African Communities in Britain

Part of the Migration, Diasporas and Citizenship book series (MDC)


This chapter traces the long historical presence of ‘Black Africans’ in Britain going back to the Roman times. A new type of evidence, based on the study of Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA, is beginning to provide the first genetic trace of a long-lived African presence in Britain. The seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries—from around the late 1620s to the early 1830s—are dominated not solely by the Black African presence in Britain but by Britain’s relationship with the peoples of Africa through the enslavement on an industrial scale of hundreds of thousands of Africans. From the late seventeenth century, there is archival evidence of Black Africans living in Central London that is mainly associated with slavery. In the eighteenth century, records of missionaries and ministers record conversions of Black Africans, living mainly in London, leading to many African kings sending their sons to London for a Christian education. African performers appeared through the nineteenth century in London theatres. Once again, Britain’s relationship with the peoples of Africa was dominated from the late nineteenth century by Britain’s colonial campaigns on the continent of Africa. An immediate impact of Britain’s establishment of colonies in Africa was a growing presence of Black Africans in Britain. Finally, the role played by Black Africans in the First and Second World Wars is described: the development of ‘colonies’ of seamen and their families in the major seaport towns of Cardiff, London, Liverpool, South Shields, and Glasgow, and the changing size of the Black African community following the mass migration of people to Britain from Britain’s former colonies in the post-Second World War years.


Eighteenth Century Black People Labour Force Survey Late Seventeenth Century Christian Education 
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Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Health Services StudiesUniversity of KentCanterburyUK
  2. 2.Department of Public HealthUniversity of Liverpool in LondonLondonUK

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