Thursday, 13 April 2017

Unknown Black Portraits in a London Pub

Not the Renaissance but .......


I’d forgotten pubs as idiosyncratically British as The Harp at Covent Garden still existed,  the Harp, was  especially interesting to me because of its black portraits.

Artist: Unknown, Sitter: Unknown, Date: Unknown 


I was introduced to The Harp at the close of  a very convivial lunch in St Martins Lane, my luncheon partner suggested a quiet pint in a local hostelry to complete the afternoon.

We walked down St Matins Lane and he insisted we turn into Brydges Place despite it being barely three feet wide. So narrow in fact we had to wait for an oncoming lady before we could enter in single file down the slim passage. Turns out that this is London's narrowest alley

Artists: Unknown, Sitters: Unknown, Dates: Unknown 

We entered The Harp through its rear entrance. It was a sublime experience from the dark narrow passage into what seemed a vast light filled room after the dark passage - the bar of  The Harp, formally known as the Welsh Harp , it was renamed by its Irish owner Bridget Walsh, sadly now deceased.

Bridget’s art buying covered the Harp’s walls, there are portraits of men&women, young&old,  beautiful&ugly and black&white everywhere. I’m sure a knowing eye would recognise some of the sitters I was unable to recognise any.


Artist: Unknown, Sitter: Unknown, Date: Unknown 


I spotted at least four portraits of black people. Sadly none of the artists or sitters are named like all the other portraits on display.

I enjoyed an excellent beer delivered by very friendly bar staff. The Harp was CAMRA pub of the year in 2011 and maintains Bridget’s tradition of stocking a wide range of hand pulled specialist cask beers.

The afternoon at the Harp finished with some good old chat amongst some lovely paintings in a quintessential London pub - styled with the hand and eye of its landlady – a brilliant way and a recommended way to end any afternoon as well as a great alternative to the near by National Portrait Gallery, if you’re interested in portraits!




Saturday, 11 February 2017

John Blanke Plaque at Greenwich Naval College ?


Following my visit to Greenwich Naval College visitors centre yesterday I am pleased to report that the BBC's  Black and British : A Forgotten History plaque to commemorate John Blanke the black trumpeter to the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII is in deed on display. However you may miss it as it is just to the left of the main entrance, high up amongst the centre's awards from Trip Adviser, English Tourist Board and others - see images below.





The choice of location was perhaps done in haste as it not at clear as to how or why the BBC's plaque fits in with its surroundings in the Naval College visitors centre. This despite the fact the central  image with Henry VIII jousting from the 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll document in which John Blanke appears is a matter of  feet away, no connection is made to the Tournament Roll which made John Blanke famous.

Detail of information screen by the Tilting Yard exhibit (Tournament Roll highlighted)


On the Tournament Roll - total length sixty feet - John Blanke's image is close to the scene depicted   - about four feet away from. It would seem to make good sense to bring the information screen (see detail below) by the Titling Yard exhibit closer to the BBC's plaque in some way, perhaps updating the information screen with John Blanke's image and why the BBC chose the Naval College as the site for its comparative plaque.

Detail from the Westminster Tournament Roll
Highlighting Henry VIII and John Blanke
It is good to have the plaque on display at Greenwich Naval College, even better to explain why it is there making the connection between John Blanke, the Naval College and the visitor centre's exhibits.

You can follow the plaque's story through the Twitter Hashtag #JohnBlankePlaque and keep up with all things John Blanke at JohnBlanke.com



Saturday, 24 December 2016

Black Magus - BBC Radio 3 The Essay

Very much enjoyed Prof Robert Beckford’s analysis of the black Magus on BBC Radio 3. 


Excellent mix of the personal and the researched , particularly intrigued by his discussion of the possible feminine interpretation of the black Magus.

Interesting to hear the black Magus figure in the Nativity scene was part of his up bringing:
As a child, the nativity scene always excited me.  Not just because its appearance meant the closeness of Christmas presents, but because of the return of the black Magus.
This is in contrast to myself as I do not recall the image at all as I grew up, I came to  the black Magus very late in life.

My only criticism - and it is petty - the nativity scene image on the BBC web site didn’t include a black Magus -  an opportunity missed.




Recommended listening.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Hipster Nativity


I was delighted when the Hipster Nativity was brought to my attention in a CNBC article. Really works for me,  especially with its black magus and the kings looking very cool on their Segways and dark glasses to protect their eyes from that bright star!


But it was not without controversy Casey Wright, co-founder of Modern Nativity the folks who make the Hipster Nativity told CNBC "We have quickly found out that this product is very polarizing. It's usually, 'this is hilarious, I need one,' or 'this is sacrilegious, I hope you burn in hell,' and almost nothing in between those two extremes,"

The default composition for the Nativity dates back to Francis of Assis in 1223. He used what was around him to tell the story of the birth of Jesus so what’s wrong with telling that same story today but using images and ideas from 2016 rather than 1223? New take on an old story - love it! 


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Thirteenth Century Black Presence in New Migration Syllabus Site


Delighted to see my contribution on the black presence in thirteenth century England is now live on the Runnymede Trust site Our Migration Story - The making of Britain in the Migration stories AD43 -1500 section. The work is  based the  black presence in the Domesday Abbreviato which I have written about elsewhere in this blog


The opportunity to write the piece came about through my work as a co-covener of the What’s Happening Black BritishHistory (WHBBH) series of workshops for the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. I was invited along with several other historians to take part in an initiative by the Runnymede Trust in response to the new curriculum - OCR new History GCSEs  is Migration To Britain c. 1000 to c. 2010, which will be taught from September 2016.

The Runnymede Trust activity was itself an AHRC migration history funded project, led by the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester and supported by the OCR GCSE examination board.

The new course meet with some hostility from the Tory press and several eminent yet conservative historians who accused the syllabus of being  an indoctrination , a dangerous dogma written in response to demands for political correctness and that the course was rewriting history which was  a total distortion and it’s outrageous.

Nothing could be further from the truth the syllabus is an attempt to as Mike Goddard, Head of History at OCR said:

[To explore] and understanding the constant shifts in the British population in  a rigorous and exciting new academic topic for young people in schools to be able to study in detail for the first time. We can’t understand Britain economically, culturally or politically, if we don’t understand our relationship with the world. Migration into and out of Britain is and always has been a central part of this relationship.
Through my work at WHBBH I  had the pleasure of meeting several of those involved in creating the syllabus and writing the books to support the classwork. I can confirm that ideas such as indoctrination, political correctness were not on their minds or part of their agenda.  They were looking to give a new generation of school children a  fair and rigorous review of  where the inhabitants of these islands came from over the years.

The first of the two GCSE Migration books is now out: published by Hodder Education.








Monday, 22 February 2016

Fowokan's "Young Garvey" Video


My introduction to Marcus Garvey like so many others was thru Bob Marley’s Redemption Song lyrics quoting the great man:

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery none but ourselves can feee our minds. 

For me this was about the individual freeing herself or himself to be what ever they wanted to be. It was my friend the sculptor Fowokan who introduced me to the Marcus Garvey behind these words a unique individual with outstanding leadership skills with his back to Africa ideals and a belief in Pan Africanism.

Fowokan’s video of his making of Young Garvey is the result of three years of hard work condensed into just over twelve minutes. He tracks his progress in his studio  from  from the manipulation of the first lump of clay right through to the mould making and casting

Fowokan not only speaks and writes from personal experience about Garvey but also thru Young Garvey brings Garvey to life making Garvey and his words real and relevant to us today.

Friday, 12 February 2016

7 min Toussaint Louverture Print at the V&A


I know this is off topic as it's 'not my period' but I was offered the chance to give a seven minute chat on a piece with a black connection from the splendid new Europe 1600-1815 Galleries collection. I choose an 1802 hand coloured print of Toussaint Louverture from the V&A Collection. You can read a transcript of my presentation here.