A Massive Jigsaw Puzzle
In the 1970s I was still at school when I began to look for history books about black people in Britain. In those days they were rare but not impossible to find. Inter-library loans and the multi-cultural bookshop near my home on Peckham High Street were a great help.
My early discoveries included Edward Scobie’s Black Britannia (1972) and Folarin Shyllon’s Black People in Britain 1555-1833 (1977). From reading these books I realised that they were the tip of a huge iceberg, a massive jigsaw with many pieces. I felt that it would take more than one lifetime to piece this story together, but I undertook the journey anyway to explore my personal interests in black Britons from history.
John Blanke is mentioned in Peter Fryer’s Staying Power (1984), but I cannot say for certain if this was my introduction to Henry VIII’s black musician. John Blanke has always been in my mind. He is one of many early ‘signposts’ to Britain’s post-war, post-Windrush black community.
The now familiar image of him playing a trumpet on the 1511 Westminster Tournament Scroll was imprinted on my mind years ago, but I cannot remember where I first saw this. Could it have been featured on a postcard? If so it will be buried somewhere in one of my eight filing cabinets, now bursting with information about black Britons, collected over 40 years.
In 2005 I discovered my own ‘Black Tudor’, John Primero, described as “a negro” in the 1607 baptism record of my local church, St Giles’s in Camberwell. He was buried there in 1615. Over time I have kept an open mind about black history because I never know what piece of the jigsaw I am going to read about or discover next.
Writer and Historian