How refreshing to get a completely different take on a period that can seem so familiar! Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize, this is an outstanding history which tells the stories of ten African lives in Britain, and usefully sets each in context.
There is a strong local connection to the Riverside Bookshop. Reasonable Blackman, an independent silk weaver, lived here in Tooley Street in the parish of St Olave’s. Two of his children died during the plague and he and his wife and remaining child were shut up in their house with a red X marked on the door. They were not permitted to leave, to prevent the further spread of infection. An independent skilled craftsman, he supported a family of five with his fine goods. Tooley Street then was known as a rough and ready area, with many alehouses – Kaufmann quotes Christopher Hudson writing in 1631: “alehouses are nests of Satan where the owls of impiety lurk and where all evil is hatched…” (p. 117).
If you enjoyed David Olusoga’s Black and British: a Forgotten History, you must definitely read this (I loved Olusoga’s book, as it completely transformed both my knowledge of and my attitude towards British history). Black Tudors would also be perfect for those who like readable social history, focussing as it does on everyday lives. It includes the stories of a countrywoman, a rural worker, a sailor, and many more diverse and intriguing people besides.
Kaufmann is clear about the relevance of her work in the current political and social climate: “As debate about immigration becomes ever more vituperative and divisive, it is vital to understand that the British Isles have always been peopled with immigrants. The Black Tudors are just one of a series of peoples who arrived on these shores in centuries past” (p. 262).
Entertaining and enlightening, this would be a perfect non-fiction holiday read.