the government cuts to the UK voluntary and community sector? There’s been a lot of talk about the impact of the cuts on the voluntary sector in the press recently. Dr Catherine Walker, DSC's Head of STEAM, asks: Does the evidence about cuts back up all the scary rhetoric:  
Research reveals that deprived areas face the biggest cuts threat. Work under the umbrella of the Third Sector Research Centre reveals that community groups in deprived areas are most at risk of public funding cuts. A consistent theme in the Centre’s work is the uneven capacity of communities. Their quantitative research has begun to show how these patterns relate to underlying social and economic conditions. Professor John Mohan, from the University of Southampton, says: “Research on registered third sector organisations operating at neighbourhood scale, for example, shows that there are fewer organisations per head in more deprived areas. Those organisations operating in more deprived areas are also more likely to be reliant on public funding. Thus the areas with fewest registered third sector organisations are also likely to be in areas most at risk from funding reductions”. More evidence therefore that the ‘Big Society’ is better described as ‘Big Inequality’. See

Future of Britain's poorest families still relies on urgent social investment. Some of Britain's poorest neighbourhoods are at risk of decaying into ghetto-like enclaves if budget cuts halt society's efforts to pull them 'back from the cliff edge', a new book Family Futures  warns. Even small improvements to deprived areas, from replacement of old window frames to the retention of local swimming pools, have dramatic effects on the well-being and ambition of the families who live there. The authors warn that unpicking these improvements because of financial pressure may cause severe damage to disadvantaged communities which are sustained in part by constant social and public investment.

LSE professor of social policy Anne Power, who co-wrote the book said: "Family Futures shows that for people who have little choice about where they live their community is even more important to them. Like all of us, they worry about schools, play spaces, the need for children to let off steam, crime, health, housing and their environment. Yet they have little control over most of these things and rely on government and the wider society to help them improve their lives. This can only be done by keeping a framework of support in place but that is what's threatened as public spending is slashed. Families told us how much they rely on this help for their neighbourhoods to work - society needs to keep up this support." Family futures: Childhood and poverty in urban neighbourhoods by Anne Power, Helen Willmot and Rosemary Davidson is published by The Policy Press .  £24.99.|

Cuts in the Capital Counter Pickles Pledge. The latest version of the Big Squeeze, London Voluntary Service Council’s regular review of funding cuts in the capital, reveals that just over half of voluntary and community organisations in London axed services last year because of public spending cuts. According to the research, preventive services are being "disproportionately cut, particularly in advice, health and children and young people’s services". 54% of the 120 groups that responded also expected more services to close in 2011/12 and 86% expected demand for their services to increase during the same period. This study concludes that “the cuts being imposed on the voluntary sector are higher than those imposed on the government and local authorities," contrary to the claim of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, that he didn’t want disproportionate cuts passed on to the voluntary sector. You can see the whole thing here: