Black London: History, Art & Culture in Over 120 Places maps the many important tributes to the city's Black residents. In this extract, we discover some of the murals, sculptures and plaques waiting to be found.
1. The Battle of Lewisham, New Cross
On 13 August 1977, the far-right National Front Party planned to march through New Cross to Lewisham. Anti-racist and anti-fascist organisations mobilised, alongside the community, who took to the streets. On that morning, over 4,000 people from more than 80 organisations heard speeches by the Mayor of Lewisham and the Bishop of Southwark at a counter-demonstration in Ladywell Park. One of the key people at the event was Darcus Howe, civil liberties campaigner, one of the Mangrove Nine in 1970 and also a speaker on the day.
Protesters clashed with both the National Front and the police. The protest marked the first time a National Front march was prevented from reaching its destination, and also the first deployment of riot shields on the UK mainland.
In October 2019 this mural was installed on the wall of Goldsmith's University Library, facing onto Lewisham Way in New Cross. It was created in partnership with community workshops and designer Ted Low, a Goldsmiths graduate.
323 New Cross Road, SE14 6AS
2. Bronze Woman, Stockwell
This larger than life sculpture was unveiled in 2008 — the brainchild of Guyanese-born teacher, playwright and poet Cécile Nobrega, who wrote a poem of the same name. Originally, the statue — depicting a mother and baby — was due to be fashioned by Ian Walters, the sculptor who designed the Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square. Unfortunately, Walters died before it could be finished, so a young sculptor named Aleix Barbart completed the work.
Bronze Woman represents the struggles faced by Caribbean women, as well as their contribution to British society. Nobrega, who came to London in 1969, was 89 years old when the statue was finally unveiled.
Stockwell Memorial Gardens, SW8 1UQ
3. African and Caribbean War Memorial, Brixton
Devised by the Nubian Jak Community Trust, this memorial was unveiled in June 2017 in Brixton's Windrush Square. The monument stands in remembrance of the more than two million African and Caribbean servicemen and women who participated and fought in both world wars. It also serves as a historical legacy for future generations. The memorial is formed of two black stone obelisks, which rest on a 12-foot pyramid-shaped plinth, the structure in total weighing over five tonnes.
Windrush Square itself was renamed in a ceremony in 2010 to commemorate the HMT Empire Windrush's arrival at Tilbury Docks in 1948.
Windrush Square, SW2 1EF
4. Mary Seacole, Waterloo
Mary Seacole was born in Jamaica in 1805 to a Scottish soldier and a 'free' Creole woman. Practising as a doctress using natural herbal medicines. Seacole worked in Jamaica and Panama, and her travels took her to London, Haiti and Cuba. When her offer to work as a volunteer nurse in the Crimea was rejected, she set off and established herself there independently, becoming known as 'Mother Seacole' among the troops. Shortly after the war, having returned to England, Seacole was declared bankrupt, but when the press highlighted her predicament, a series of fund raising initiatives rescued her from poverty.
Established in 2004, the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal (MSA) campaigned to provide a lasting legacy for her work. Designed by Martin Jennings, this full-sized bronze statue stands in the gardens of St Thomas' Hospital and was unveiled by Baroness Floella Benjamin in 2016. It is the UK’s first named statue of a Black woman. The figure marches forward on a raised, inscribed slate. The five-ton textured disc behind her reproduces an impression of the actual ground in the Crimea. In 2004 a BBC survey voted Seacole 'the Greatest Black Briton'.
St Thomas' Hospital, SE1 7GA
5. The Blackfriar, Southwark
Unveiled in 1958, this relief is a stylised representation of a Blackfriar with African facial features riding on a donkey. It can be viewed very high up on the side of a building in Pocock Street, off Blackfriars Road, above the shops. The stone relief is in the shape of a cross, and it may be that it depicts one of the Dominican monks who took orders in Blackfriars Priory during the 13th century. The relief was sculpted by Edward Bainbridge Copnall, who was also president of the Royal Society of Sculptors in the 1960s.
Corner of Pocock Street and Blackfriars Street, SE1 0BT
6. Gilt of Cane, City of London
Gilt of Cain, commemorates the abolition of Britain's transatlantic slave trade in 1807, which began the process of the emancipation of enslaved people throughout its Empire. The structure — in the former churchyard of St Mary Woolnoth, which used to stand there — was unveiled by Desmond Tutu in 2008 and is situated in an area of the City of London with a strong historical connection to the abolitionist movement of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Devised by Michael Visocchi, the sculpture has three steps that lead to what could be seen as an ecclesiastical pulpit, but that could also represent the auctioneer's podium from which enslaved people would be sold. The columns evoke stems of sugar cane and are positioned to suggest an anonymous crowd, a group of enslaved people or a congregation gathered to listen to a speaker. The structure also features a poem of the same name by Lemn Sissay, poet, author and broadcaster. The words are etched on the pulpit and columns, and use the coded language of the City's stock exchange intermingled with terms associated with the slave trade.
Fen Court Garden, Fen Court, Langbourn, EC3M 5BN
7. Children at Play, Brixton
The Children at Play mural was created by artist Stephen Pusey in collaboration with Lambeth Council in 1982. Located on the back wall of the O2 Academy Brixton, on Stockwell Park Walk, it was produced after the Brixton riots erupted in 1981 and is the largest mural in the borough. In the 1980s Brixton had high unemployment and crime, plus increased racial tensions between the police force and Black youths. Five days prior to the riot, the police had put 'Operation Swamp' into action, stopping and searching approximately one thousand Black males. Three days of unrest occurred, which involved looting, violence and almost 300 arrests. The inquiry into the riot produced the Scarman Report, which acknowledged racial disadvantage, negative policing and institutional racism.
Following the riots, discussions took place with residents of the Stockwell Park Estate to produce a permanent artwork within the community. The vibrant image of racial harmony between the playing children serves as a legacy to Brixton's multiracial neighbourhood.
Brixton Academy, Stockwell Park Walk, SW9 9SL
8. Network, Old Street
This contemporary statue was created by sculptor Thomas J. Price in 2014, and its current home is at the White Collar Factory, east London.
In 2020 Price released the female version of the same statue called Reaching Out, which can be found at Three Mills Green. Both bronze figures depict the users on their mobiles. The artist creates his works using the lost-wax process, also called cire-perdue, a method of metal casting first used thousands of years ago in Africa, as with the Benin Bronzes in the 13th century. The artist pours metal into a mould that has been made using a wax model.
Price was born in 1981 to a British mother and Jamaican father. He studied at the Royal College of Art and lives and works in Deptford, south London. His work is engaged with issues of representation and perception in society and art. It also raises questions and invites conversations regarding who we put on pedestals, and why. His figures represent everyday Black people who are unheroic and are getting on with daily life.
1 Old Street Yard, EC1Y 8AF
9. Notting Hill Carnival Plaque,
The first ever Notting Hill Carnival was staged in the 1960s and broadcast live on BBC Television. Held in St Pancras Town Hall, it was an indoor event for many years, but grew so large that it moved to become a two-day street festival in the Notting Hill area.
The carnival has grown to be the largest of its kind in Europe, with over two million people attending each year.
On 24 August 2018 the world's largest blue plaque was unveiled by the Nubian Jak Community Trust on Portobello Green. The names mentioned on this plaque are all associated with the Notting Hill Carnival. Claudia Jones was one of its founders, while Rhaune Laslett-O'Brien and Leslie Palmer developed the event into the outdoor street festival we know today. It's now available to view at at the Venture Community Association Centre in Ladbroke Grove.
Faraday House, 103a Wornington Road, W10 5YB
10. Alexandra Palace Murals
This mural features three iconic creative Black women: Winifred Atwell, Evelyn Dove, and Una Marson. They can be viewed on the south side wall of Alexandra Palace. The artwork was created by street artist Carleen De Sözer in 2018 as part of Sadiq Khan's year-long campaign for women's equality called 'LDN WMN: Behind Every Great City'. This drive marked a century since women in the UK won the right to vote and was undertaken in partnership with the London Tate Collective.
Alexandra Palace Way, N22 7AY
Some book extracts have been abridged. Black London: History, Art & Culture in over 120 places is available to buy now, RRP £10.99.