HISTORIC PUB CRAWL – The Bunch of Grapes



76, Narrow Street – London

Louisa Cornell

This post is the first in what I intend to be a series of posts on some of the historic pubs in London and throughout the UK. I realize that the phrase “Historic Pub Crawl” could actually have two meanings. I intend it to mean visits to historic pubs. However, it could mean a series of visits to pubs one after another that ends up being a historical event. If you know the motley crew associated with Number One London, you know any trip we take can and usually does end up being a historic event. But I digress.

Although the current name of the pub is simply The Grapes, a tavern of some sort or another has stood on the present site for almost 500 years. And for most of those years it was known as The Bunch of Grapes. The first tavern was built on this spot in 1583, but the current building dates from 1720. Imagine the history it has seen, surviving the Blitz during World War II, and still operating as a pub to this day.

Painting of The Bunch of Grapes in the 19th century.


I will confess I first discovered this fascinating pub whilst I did research for my novel, A Study in Passion. My heroine had to visit a Chinese apothecary in search of aid for her pet pangolin. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Limehouse area of London was home to England’s largest Chinese community. Not surprising when one realizes much of the Chinese community in London was made up of sailors and tradesmen from the many ships bringing in goods from the Far East and their families. They left the East India Company ships coming into the Limehouse Dockyards and established every sort of business from apothecaries to trading and import companies to boarding houses, to yes – opium dens.

Before the pub was built the location was in proximity to lime kilns, customs houses, docks and shipyards. By the Elizabethan Era Limehouse was established as the doorway to world trade in London as most of the ships embarking on trade trips across the British Empire left from these docks. Supposedly, Sir Walter Raleigh set sail on his third voyage to the New World from a spot just below the Bunch of Grapes.

The pub’s greatest claim to fame may well be its thinly veiled description used in the first chapter of the novel Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Again, not a surprise as Dickens was said to be a frequent visitor to the pub in the 1820’s when he visited his godfather who lived in Limehouse.

“A tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.”

A rather more sinister aspect of the history of The Bunch of Grapes associates it with the watermen who operated ferry services on the Thames for both passengers and freight. Because of the stringent rules against dissection and obtaining corpses for same, a great deal of supplemental income might be made by providing London’s medical schools, anatomists, and physicians with fresh corpses. Apparently these watermen would lurk about the back stairs of The Bunch of Grapes and drag inebriated customers down said stairs to drown them in the Thames before taking them by boat to their waiting customers.

Back stairs at The Grapes – Current view. Imagine the steps 200 years ago!


Note to the characters in my Regency romances: Do not leave The Bunch of Grapes by the back stairs if you have indulged in too much drink.






Note to those who wish to visit The Grapes today: If at all possible visit on a Monday as the current owner of the pub, Sir Ian McKellen, has been known to run the pub quiz on Mondays from time to time.

Sir Ian McKellen



Pineapple by Theodorus Netscher, 1720, Fitzwilliam Museum

This is an oil painting of a pineapple grown in Sir Matthew Decker’s garden in Richmond, Surrey. The painting by Theodorus Netscher, made in 1720, is a celebration of the successful cultivation in England of a pineapple plant that actually produced fruit.

During the 18th century, a pineapple cost the equivalent of £5,000 today. They became such a symbol of wealth that the pineapple motif was used to decorate buildings – John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore, built a 75ft-high stone pineapple atop a pavilion in his estate in 1761 (below).

Though native to South America, pineapples (scientific name: Ananas comosus) made their way to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and it was here that Christopher Columbus first spotted their spiky crowns in 1493. Despite dogged efforts by European gardeners, it would be nearly two centuries before they perfected a hothouse method for growing a pineapple plant.

Thus, into the 1600s, the pineapple remained so uncommon and coveted a commodity that King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait (above) in an act then symbolic of royal privilege — receiving a pineapple as a gift. But was it a gift? Or had the pineapple been grown in his own hothouse? According to post entitled, “A pineapple? . . . Gosh, thank you Mr. Rose” on the Parks & Gardens UK blog, that question remains to be answered.

What is for certain is that on 9th August 1661 John Evelyn noted in his diary that he “first saw the Queene-Pine bought from Barbados presented to his Majestie…the first that were ever seen in England were those sent to Cromwell foure years since.”

Certainly plants must have survived the journey more than once, because King Charles used pineapples again on 14th August 1668, to impress the French ambassador, by serving them  at a banquet held in his honour.  Evelyn was there too and tasted “that rare fruite called the King-Pine” because ”his Majestie having cut it up, was pleased to give me a piece off his owne plate to taste of.” Sadly, Evelyn was mildly disappointed by the taste because  “in my opinion it falls short of those ravishing varieties of deliciousnesse described in cap. liggons history & others but possibly it might be, and certainly was, much impaired in coming so farr. It has yet a graceful acidity, but tastes more of the Quince and Melon, than of any other fruite he mentions.”

Of course, all this assumes that it is John Rose in the picture.  This attribution comes from Horace Walpole who had the original painting hanging in the Breakfast Room at Strawberry Hill.  It  features in his description of the house as  ” a most curious picture of Rose, the royal gardiner, presenting the first pine-apple raised in England to Charles 2d, who is standing in a garden. The whole piece is well painted , probably by Dankers. It was a present to Mr W from the Rev.Mr Pennicott of Ditton, to whom it was bequestheed by Mr London, grandson of him who was partner with Wise”. [A description of the villa of Horace Walpole,1774].

Author Lucy Ingless tells us more about 18th century pineapple cultivation in an article on The Foodie Bugle:

“In 1735, twenty-one year old American Robert Hunter Morris accompanied his diplomat father on a trip to London and on the 30th of June visited a friend’s garden of ‘luctutious plants’ (does this mean succulents?), which included ‘the pineapple, of which he had a great many and they seemed to flourish very well. They grew in pots of earth which were set in a bed of tanners bark’. Incidentally, Robert was an interesting young character, who was very conscious of his father’s welfare and notes many tiny details about London life that would otherwise be missed. His London diaries are short and worth a read if you come across them.

“An article on education in the London World during 1755 makes casual reference to the pineapple thus:

“Through the use of hothouses…every gardiner that used to pride himself in an early cucumber, can now raise a pineapple.”

“By 1772, pineapples were no longer the preserve of those with hothouses of their own. They were available to purchase at the markets, and also as plants to take home and grow for yourself, or with which to stock a nursery. I love the sound of Andrew Moffett’s ‘Pinery’ on Grange Road in Southwark, where ‘Fruiting and Succession Plants’ were to be purchased of the largest and sweetest sort, guaranteed ‘free of insects’.

“As the 18th century went on, the pineapple became a common theme on dishes, plates, teapots, tea caddies and even in architecture. Many believe it symbolises hospitality.

“By February 1798, any problems with planting environment had clearly been overcome, as Mr William North, at his Nursery near the Asylum in Lambeth, Surrey, was advertising new forms of dwarf broccoli above his pineapple plants. The advertisement from the Morning Chronicle gives an insight into 18th century horticulture, and also gives rise to the excellent title of this post: “To the curious in vegetables”. It is interesting to see that by this stage, the pineapple was worthy only of a nota bene but also interesting to note that a London tradesman was content to advertise not only the largest selection in England, but also in Europe: The largest collection of Pine-Apple Plants and Grape Vines in Pots for the Hot-house, &c., in Europe, with every other article of the first quality in Horticulture.”

The pineapple entered the broader Georgian culture in a number of ways. The phrase ‘a pineapple of the finest flavour’ was a metaphor for the most splendid of things. In Sheridan’s popular play The Rivals, Mrs Malaprop exclaims: ‘He is the very pineapple of politeness.’

Even after growing pineapples on English soil became a possibility, getting hold of one was still so costly that many nobles didn’t eat them, opting instead to simply display them around their homes as one would a precious ornament or carry them around at parties. Those who weren’t quite as affluent could rent a pineapple for a few hours at a time. This pineapple would be passed around from renter to renter for their respective parties over the course of several days until finally being sold to the individual who could afford to actually taste it.

Pineapples held pride of place on dinner tables and on Negri’s tradecard below, the premises soon to be known by the name of “Gunter’s.”

There were also pineapple-shaped cakes, pineapple-shaped gelatine molds, candies pressed out like small pineapples, pineapples molded of gum and sugar, pineapples made of creamed ice, cookies cut like pineapples and pineapple shapes created by arrangements of other fruits. There were also ceramic bowls formed like pineapples, fruit and sweet trays incorporating pineapple designs, and pineapple pitchers, cups and even candelabras.

An original eighteenth-century pineapple pit was discovered at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. In 1997, after much historical research and horticultural effort, the pinery saw its first twentieth century fruit – grown just as it would have been done in the past. In a nod to Charles II, the second pineapple produced there (the first was sampled by the staff …) was delivered to Queen Elizabeth on her 50th wedding anniversary. For an in-depth and technical look at the structure of early English hothouses and the construction of a “pinery,” see this post on the Building Conservation website.

Click here to read more on age old growing techniques and the world’s most expensive pineapple.

PRIDE OF DUTY (Book 2 in the Men of the Squadron Series) More Regency Navy Seals!

Napoleon After Waterloo

Andrea K. Stein

Bellerophon was a famous Greek hero, mostly known for defeating Chimera, a fire-breathing, mythical monster. By some quirk of fate and history, the H.M.S. Bellerophon was also the name of the ship where the monster Napoleon, who bloodied two continents in his obsession to rule the world, turned himself over to the Royal Navy after his defeat at Waterloo.

The Bellerophon (center 74-gun ship) surrounded by sight-seers in Plymouth Sound
Painting by John James Chalon

Stories surrounding the final, decisive battle of Waterloo abound, but have you ever heard an account of what happened to the little megalomaniac emperor in the days following his massive defeat? He somehow thought after all the horrors he’d wrought, everyone would overlook his misdeeds. He variously dreamed of living the life of a country gentleman in England or managing an escape to America.

Napoleon fled to Paris after the June 18, 1815, battle, arriving there on June 21. When he tried to rally what troops he had left, his friends and commanders either abandoned him or turned against him. He had to abdicate two days later. He then fled to Rochefort in the coastal area known as Basque Roads. He’d hoped for a French frigate to take him to asylum in America, but the Royal Navy blockade of the area was too tight for French ships to evade. With French Royalists hot on his heels, he ran out of options, and on July 15, he surrendered to Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland on the Bellerophon.

Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland

With its famous prisoner aboard, the Bellerophon, heavily guarded by other Royal Navy warships, made its way to Brixham in Devon, arriving the morning of July 24. John Smart, a schoolboy who later wrote a memoir of the day, described rowing out to the 74-gun ship with a baker from the town to sell loaves of bread. They were warned away, but he claimed a sailor aboard the ship secretly threw a corked bottle overboard with a small piece of paper inside rolled up with the message, “We have got Bonaparte on board.” Smart recalled, “in five minutes after we reached shore, there was not a soul in Brixham, except babies, ignorant of the news.”

Ultimately, the allies decided to send him to remote St. Helena, a rocky island about halfway between Africa and South America, owned by the East India Company. Why didn’t they simply execute him? Perhaps this quote from Wellington might shed some light:

The Duke of Wellington to Sir Charles Stuart, Orvillé

28 June 1815—

“I send you my dispatches, which will make you acquainted with the state of affairs. You may show them to Talleyrand if you choose. 

General ——— has been here this day to negotiate for Napoleon’s passing to America, to which proposition I have answered that I have no authority. The Prussians think the Jacobins wish to give him over to me, believing that I will save his life. Blücher wishes to kill him; but I have told him that I shall remonstrate, and shall insist upon his being disposed of by common accord. I have likewise said that, as a private friend, I advised him to have nothing to do with so foul a transaction; that he and I had acted too distinguished parts in these transactions to become executioners; and that I was determined that if the sovereigns wished to put him to death they should appoint an executioner, which should not be me.”

Napoleon’s charisma, and his effect on the people around him, is legendary, not to mention somewhat hard to fathom. Captain Maitland of the Bellerophon, to whom Napoleon surrendered, wrote this in his memoir of the event:

“It may appear surprising, that a possibility could exist of a British officer, being prejudiced in favour of one who had caused do many calamities to his country; but to such an extent did he possess the power of pleasing, that there are few people who could have sat at the same table with him for nearly a month, as I did, without feeling a sensation of pity, allied perhaps to regret, that a man possessed of so many fascinating qualities, and who had held so high a station in life, should be reduced to the situation in which I saw him.”

Probably the most accurate portrait of Napoleon at his surrender – the Plymouth artist Sir Charles Lock Eastlake was taken to the ship to create this shortly after the ship’s arrival


Captain Maitland was not alone in his apparent fascination. The former French emperor so charmed the ship’s Irish surgeon, Barry Edward O’Meara, that he accompanied Napoleon to St. Helena and became his physician there. After Napoleon’s death in 1821, O’Meara wrote Napoleon in Exile, or A voice from St. Helena in 1822. His allegations of mistreatment of the former emperor by his gaoler, Governor Hudson Lowe, caused a small sensation back in England as well as the rest of Europe.


Letters leaked to newspapers while Napoleon was still alive, about alleged deprivations such as insufficient firewood, caused an uproar among the very people who suffered throughout the Napoleonic Wars. The imprisoned dictator who’d wanted to conquer the world seemed to evoke romantic notions once he’d been exiled.

However, there were also many Britons who voiced strong opposing opinions, as evidenced by this letter published by The Times on July 26:

“What is to be done with him? Is he after all his crimes to be suffered to go unpunished; or in what way is he to be brought to justice?… He has, for a long succession of years, deluged Europe in blood, to gratify his own mad vanity, his insatiable and furious ambition. It is calculated, that every minute he has reigned, has cost the life of a human being…”

A lieutenant taking dispatches to London from Brixham spread the news while changing horses in Exeter. By the next day, the Bellerophon was surrounded by all manner of craft from local ports, and even further away, hired by people trying to catch a glimpse of Napoleon.

Officers going ashore from the ships were treated like celebrities. One Midshipman Home recalled he was asked questions like “Was he really a man? Were his hands and clothes all over blood when he came aboard. Was his voice like thunder? Could I possibly get them a sight of the monster?” The former emperor had been portrayed as the devil incarnate in stories and caricatures in the English papers for years.

Another probably fairly accurate portrayal of him on his evening walk on deck with his loyal officers who followed him into exile – depicts Napoleon watching French shoreline recede – By Sir William Quiller Orchardson

The Admiralty decided the Bellerophon should be moved to Plymouth for extra security against any rescue attempt. On July 31, a letter arrived with the official decision of the British government – exile to St. Helena. The former emperor was to be transferred to the Northumberland, a ship the Admiralty deemed more sea-worthy for the long voyage. On August 4, the Bellerophon set sail from Plymouth along the south coast of Devon where it met the Northumberland off Start Point on August 6 for transfer of Napoleon and his entourage. The next day, he sailed toward his last exile.

After his final imprisonment, there was one cork-brained plan to smuggle him to Chile from St. Helena to try to re-conquer the world from there. That plan never materialized, due to Napoleon’s deteriorating health. An attempt to spirit him off the remote island by submarine was also cut off when British agents seized the invention whilst being tested in the Thames. The submarine, manufactured by Tom Johnson, the smuggler, was ostensibly to be towed all the way to St. Helena by a larger ship.


“The War for all the Oceans” by Roy and Lesley Adkins

“Commander” by Stephen Taylor, a biography of Captain Edward Pellew

“Cochrane – Britannia’s Sea Wolf” by Donald Thomas

“The Command of the Ocean” by N.A.M. Rodger

“Narrative of the Surrender of Buonaparte and of his residence on Baord H.M.S. Bellerophon” by Captain F.L. Maitland, C.B.



Andrea K. Stein is the daughter of a trucker and an artist. She grew up a scribbler. The stories just spilled out.

After writing and editing at newspapers for twenty-five years and then a short, boring stint as a consultant to commercial printers, she ran away to sea for three years to deliver yachts up and down the Caribbean.

She earned her USCG offshore captain’s license, but perversely, now writes romance set at sea while wrapped in sweaters and PJs in her writing room in Canon City, CO.

She has multiple published romance novels available on Amazon. Three of those titles have been honored with awards. “Secret Harbor” earned a first place in the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest in the romance category; “Fortune’s Horizon” finaled in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Romance category; and the latest novel, “Pride of Honor,” finaled in the national 2018 Beau Monde Royal Ascot Contest.


Book Three in The Men of the Squadron Series – PRIDE OF VALORDebuted on February 23, 2021. Visit your favorite purveyors of fine books and spend some time with the Men of the Squadron!







John Singer Sargent – The British Portraits


John Singer Sargent, the son of an American doctor, was born in Florence in 1856. He studied painting in Italy and France and in 1884 caused a sensation at the Paris Salon with his painting of Madame Gautreau. Exhibited as Madame X, people complained that the painting was provocatively erotic.

The scandal persuaded Sargent to move to England and over the next few years established himself as the country’s leading portrait painter. Sargent had no assistants; he handled all the tasks, such as preparing his canvases, varnishing the painting, arranging for photography, shipping, and documentation. He commanded about $5,000 per portrait, or about $130,000 in current dollars. Following are portraits representative of Sargent’s prolific, and much prized, portraiture featurning British subjects.

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
In late 1892, Sargent began work on the portrait of Lady Agnew, commissioned by Andrew Noel Agnew, a barrister who had inherited the baronetcy and estates of Lochnaw in Galloway. The sitter was his young wife, Gertrude Vernon (1865-1932).


Hon. Victoria Stanley – 1899
Winifred, Duchess of Portland (Winifred Dallas-Yorke) – 1902

Countess of Warwick and Son (Frances Evelyn ‘Daisy’ Maynard) – 1905


The Countess of Essex – 1906


Theresa (‘Nellie’) Marchioness of Londonderry – 1912


Sibyl Sasson-Countess of Rocksavage  (later Marchioness of Cholmondeley)  – 1913


Sir Philip Sassoon – 1923 (Sybil’s brother)
Tate Gallery, London


Mrs. George Nathaniel Curzon (Grace Elvina, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston) – 1925


The Hon. Lilian Maud Glen Coats, later Duchess of Wellington
For a complete online catalogue of the works of John Singer Sargent, click here.

London’s Notable Black Citizens by Guest Blogger Nina Davis

In light of the pop cultural phenomenon of Netflix’s Bridgerton series and its multicultural alternative reality take on the books, Kristine has graciously allowed me to revisit and update this article, originally published in 2011.

I once had a dream, as I devoured Regency romance after Regency romance in my college years. Or more accurately a question. Could I write a Regency with a heroine who was Black? It was born perhaps from being a child of the ‘70’s who remembered the momentous day she first saw a Black actor in a toothpaste ad, as though Madison Avenue had finally realized we used such products too. And also, perhaps, because of a seed planted by a college history class that spoke of Lord Dunmore’s promise to take slaves who fought the British back to England in victory, but never knowing whatever came of it.

The research began telling its own stories. Of Queen Elizabeth I’s unenforceable decree to remove “blackamoors” from England to ease the burden of the poor on the country. Of Black courtiers taken from Portuguese vessels in King James IV Scottish court, including the Black Lady of the Tournament of the Black Knight and Lady. How Lord Dunmore’s promise indeed landed many Black soldiers, not unlike other soldiers without family returning from war, into London’s poorer streets. Of African princes educated at university, of Ignatius Sancho, a shopkeeper who left behind his own unique vision of England’s middling class. Of the blurring of free Black and slave within England itself, highlighted by the tales of Mary Hylas, stolen from her husband because her former masters changed their minds about her freedom, and the famous Somerset Case, a cornerstone in the fight to abolish slavery, presided over by James Murray, Lord Mansfield and Chief Justice. Of Lord Mansfield’s own unique brush with race within his household. Of a queen whose reflection buoyed a cause and spoke to how intertwined we all truly are.

So began an eternal obsession with all things Black in Britain (and in other parts of Europe for that matter). I claim not so much to be an expert as an enthusiast, but like all enthusiasts I can’t help but to talk a bit about a favored subject, one to underscore why I like keeping the idea of Black History Month, and not trying to relegate it to African-American History Month or dismiss it altogether, because there’s so much more to the story than ever happened on American shores.

Many books have been written on the history, the social mores: a fascinating blend of class and race that resembled more 20th-century America’s struggles than the oversimplified, misapplied stereotype of a pre- and post-antebellum South. Far more than one could squeeze into a single blog. So I’ll spotlight some notable men and women, focusing on the Georgian and Victorian eras. A list of books follows for those who may want to indulge their own curiosity further.

Olaudah Equiano, c. 1745-1797, Anti-slavery Activist

Kidnapped from what is now Nigeria and sold into slavery in childhood, he was a slave to a Royal Navy captain and a Quaker merchant before earning the price of his own freedom.  He then traveled the world, including in an aborted attempt to reach the North Pole. Coming to London, he became involved in the abolitionist movement which led to his writing and publishing his famous autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African (1789), considered to be the first known English account by an African on his native country.

Queen Charlotte Sophia, 1738-1820, Consort of King George III

Her Majesty was not Black in the sense of self-identity, or of one being born of direct or closely mixed heritage. Her ancestry is still debated. Commonly her ancestor, Margarita de Castro e Sousa of Portugal, is identified as the reason for Queen Charlotte’s appearance. Multiple family lines can be traced between the queen and Margarita, who was of Moorish or Mozarabic descent, with the idea that extensive inbreeding among noble houses led to Charlotte’s unexpected appearance. Both of those ethnic religious groups include Berbers, who are native to a broad area of North and West Africa. As for the term “Moor,” by the 1500s, it was used to mean Muslims or anyone with dark skin, though sometimes “blackamoor” and “White Moor” were used to distinguish between the two.

What is documented is that the queen’s “negroid” or “mulatto” features were remarked upon by her contemporaries — including her personal physician —  and likely used as a symbol by some in the anti-slavery movement. Sir Allan Ramsay, an abolitionist himself, was the artist responsible for the majority of her portraits and his representations of her were the most decidedly African. He also married the niece of Lord Mansfield and was therefore related by marriage to Dido Elizabeth Belle.

The queen was a patron of the arts, supporting Bach and Mozart, and an avid amateur botanist, taking great interest in expanding what became Kew Gardens.

Dido Elizabeth Belle, aka Elizabeth Lindsay, Daughter of Gentry, c. 1763-1804

In 1772, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and Chief Justice, ruled in the Somerset case that slavery in England had “no binding in law.”  It did not abolish slavery in England but made it illegal to remove a slave from England against that person’s will. No record exists of what Dido thought of her great-uncle’s landmark slave case. But surely some of the ramifications crossed her mind as she went about tending the chickens and what other genteel chores were hers in Kenwood, his country estate.

She was born of a West Indian slave, Maria Bell, later spelled “Belle,” and Captain Sir John Lindsay of the Royal Navy, Mansfield’s nephew. Her very existence in Mansfield’s home became a prism of attitudes of the day. Some merely noted her presence. American visitors remarked in surprise when she joined the family after dinner. Scholars have argued whether she was tolerated or beloved family. It was ironic that her great-uncle felt the need to reiterate her status as a free woman in his will, in which he also left her £500 plus £100 per year. This in addition to the £1000 her father had left her in his will.

In 1793, she married John Davinier, a steward, or senior servant, likely of a friend of the Murray household.

George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, Violinist, c. 1779-c. 1840

Born in east Poland, Bridgetower debuted in Pairs at the age of nine, playing a violin concerto by Giornovichi. Soon after he was taken to England by his father and performed in concert. However, many in Society felt the senior Bridgetower mistreated his son, and in 1791, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) paid the father to leave the country. From that point, Bridgetower was under royal protection. For 14 years he was first violinist in the prince’s private band. He became friends with Ludwig van Beethoven in 1803 while on concert tour in Austria. He accompanied Beethoven in the first public performance of Violin Sonata no. 9, later known as the Kreutzer Sonata, having never seen the piece before. It was originally dedicated to Bridgetower — the Sonata Mulattica — but the dedication was changed after the two quarreled. He was elected to the Royal Society of Musicians in 1807 and would later perform with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tom Molineux (or Molyneux), 1784-1818, Renowned Boxer

The first American to fight for the London Prize Ring championship, Molineux was a slave who was reportedly given his freedom after winning a match on which his owner had placed a large bet. He sailed to England in 1809 to become a professional prize fighter. In London, he met another Black American, Bill Richmond, a former boxer who became his trainer. He fought his way up the ranks, eventually meeting the British champion, Tom Cribb, on December 18, 1810. He seemed to be winning handily, and in the 23rd round he apparently knocked out Cribb. However, Cribb’s corner claimed he had been fouled, and the long argument that ensued gave the champion a chance to regain his senses. Cribb eventually won by knockout in the 33rd round. It was later discovered at one point in the 30th round that Molineux had fractured his skull.

Ida Frederick Aldridge, Shakespearean Actor, 1805-1867

Born in New York City, Aldridge moved to England in the 1820’s and studied acting. Despite setbacks early in his career in London due to racism, he became famous across Europe for his leading roles in Shakespearean plays including King Lear, Macbeth and Othello (pictured). He returned from his European tours so loaded with honor even the London West End stage could no longer exclude him and he finally played the famed Lyceum. In 1858, Aldridge became the first actor to be knighted when he was bestowed the Royal Ernestinischen House Order by Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Meiningen (now part of Germany) becoming Chevalier Ira Aldridge, Knight of Saxony.

Mary Seacole, 1805-1881, “the Black Florence Nightingale”

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, she learned her nursing skills from her mother who kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers and from trips with her husband to mainland America and England.  In 1854, she asked the English war office to be sent as an army nurse to Crimea. Because of her ethnicity she was refused.  Undaunted, she funded her own trip to Crimea where she established the British Hotel, an officers’ convalescent hospital, near Balaklava. On the battlefield she nursed the wounded and was known as “Mother Seacole.”

Further Reading

Black Africans in Renaissance Europe, edited by T. F. Earle, K. J. P. Lowe, 2010 reissue.

Black Victorians/Black Victoriana, edited by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, 2003.

Britain’s Black Past, edited by Gretchen H. Gerzina, 2020.

Freyer, Peter. Staying power: the history of Black people in Britain, 1984, fifth printing 1991.

Gerzina, Gretchen. Black England: Life Before Emancipation, 1995. Also published as Black London.

Kaufman, Miranda. Black Tudors, 2018.

Lorimer, Douglas A. Color, Class and the Victorians, 1978.

Scobie, Edward. Black Britannia, 1972.

Walvin, James. Black and White: The Negro in English Society, 1555-1945, 1973.