‘Unforgotten Lives’ at St Bride’s

Earlier this year, the Rector visited the Unforgotten Lives exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives.

It recaptured in fascinating and sometimes vivid detail, the stories of Londoners living and working in the city between 1560 and 1860 who were of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous heritage.

The records relating to St Bride’s Church during this period reveal no fewer than 26 entries in our registers (mostly baptisms, but including one burial) that are for people of colour.

Sometimes their ethnic identity is made clear – as in the case of Daniel Coventry, baptised at St Bride’s on 28th September 1783, who is described in the records as ‘A Negro man aged about 27 years’; or Sarah Underwood, who is said to be ‘a negro girl from Demerara about 16 years of age, residing at 1 Dove Court, New Street Hill.’

In other cases, the ethnic identity of the person baptised is not stated quite so explicitly in the entry, but it is a reasonable assumption to make. For example, Martha Lewis, baptised at St Bride’s on 23rd July 1705, is described as ‘a native of Bengall in ye East Indies.’

The accompanying text explains her inclusion, stating: ‘It is not clear from the entry that Martha is a person of colour. The assumption has been made as this is an adult baptism and no details of parents are given.’

That added remark and the language often used to describe these precious human beings (as well as the names that have evidently been assigned to them), are chastening reminders that all too many of these individuals, some of them children, were torn from their homes and brought to this country as enslaved people.

The earliest record that the Rector could find dates back to 23rd May 1672, with the baptism of Mary Blacke (described as ‘a Black’); the one burial record is dated 29th December 1691, and records the death of ‘A Negro boy’ called William Adams, who clearly died tragically young.

It was startling to discover the involvement of St Bride’s in the stories of these Unforgotten Lives – and it is also a timely reminder of how diverse London’s population was during this period.

Posted On: Wednesday 8th May, 2024

congregation sitting for service


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