Switching the Lens focuses on African, Caribbean, Asian, and Indigenous Heritage Londoners


London Metropolitan Archives has launched a project that focuses on the records of over 2,600 people of colour found in Anglican parish registers across the capital.

Over the last 20 years, staff and volunteers at the City of London Corporation’s Clerkenwell-based archives have carried out this research, which continues to this day, leading to the publication of Switching the Lens – Rediscovering Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous Heritage, 1561 to 1840.

The new dataset offers insights into the lived experiences of people in London from 16th to 19th centuries, according to the research team at LMA.

Among those discovered during the project are:

  • Anne Vause, a royal trumpeter employed at the Tower of London and buried in 1616;
  • Beuraws Panfield, a sailor from HMS Voluntaire who fought in the Napoleonic wars and was baptised in Bethnal Green in 1813; and
  • Jonathan Strong, an enslaved man brought to London from Barbados, who challenged the status of slavery in the City courts and was baptised in Shoreditch in 1765.

The Switching the Lens – Rediscovering Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous Heritage, 1561 to 1840 dataset is available to search within the London Metropolitan Archives Collections Catalogue.

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Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, Wendy Hyde, said: “Twenty years in the making, this resource will enable those who use it to glean valuable and in some cases, poignant and personal insights into the nature of immigration several centuries ago.

“The extensive collections under the stewardship of London Metropolitan Archives, its skilfully curated and presented projects, such as Switching the Lens, and the archives’ in-house experts continue to place it among the most widely respected resources of its kind in the UK.”

City of London Corporation’s Director of London Metropolitan Archives, Geoff Pick, said: “We hope that this project will prove as informative as it is instructive because, although London has always been home to a very diverse population, this fact has often been obscured by mainstream British history’s exclusion of the histories of people of colour, and its narratives constructed around colonialism.

“The project’s name reflects the variety and breadth of the contribution made by the capital’s diverse communities – ‘rediscovering’, because this history has always been present, and ‘Switching the Lens’, because we are being pro-active in highlighting it more widely.”

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