Black people have lived and travelled through Surrey for hundreds of years and appear in the county’s historical records from the sixteenth century. Through these records we can see the true diversity of the county’s inhabitants and glean an insight into the lives of black people in Surrey over the centuries.
The features in this section contain a variety of stories covering all aspects of Black History in Surrey; each is accompanied by a list of research resources and where possible, accompanying images. Find out more about early Black History in Surrey and discover life stories of some of Surrey’s Black residents, including Fatima Nelson, Lady Hamilton’s Nubian maid.
Surrey and the Slave Trade
By the 1830s, Surrey had over 100 slave owners. Click here to find out more about the county’s involvement in this complex institution.
One notable Surrey slave owner was Henry Goulburn, who possessed a large number of slaves in Jamaica. Read more about plantations with Surrey connections and discover Surrey’s connections with the West Indies.
Slaves came to Surrey through a variety of ways. Charlotte Howe ended up in Thames Ditton and never knew just how important her story was to the slavery debate in Britain. American slave Phillis Wheatley found fame in Britain, becoming the first Black female poet and mother of Black literature, whilst freed slave Cesar Piction became a wealthy coal merchant in Kingston.
Surrey was also home to freed slaves. The detailed story of John Springfield shows the importance of family papers when tracing Black history. Conversely, the cases of Thomas Jackson and Thomas West, show how the full stories of some Black lives are just not known. Although their stories are over 100 years apart, both were convicted thieves placed in the care of the Royal Philanthropic School, Redhill.
Surrey’s Abolition movement
Anti-slavery campaigners, known as abolitionists, were active in Surrey before the abolition of the slave trade and continued afterwards to help freed slaves become part of Surrey’s diverse community. Find out more about the Surrey abolitionists, including Stephen Lushington and the celebrated fugitive slaves, William and Ellen Craft, in Ockham in the 1850s. Learn more about Henry Drummond and Guildford’s Anti-Slavery Committee, and the work of the eccentric Thomas Day of Anningsley, near Ottershaw.
Surrey also had anti-abolitionists. Learn more about Surrey’s anti-abolition campaigner Charles Nicholas Pallmer, who was elected Member of Parliament for Surrey in 1826.
Discovering more Black History
Start your own research with these Surrey History Centre guides:
• A Black History Month bibliography (downloadable as a pdf document ) and
Discover inspiring literature with the Surrey Libraries Black History Month virtual reading lists:
For more stories of Surrey’s diverse cultural heritage see:
- the Cultures and Communities pages and
- the Military pages (photographs of far-flung cultures encountered by the Surrey Regiments world-wide, and the regiment’s connection with Gurkhas)
Want to find out more about Black History Month? Click here.
The Black History Month campaign has launched an online timeline featuring key dates in worldwide Black History at http://www.historytimeline.org.uk/blackhistory/
Discover the Black Cultural Archives and Heritage Centre here.