Imagining the Georgian period awakens images from Jane Austen’s parlour to Hogarth’s Gin Lane. Black Cultural Archives’ new exhibition Black Georgians: The Shock of the Familiar takes you on a journey a long way from these quintessential English images. This new exhibition interrogates the seams between the all-too-often prettified costume period dramas and the very different existance of hardship, grime, disease, and violence that was the reality for many.
This exhibition will reveal the everyday lives of Black people during the Georgian period (1714-1830). It will offer a rich array of historical evidence and archival materials that present a surprising, sometimes shocking, and inspiring picture of Georgian Britain.
Although Britain had been a home to people of African origin for centuries, the Georgian period marked the beginning of a distinct society that in some ways was similar to our own. Throughout the British Isles Black people were working in a variety of roles and settling here in increasing numbers. Some were enslaved and worked in domestic service. Others, having worked as free seamen or soldiers, chose to settle here. A third group were British-born freemen, and an even smaller set, here for education, business or leisure, had private incomes which enabled them to become the first Black bourgeois.
The Black Georgian narrative not only challenges preconceptions of the Black presence in Britain being restricted to post World War II, but it speaks to us of a growing population that forged a new identity with creativity, adaptability, and remarkable fortitude. It is a complex picture: while there was much oppression and restriction, there was also a degree of social mobility and integration.
Explore, consider and take the opportunity to challenge perspectives on the past and how it shaped the Britain we live in today.
Black Georgians: The Shock of the Familiar will be on display from 9 October 2015 until 9 April 2016 at Black Cultural Archives.
Image credit: Dido Belle, Johann Zoffany (original 1779). Reproduced by kind permission of Scone Palace.