When you get your 2010 diary, please write a memo to yourself at the beginning of October: “Find out when in October Bert is doing his Black History Month bus tour.” I went on it this year, along with many Brightonians of all colours (and sizes) who filled up the chartered double-decker bus while Bert filled us in with fascinating historical facts about Brighton’s black history. The continuous history of black people in Britain dates from the mid 16th Century and the beginning of the slave trade. Many black people “employed” as slave-servants, musicians, footman, soldiers and sailors visited and worked in Brighton.
Starting off from Brighton library, Bert took us on a magical tour of the places in Brighton associated with black history. We passed Dr Brighton’s baths which stood on the site of the Queen’s Hotel. Sake Dean Mahomed (1759-1851) grew up in India, emigrated to Ireland in 1786, and in 1814 Dean and his Irish wife Jane, moved to Brighton and opened the first shampooing vapour masseur bath in England. Both King George IV and William IV appointed him as their shampooing surgeon in Brighton.
As the bus travelled from the seafront into West Street, we passed St Paul’s Church to which Emperor Haile Selassie made a donation in 1947, in appreciation of the five years he spent in exile in Britain between 1936-41; the King’s Head pub (now The Heist) where, in 1651, Charles II stayed on his flight to France, aided and abetted by ‘a tall Black man six feet and two inches high’.
We got off the bus and went into St Nicholas Church, the oldest church in Brighton, which is packed full of associations with black history – including the resting place of Dean Mahomed; the home to a set of wooden carvings of the stations of the cross depicting African figures, donated by Dame Flora Robson; the wedding venue of Sarah Forbes Bonneta, a West African of royal lineage who was married there in 1862 in a ceremony sanctioned by Queen Victoria. So little room here, so much history to learn – don’t miss the bus in 2010.
For more information, visit the Black History website http://www.black-history.org.uk/