Bristol’s Black History

Find out about Bristol’s Black History with Bristol Museums. Who were the first Black people in Bristol? What are the city’s links to Somalia? We’re gathering stories and showcasing voices that shine a light on this often hidden part of Bristol’s past.

Compiled by the Bristol Museums Black History Steering Group

Early Black Presence in Bristol

Black people have lived in Bristol for over four centuries. We don’t know much about Black residents before the period when the city’s merchants began trading enslaved African people overseas in 1698. However, records at Bristol Archives and elsewhere show that Black people lived and worked here least a century before then. To explore these records, visit […]

Somalis in Bristol

Following the arrival of European powers in the Horn of Africa, migration to the UK and to Bristol has been fuelled by empire, war and personal adventure. In the 1800s, Britain was using Yemen as a stopping point on the way to India and established a base in the area, bringing Somaliland under British control. […]

19 Black Bristol Women Who’ve Made a Difference

Our list starts after the 1950s. We know there were women of colour living and working in Bristol before then, but most were excluded from the public arena. Though these women were crucial to their communities, history books have not acknowledged their contributions. “It was the guiding principle behind my deciding to live and work […]

The Seven Saints of St Pauls: Memorials and Black Joy in Bristol

Black Britons have always contributed to Britain’s history. But, time and time again, these contributions are carved out of the national narrative. We cannot overlook the importance of safeguarding and publicising stories that commemorate positive and autonomous Black contributions to British history. Promoting Black stories from British history means Black citizens are acknowledged as having […]

Windrush Influence on the Music of Bristol

The very sonic tone of the music we hear on the streets late at night in Bristol and the UK are very much a result of this. Deep bass lines and heavy grooves became the signature sound to popular music in the UK throughout the last 50 years. The influence of sound system culture in […]

Okot P’Bitek: African poet and post-colonial pioneer

Okot p’Bitek challenged the distorted way in which Western scholars had viewed Africa. He was a poet, an athlete and a pioneer of decolonisation. And he studied right here in Bristol. Antonette tells us why he matters. One of my favourite pastimes, since age seven, is composing and performing poetry. I was born and bred […]

Bristol’s Windrush Generation

An ex-Nazi troopship renamed the Empire Windrush brought this first wave of Caribbeans in June 1948. The term ‘Windrush generation’ is usually applied to the many African Caribbeans who came to the UK after the Second World War and up to the 1970s. These new arrivals were subjugated to colour bars, housing discrimination and outright […]

Princess Campbell: One of Bristol’s first Black ward sisters

After working at Wills’s Tobacco factory, she was accepted as a student nurse at Manor Park Hospital. Her time there, however, was difficult: “The English nurses would have the easiest jobs; we, the black nurses, would be in the sluice cleaning bedpans and vomit boards. You couldn’t complain because the ward sister made a report. […]

The Bristol Bus Boycott: A watershed moment for Black Britain

The background: Bristol and the world 1945-1963 The world was changing fast following the Second World War. African Americans were beginning their long fight for civil rights, the apartheid system in South Africa was being intensified and Britain’s former colonies were pressing for independence. There was a backlash by some white British which resulted in […]

St Pauls Carnival

Our contributors By M Shed and members of Bristol’s African-Caribbean communities. Many thanks to the volunteers who conducted the interviews on this project: Sharon Woma, Alex Mormoris, Jake Wittlin, Antonette Clarke Akalanne and Trevor White. Our contributors Many thanks to the volunteers who conducted the interviews on this project: Sharon Woma, Alex Mormoris, Jake Wittlin, […]

Richard Hart: Caribbean historian and activist in Bristol

Look hard among the plaques on the cafe wall of Bristol’s Arnos Vale cemetery and you will find a small plaque dedicated to Ansell Richard Hart (1917-2013). The plaque may be small, but Hart’s legacy is anything but. He helped shape a whole new way of looking at African Caribbean history. In 2002, Hart, along […]

When did Bristol’s Black history first begin? We may never know, but the earliest records show a ‘blacke moore’ gardener (or maybe watchman or security guard) living and working in the city in the 1560s. Bristol later wrote itself indelibly into African history by becoming one of the major players in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

At least half a million Africans were taken into enslavement on Bristol ships alone. The city swelled on the glut of dirty money that flooded the city. We can still see the legacy of this in some of Bristol’s grander architecture and the city’s often fraught relationship with race.

Centuries later, some of the descendants of those enslaved Africans arrived in Bristol as Caribbean migrants. Many settled in Bristol in the 1950s having been invited here to fill the skills gap after the Second World War – the ‘Windrush’ generation.

The bomb-damaged area of St Pauls provided affordable housing for the newcomers and maintains a strong association with Bristol’s Caribbean communities to this day. St Pauls Carnival – a celebration of multi-culturalism and Caribbean culture started by these early migrants – still attracts tens of thousands every year.

‘A Movement Not A Moment’ by Jasmine Thompson, wall drawing, ink, 2021. See it on display in the front hall of Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

In the ongoing struggle for acceptance and equality, Bristol’s black citizens played an important role in changing British laws forever. The Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963 started out as a protest against the company’s racist recruitment policies and ended up influencing the UK’s first Race Relations Act which sought to outlaw such discrimination. Inequality was still rife however and in the 1980s it helped lead to the St Pauls ‘riots’ which put Black Bristol into national headlines.

Since the 1990s, Bristol’s Black populations have hugely diversified with thousands of Somalis arriving as refugees and economic migrants. Somali is now the third most commonly spoken language in Bristol and the city enjoys its own annual Somali festival. In recent years, increasing numbers of migrants have arrived from across Africa, and particularly from Eritrea and Sudan.

Bristol’s Black history is centuries old and yet many of its stories are lost, hidden, or shrouded in myth. We’re attempting to build a resource where a range of voices and stories will be illuminated and a fuller, more detailed, picture will emerge.