Black History in Surrey

Black people have lived in 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.

Engraving of Phillis Wheatley from Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773</br>(SHC Ref.1487/118, p. 1)

Engraving of Phillis Wheatley from Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773
(SHC Ref.1487/118, p. 1)

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.

Colonial slavery shaped modern Britain and its legacies remain today. The fascinating and revealing records of the Slave Compensation Commission, which can often make for uncomfortable reading, feature Surrey slave owners who received compensation following the abolition of slavery. Discover the full story here.

Portrait photograph of John Springfield, c. 1880s (SHC ref 1714/1)

Portrait photograph of John Springfield, c. 1880s (SHC ref 1714/1)

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 Picton 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

Tracing Black History at Surrey History Centre and read our Marvel of the Month guide to Black History sources.

Discover inspiring literature with the Surrey Libraries Black History Month virtual reading lists:

Diverse stories

For more stories of Surrey’s diverse cultural heritage see:

  • the Military pages (photographs of far-flung cultures encountered by the Surrey Regiments world-wide, and the regiment’s connection with Gurkhas)

Black History Month logoBlack History Month

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

Discover the Black Cultural Archives and Heritage Centre here.

For 2016, the BBC developed their Black and British Moments website, featuring stories of Black British life in different regions of the UK. In the South East section, the website includes stories from the Surrey History Centre archives, namely, John Springfield, the freed slave from Zanzibar who lived in Guildford, and the school at Ockham, where escaped American slave family The Crafts were educated.

Historic England’s website

For details of historic sites in England connected to abolition and the slave trade, see Historic England’s website

The Migration Museum Project

The Migration Museum Project plans to create the UK’s first dedicated Migration Museum and to tell the story of movement into and out of the UK in a fresh and engaging way. The museum holds workshops, exhibitions and community articles covering all aspect of migration to and from the UK, from Huguenots to Windrush and C19th German refugees to South Asian economic migrants of the 1960s.

Recognize is a community based social enterprise providing a bridge to the African Caribbean community which, among other things, aims to promote positive diversity by educating people about the heritage and culture of the African Caribbean community. Their website includes blogs and articles about British Black History including the Empire Windrush immigration and Black soldiers, find out more at

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