Black Georgians: The Shock of the Familiar – Black Cultural Archives

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The Black Cultural Archives were founded in 1981 and a dedicated heritage centre in Brixton was opened in 2014. I visited in order to attend the latest exhibition, Black Georgians: The Shock of the Familiar.

This free exhibition looks at the lives of black people during the Georgian period (1714-1830). I have to admit that although I love history, and have a history degree, I don’t really have any knowledge or understanding of the lives of black people in Britain. The exhibition shows that people of African origin, who had lived in Britain for centuries, were growing in number and were starting to establish a distinct presence in society.

The exhibition looks at the lives of black people who lived in Britain under different circumstances: some were enslaved and worked as servants, others were free and were either born in Britain or chose to settle here. A few even had private incomes, and became the first black bourgeois. In many ways their circumstances mirrored those of white Britons, with members of all social classes carving out lives for themselves, although black people had to contend with racism and oppression in addition to any other problems they might face. The picture is much more complex than my limited knowledge had previously led me to understand.

Evidence for these lives comes from various documentation, including pictures, letters and other writings. Phillis Wheatley is one individual whose life is explored in the exhibition: sold as a servant in Boston aged seven, she was recognised as having particular intelligence and given an education; she subsequently became the first African-American woman to publish poetry, and was treated as a celebrity when she first visited London in 1773. Ignatius Sancho was a writer and composer, the first known black Briton to vote in an election, while Tom ‘The Moor’ Molineaux was a famous sportsman. Evidence for the existence of “ordinary” black people is found in census records, on gravestones, even in art: the inclusion of a black man in one of Hogarth’s pictures suggests that the presence of black people on London’s streets was a normal occurrence.

This is an important exhibition for anyone wanting to understand the lives of black people in Britain during the Georgian period, and anyone interested in social history as a whole.


Address: Windrush Square, Brixton, London, SW2 1EF


Opening Hours: Tues-Sat, 10am-6pm. Late opening until 7pm, every second Thursday of the month.

Prices: Free

The Queen’s Gallery

The Queen’s Gallery, an art gallery I have visited many times over the years, is part of Buckingham Palace and can be visited in conjunction with the State Rooms and the Royal Mews (stables). However you can also choose to visit the Gallery alone. It puts on around three exhibitions a year and is open all year round unlike the State Rooms and the Royal Mews which are open during the summer season only.

If you buy your ticket direct (either online or in person) you can get it stamped at the end of your visit which makes it valid for a whole year. This is great value as it means you can go back to subsequent exhibitions at the Gallery. It’s worth noting that the summer months are very crowded and it might be difficult to visit with your ticket at these times, as timed tickets are normally on sale for this period.

This year-long validation does not apply if you buy your ticket from a third party. This may not matter to you if, for instance, you are coming from a different part of the country on a trip as you may not be able to return within a year. For someone like me, however, who lives in London, this is ideal.


The Queen’s Gallery is located on Buckingham Palace Road next to Buckingham Palace itself. If visiting by tube, Green Park station (near Piccadilly Circus) is a short walk away and the route through the park is very scenic. If you are coming from the other direction, Victoria Underground and National Rail station is almost directly south from the Gallery. Tour buses and normal red buses also stop outside. The Gallery is clearly signposted and is next to the Royal Mews.


As might be expected, security is very tight here owing to its proximity to Buckingham Palace. You have to undergo a bag search and walk through an airport-style scanner. However all the staff are very friendly and cheerful and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable during this process. The gift shop is right next to the ticket desk so you can visit without paying for admission. After buying your ticket and walking through security you get to the gallery itself. There is a free cloakroom where coats and heavy bags can be left – we took full advantage of this. Toilets are available too and these are clean and smart.

Audio guides are available, but I didn’t bother with one. Photography for non-commercial purposes is permitted, but not flash photography.

*Gift Shop*

The shop is well-stocked and sells the usual Royal memorabilia, some of it tat and some of it in rather better taste. A number of items relating to this particular exhibition were available, ranging from cuddly penguins to a glossy photography book. I bought some postcards, which I rather regret as they were quite expensive – £5.95 for a pack of ten – but then I was very interested in the subject matter and I have a mind to frame them and put them on my wall!

*The First Georgians*

The exhibition I visited on this occasion was The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760, marking 300 years since the accession of George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover in Germany, to the British throne as George I. He was the first constitutional monarch, and began a long-enduring dynasty which lent its name to the Georgian era. The first room of the exhibition puts faces to names with paintings of the key players in the royal family, such as the three Georges and Queen Caroline.

The exhibition goes on to look at some of the things for which the age was noted, such as the art of William Hogarth, china, silverware and trinkets from “toy-shops”, as well as furniture, sculpture and paintings by the Old Masters. There were plenty of architectural designs and plans for royal residences including St James’s Palace, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court, as well as artefacts from less savoury aspects of the age, including military maps and items to do with Culloden and other Jacobite risings.


Address: Buckingham Palace, London, SW1A 1AA


Opening Hours: Approx 10am-5.30pm during exhibitions

Prices: £10 adult, £5.20 child

William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain – V&A

William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain was another exhibition at the V&A which I attended on Saturday. The Georgians are in vogue at the moment, possibly because 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of Georgian rule in Britain.

William Kent was the most prominent architect and designer in early Georgian Britain. He was responsible for, for example, Chiswick House in London and Holkham Hall in Norfolk. The exhibition was an interesting look at the range and style of his work and is well worth a visit.