Equality activities and events

What is LGBTQ History Month?

LGBTQ+ Historical Profiles

Pride

Black History Month videos

Black History Month Heroes of History

 

What is LGBTQ+ History Month?

LGBTQ+ History Month took place during February, and we hosted a number of live events and shared some recommended reading and watching.

Established in the 90s in America, the month is intended to educate school children on LGBTQ+ history and the community’s continued struggle to achieve equality for all. In the UK, it was initially set up by SchoolsOUT (an LGBT Q+ charity and support network) in 2005, and has since evolved to be a nationally recognised observance across the UK by schools, organisations and public bodies. The month came shortly after the abolition of Section 28. For more on this, watch our recommended video for Wednesday 17 and the webinar on Thursday 18.

The week two live event - Mythbuster and allyship with the LGBTQ+ community with Morwan Osman and Zainabb Hull - offers a really useful introduction to some of the terminology. You can catch up on the event by watching the recording below. The Stonewall Glossary. is another excellent source of information. 

Thank you to Encompass for partnering with us and helping us to welcome voices from within the LGBTQ+ community. Please note that, as with any external speakers, there may be some opinions expressed that are not necessarily held by the Council.

LGBTQ+ historical profiles

Edward Morgan Forster (born Henry Morgan Forster) was an English novelist, essayist, librettist and critic. His most notable works were A room with a View (1908), Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924). He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on
at least 13 separate occasions, however he did not win one.

His novels were noted for having a more colloquial tone and had a vein of social commentary on hierarchy, humanity, truthfulness and liberty. Between 1910 and 1913, he wrote Maurice, a novel believed to reflect his own homosexual life, which at that time was deemed illegal. The book wouldn’t be published until the 1970s after Forster had passed.

One of Forster’s most famous essays, Two cheers for democracy, later renamed What I believe, was published on the eve of WWII, and displayed his increasing prominence as a ‘Liberal Humanism’ public voice.

During his life Forster travelled extensively exploring life in Greece, Italy and stopping in Pomerania (1905) to learn German, where he wrote a short memoir describing the stay as one of the happiest times in his life. He visited Egypt, Germany and India between 1914 and 1917 and was stationed at Alexandria, Egypt assisting the British Red Cross. Whilst Forster was open with friends about his homosexuality, he remained closeted to the public.

He is believed to have had a number of lovers throughout his adult life, most notably Bob Buckingham (a married policeman) and Mattei Radev, a Bulgarian picture framer and art collector. So close was Forster’s relationship with Buckingham, that he passed away from a
stroke whilst staying with Buckingham and his wife. Forster’s and Buckingham’s ashes were ‘mingled’ and scattered.

During his time at University at King’s College, Cambridge, he became a member of the Apostles society – a discussion group, which went onto form the ‘Bloomsbury set’, a famous group of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists, of which he was also a member. In 1946 he was made an honorary fellow at King’s College, Cambridge and went on to spend his later years (1961+) based at the College in Cambridge, setting up residence.

Sources

Britannica: E M Forster, Wikipedia: E M Forster and British Library: E M Forster

Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park were middle class Londoners who performed on stage dressed as women, where they were known as ‘Fanny and Stella’.

Boulton and Park were both homosexual and enjoyed wearing women’s clothing. Together they formed a theatrical performance duo wherein they would perform traditionally female roles in touring productions. They continued to dress in female clothing off stage and were known to go shopping, to eat in restaurants and to take in shows whilst dressed in women’s attire. It is believed that they watched the 1869 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in full drag.

In 1870 both were arrested on the charge of 'conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence'. They were held on remand for months before trial and subjected to invasive physical examinations from a police surgeon. Whilst on trial the prosecution and police were unable to show that either had engaged in an 'unnatural offence' (sexual activity), furthermore the defence was able to show that neither had hidden the fact that they were dressing in woman's clothing, moreover that they had done so for entertainment purposes. At the time, cross-dressing, particularly for acting purposes, was not against the law and therefore the defendants were quickly found not guilty.

Fanny and Stella continued to perform after their trial, however it appears that they performed separately, but both appeared to have travelled as far as New York. Boulton passed away in 1904 in London from a brain tumour whilst Park passed away aged just 33 in 1881.

Their legacy lives on, with reference being made to them in Lord Arthurs Bed, a 2008 play by Martin Lewton; Fanny and Stella: The Shocking True Story, written by Glenn Chandler and performed in 2015; and Stella, by Neil Bartlett in 2016. A Blue Plaque is installed on the house where Boulton and Park lived in Bloomsbury, London.

Recent studies of the case have shown that it was a factor in the introduction of the 1885 Labouchere Amendment, making male homosexual acts punishable by up to 2 years hard labour, effectively criminalising gay men.

Sources

Wikipedia: Boulton and Park and The British Newspaper Archive

Jackie was a news reporter, actress and lesbian rights activist, particularly during the 1960s to 1980s.

Born in London in 1926, Jackie spent her youth at a boarding school in Wycombe Abbey before moving onto St Leonards School in Fife. After school she became an actress, travelling to London to attend the Arts Theatre Club where she would perform in a variety of productions, before moving on to be a successful TV presenter and news reporter.

Whilst on a lecture tour of Northern America, Jackie embarked on her first lesbian affair, before going on to marry author Peter Forster. Their marriage was short lived.

On reflection, Jackie said: “I didn’t see myself as being a lesbian, or her, because I didn’t look as I imagined they did, and nor did she. We weren’t short back and sides and natty gent’s suiting. I got the image from The Well of Loneliness, like we all did. There were drug stores around the states, with these pulp books, lurid stories about lesbians who smoked cigars and had orgies with young girls. I thought, where are these women? We never met anyone we knew who were lesbians. There were no other books that I found about lesbians, no films that we ever saw: nothing at all.” 

In 1964 she returned to Britain to work for Border Television. In the 1960s Forster joined the Minorities Research group and wrote for their journal Arena Three and promoted the group and magazine at the Gateways Club, a lesbian nightclub in Chelsea, London. 

In 1969 Forster came out publicly and joined the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), going on to serve on the executive committee. Forster also took part in the first Gay Pride in 1971, and the following year went on to found Sappho – a social group and publication. The publication ran from 1972 until 1981, however the group continued regularly for years more. Forster went on to become a member of the Greater London Council’s Women’s committee, and between 1992 and her passing in 1998 she was an active member of the Lesbian Archive and Information Centre Management Committee.

In 1997 the BBC made a programme about her life as part of its The Day That Changed My Life series. The Independent has created a more in-depth look of Jackie’s Life and impact on the LGBTQ+ Community, which is available on their website.

Sources

From the Closet to the Screen, by Jill Gardiner, 2003; Wikipedia: Jackie Forster and British Library: Jackie Forster remembers the founding of Sappho

Lily Parr was the first female football player to have her career recognised with a statue on display at the National Football Museum.

Born in 1905 to a working class family, Lily Parr showed an interest in football from an early age. During WW1 she was spotted playing for a local team (St Helen's Ladies), and was recruited to play for Dick Kerr Ladies Team, Preston. Known not only for her skills on the pitch, but also her large appetite and constant smoking, it is alleged that Parr requested part of her pay at the factory to be paid in cigarettes.

During her first season (aged just 14) Parr scored 43 goals for Dick Kerr Ladies Team. Dick Kerr played against both male and female teams with Parr scoring an estimated 1,000 goals, winning 758 matches out of 828 (lost 24, won 758, drew 46) during her career at Dick Kerr. Parr played in one of the earliest recognised women's internationals, against a French team in 1920, where Dick Kerr's team won 4-0. Parr finally retired from professional football in 1951 and continued with her employment as a nurse at Whittingham Mental Hospital, until she retired.

It was whilst working at the hospital that Lily met Mary and the two began a relationship as an openly gay couple. Parr lived with her partner Mary for the remainder of her life, in Goosnargh, Preston until she passed away from breast cancer 1978 aged 73.

In June 2019, Parr's football career was recognised with a statue of her on display at National Football Museum, making her the first female football player to be commemorated in such a way.

Sources

Wikipedia: Lily Parr, National Football Museum, and Fifa.

Mark Ashton was known as a young gay rights activist.

He grew up in rural Ireland, before moving to London in 1978. Between 1982 and 1984, Mark joined the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard and actively supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He went on to feature in a local documentary Framed youth: The Revenge of the Teenage Perverts, filmed by the Lesbian and gay youth video project.

In 1984 he and a friend formed the Lesbian and Gays support the Miners (LGSM), during the Miners' strikes in the mid 80s. After the strikes Mark went on to become member of the Communism Party of Great Britain and also stood as a general secretary of the Youth Communism League (1985-1986).

In 1987 Mark was admitted to hospital in London, diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He sadly passed away 12 days later from Pneumocystis Pneumonia, aged just 26.

Mark's legacy, however, lives on. The Mark Ashton Trust was set up in his memory and raised £20,000 by 2007, wherein it became the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund (as part of the Terrence Higgins Trust) and has since raised over £38,000. His memory and these funds seek to raise awareness and support for those with HIV. Plaques in his memory are installed at Terrence Higgins Trust HQ and above 'Gay's the word' bookshop in London. Mark is also commemorated with a square of the HIV/AIDs memorial quilt.

The film Pride, released in 2014, dramatised the work of the LGSM in influencing politics and supporting the welsh mining community. It's believed that the London LGSM raised around £22,000 in 1984 and inspired up to 11 other LGSM branches nationally.

Sources

Wikipedia: Mark Ashton, The Guardian

Born Mary Louise Edith Weston, Mark was born with atypical genitals due to Disorder of Sex Development (DSD), and was assigned female at birth and initially raised as a girl. 

Mark was given the nickname ‘The Devonshire Wonder’ due to his skills on the athletics field, most notably in javelin, discus and shot put, throughout the 1920s. Mark was the 1929 National Champion for Javelin and Discus throw, and won the National Champion Title for Shot Put in 1925, 1928 and 1929.

In 1936, Mark underwent sex reassignment surgery at Charing Cross Hospital and changed his name to Mark. After his surgery in 1936, Mark retired from competitive sport and began work as a masseur. He married Alberta Bray and they went on to have three children. Mark’s older brother Harry, born Hilda, also transitioned during the 1930s, however sadly Harry died of suicide in 1942.

Since Mark’s passing in 1978, he has inspired articles, studies and discussions about the ‘sex changeability’ in 1930s Britain, but also the masculinity of sports women. Previously medics and academics in the 1930s felt that athleticism and an interest in sport were male characteristics, and that muscles developed through sport were signs of male sex characteristics. More information about this can be found in the research paper The Spectre of 'Man-Woman Athlete’: Mark Weston, Zdenek Koubek, the 1936 Olympics and the uncertainty of sex by Clare Tebbutt.

Sources

Wikipedia, Canterbury Christ Church University Library, People Pill and ResearchGate

 

Born Laura Maud Dillon, Michael (Laurence Michael Dillon) became the first person in the United Kingdom to transition by undergoing phalloplasty.

Michael studied at St Anne's College, Oxford graduating in 1936. By 1939 he was living and dressing comfortably as a man and sought medical assistance from a doctor, who prescribed testosterone pills.

As part of the prescription, however, Michael was to speak with a psychiatrist who gossiped about Michael's transition and therefore resulted in him abruptly relocating to Bristol, where he was widely accepted as a man.

Due to an underlying medical condition, Michael was admitted to hospital where he caught the attention of a plastic surgeon, who agreed to perform a double mastectomy (the first of Michael's
surgical procedures), and also put him in contact with renowned plastic surgeon Harold Gillies.

Gillies, having performed reconstructive surgery on genitalia during the war and on Intersex persons agreed to help Michael. During 1946 and 1949, whilst Michael was enrolled as a medical student
at Trinity College, Dublin, Gillies performed approximately 13 surgeries on him for sex reassignment.

After graduating as a physician in 1951, Michael's identity was questioned again after two competing genealogical guides queried his lineage. Shortly after Michael moved to India and began his spiritual journey, during which time he explored Buddhism and decided to become ordained as a Buddhist Monk. Michael became Sramanera Jivaka, however the monastery would not allow Jivaka to become fully ordained due to his transition, so Jivaka joined the Tibetan branch of
Buddhism. Once Jivaka's visa ran out, he was forced to leave the monastery, and spent his final years with declining health in Dalhousie, India where he passed away in 1962 aged 47.

Sources

Wikipedia: Michael Dillon, Tricycle and Bristol Museum

Robert Graves was a renowned poet and writer, writing more than 120 books during his lifetime. Most notably ‘I, Claudius’ (1934) and an autobiographical classic on World War I, ‘Good-Bye to All That’ (1929).

Graves began his literary career during his school days at Charterhouse School, London, and continued to write and exchange poetry with friends and lovers throughout his military service in WWI. Graves would continue to write and publish a number of works throughout his life, working with other writers such as ‘T.E. Lawrence’ a respected archaeologists, writer and diplomat. Much of Graves work would be influenced by mythology, classics and science fiction. In 2012, it was revealed that Graves had rejected a CBE award in 1957.

During his life, Graves had both male and female lovers, describing some of his amorous attachments as ‘Pseudo-homosexual’, he also admired women with more masculine traits and went on to marry Nancy Nicholson. Whilst married Graves developed an intense relationship with Laura Riding and the three formed a relationship titled ‘the trinity’ increasing to ‘the holy circle’ to include Geoffrey Phibbs, whom Riding also had a romantic/sexual relationship with.

After this relationship deteriorated, Graves married Beryl Hodge, which caused some issue as he was still married to Nicholson. Graves continued to take on young lovers and muses during his marriage to Hodge.

Graves passed away from heart failure in 1985, aged 90. He was buried in Deia, Majorca, where he resided for many years, however a blue plaque is installed on three of his former homes, in Wimbledon, Brixham and Islip.

Sources

Britannica website: Robert Graves and Wikipedia: Robert Graves.

Pride

June is Pride month - a month to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities around the world.

Pride is usually celebrated with lots of parades and marches but things may still be a bit different this year as we continue on the Government's roadmap out of lockdown.

If you would like to learn more about supporting the LGBTQ+ community during Pride month, you are welcome to access any of the content we created during LGBTQ+ History Month in February.

Or if you would like to find out what events may be taking place for Pride, please visit the dedicated Pride events website. Or, for Cambridge specific information, follow Cambridge Pride on Twitter.  

Black History Month at the Council

Black History Month

The Council marked Black History Month in October 2020 and worked with the Cambridge African Network to recommend a number of activities for our colleagues to learn more about Black history.

 

Harold Offeh and Kettle's Yard in conversation

This event was held on Thursday 22 October, 12 noon.

Harold Offeh is an artist working in a range of media including performance, video, photography, learning and social arts practice. Offeh will be exhibiting as part of 'Untitled: Art on the Conditions of Our Time' a major group exhibition of British artists of African descent at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge, opening 16 January 2021. In this webinar, Harold Offeh will be in conversation with a member of the programme team from Kettle's Yard talking about his recent projects in the local area, and what you can expect to see in the upcoming exhibition at Kettle's Yard.

Living in Cambridge and working across the UK and internationally, Offeh is interested in the space created by the inhabiting of histories and frequently used humour as a means to explore these.

Prominent and ordinary black people from Victorian Britain by Carol Leonardi

This event was held on Wednesday 28 October from 12.30pm to 1.30pm

Dr Carol Brown-Leonardi works at the Open University. Since 2000 Dr Brown-Leonardi has carried out long-term fieldwork and research projects on political discourse and non-renewable resources in the Mackenzie Valley, Canada and research on reindeer racing and training race reindeer in Northern Finland. Her current research investigates how Britain’s exit from the European Union has affected the perceptions and decision-making of mixed nationality couples (British and Finnish) to stay and live permanently in Finland or the United Kingdom. Her most recent work focuses on the Windrush deportee’s experience following the hostile environment policy to understand the levels of inclusion and exclusion experienced in both British and Caribbean society.

More information about CB Mentoring can be found on Cambridgeshire Live.

Black History Month Heroes of History

During Black History Month we highlighted several different aspects of Black history each week.

Britain is less famous than America for leading figures in the Civil Rights movement, however most of Britain’s founders were women.

Olive Morris (1952-1979)

A community activist, in 1970's London, who sadly died at only 27 from Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma – her activities organising the black community left behind a legacy of local activism.

Olive Morris Civil Rights Activist Many people are unaware of Olive’s existence, or the contributions she made to the communities in London and Manchester. She remains unrecognised and absent from discourse on black radical feminist and community activism.

The Lambeth Archives hold a photograph taken of her in 1969, when she would have been around 17 or 18. Her face is swollen, clothes torn and dirty as she had sustained brutal injuries both in the street and in police custody. The back of the photo reads “Leaving Kings College Hospital after police assault. 15th November 1969”.

Why: Earlier that day a Nigerian diplomat had parked his Mercedes on the side of the road in Brixton, leaving his wife and children in the car while he bought some records. Police officers, thinking the diplomat had stolen the car began to, according to witnesses, arrest him and beat him. Olive came forward and physically tried to stop the police from attacking the diplomat, causing the police to turn on her, arrest her and assault her, kicking her in the chest. This young girl, barely five feet two inches, took on racist police officers, without thinking about her own safety, because she could not stand by and allow the injustice of an African man being arrested for driving a nice car. This was one early incident of Olive’s commitment to challenging oppression.

She dedicated her life to the struggle for liberation and became part of the British Black Panther Movement in 1968. She also co-founded the Brixton Black Women’s group (est. 1974), who in 1986 campaigned to have 18 Brixton Hill renamed Olive Morris House in her memory. One of the aims of the group was to encourage black women to share their experiences of day-to-day injustices; an idea that greatly formed subsequent movements, like the #MeToo movement.

Information sourced from Glamour, New York Times and the Fawcett Society

Connie Mark (1923-2007)

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Connie Mark (nee McDonald) was 16 when WWII was declared. At 21 she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and served in Jamaica as a Medical Secretary to the Assistant Director of Medical Services.

Connie Mark Community Activist Civil Rights

Mark was promoted twice during her decade long service yet was denied the usual pay rise for unknown reasons. She began to fight for the back-pay she believed she was owed: "The Queen owes me eight years of tuppence a day". Then when she settled in Britain during the 1950s, she became a community activist who promoted Caribbean culture and ensured that people of colour who contributed to the war effort received equal recognition. This activism was fundamentally sparked when she was denied her British Empire Medal.

In 1989, she began campaigning again, for the inclusion of black servicemen and women in the celebrations of fifty years since the outbreak of WWII. She raised enough money for a photography exhibition celebrating the war effort of Black British people.

In 1992, at the age of 68, Mark finally received her British Empire Medal, two years later she was given a Member of the British Empire (MBE) award in recognition of a lifetime of public service.

Information sourced from the Guardian, Independent and Glamour.

Extra information:

  • British Film Institute's 'Riots and Rumours of Riots' film (1981) depicts radical resistance in the post-war British Caribbean community, from the 1948 Nationality Act to the 1958 Brixton Riots. Rent the film online for £1. 
  • Mark Brown from The Guardian has produced an article entitled 'Britain's black power movement is at risk of being forgotten, say historians'. Brown discusses Darcus Howe's biography which claims "Britain's black power movement is being written out of recent cultural history because it does not fit into the 'utopian' narrative of the UK being a nation of civilised fair play".

Lilian Bader (1918-2015)

Black and white image of Lilian BaderLilian Bader was born to Marcus Bailey, Barbadian born migrant, and an Irish mother. Bader was subsequently orphaned at the age of nine and was separated from her brothers to live in a Convent.

Despite being a class leading student, the reality of being a mixed-race woman in early 1930s Britain hit Lilian at a young age. By 20, she was still at the Convent she joined at the age of 9 as nobody was willing to hire her. 

When war broke out in 1939, she worked briefly in the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes canteen, however she was forced to leave. Her employment was a short seven weeks – she was sacked as her father was black and born outside of the United Kingdom.

Yet on 28 March 1941, Lilian Bader volunteered to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and trained as an Instrument Repairer. Once she passed, she became one of the first women, let alone black women, in the Air Force to qualify in this trade. She was moved from York to Shropshire and was soon promoted to Corporal and leading Aircraftswoman.

After having two children with Ramsay Bader, a mixed-race Tank driver, she went back to school and achieved the necessary grades to secure a degree at the University of London which allowed her to become a teacher. 

By the end of the 20th century, three generations of her family had served in the British Armed Forces: her father, two brothers, her youngest son and of course Lilian herself. 

Information sourced from RAF Museums ; Black History Month ; the Fawcett Society and Living Memorial.

David Clemetson (1893-1918)

Black and White image of David Clemetson The first black officer to join the British Armed Forces. When war was first declared in 1914, Jamaican-born David Clemetson was among the first to volunteer. As a 20-year-old law student at Trinity College, Cambridge, Clemetson joined up eager to prove that he and others from British colonies like Jamaica were willing to fight and die for King and Country in a European conflict dismissed as a 'white man’s war’. 

In 1915, he became one of the first Black British officers of World War One, as he received the title 2nd lieutenant. This was despite the Manual of Military Law at the time effectively barring what it called “any negro or person of colour” from holding rank above sergeant.

A number of the first Black British soldiers lied about their Black ancestry in order to become an officer however, when asked if he was of pure European descent, Clemetson answered “no”. By telling the truth about his ancestry, Clemetson threatened to disrupt the military’s peculiar “Don’t ask, don’t tell” racial practices. Recruiting officers would have preferred he claimed that he was white as if others had followed Clemetson’s stance, the military could no longer claim that it barred people of colour from taking leadership roles. 

The question of race quickly shaped Clemetson’s brief military career. Shortly after he was enlisted, he was examined by a military doctor. Asked to describe what “complexion” Clemetson was, the physician wrote “dusky”, or between light and dark (depicted on the right).

Medical Description of Enlistment for David Clemetson

After serving on the Macedonian Front in 1916 and being torpedoed and rescued on his way to Britain in 1917, Clemetson ended up at Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland. Whilst recovering, he received a letter from the War Office promoting him to full lieutenant. It is thought that he was the only Black person to hold this rank in the British armed forces during WWI. 

He returned to fight in March 1918 and died 6 months later in the Somme region on 21 September 1918 – just 52 days before the end of the war. He was 25. 

David Clemetson is memorialised in Unicorn war cemetery in Vendhuile, northern France, and in his Jamaican hometown of Port Maria, St Mary. However, in Britain he is unknown. At Trinity College, Cambridge, he was left off the war memorial in Trinity College Chapel which features 618 Trinity students killed fighting during the Great War. 

Information sourced from Coral Hill; BBC; Trinity News and Trinity College Library.

Extra information has been provided by the Imperial War Museum Group. [PDF]

Sam King MBE (1926-2016):

Born in Jamaica in 1928, Sam King MBE worked with his nine siblings on the family farm of which he intended to take over after his father’s retirement. However, once World War II was declared he was interested in everything going on in Britain and Europe as he believed that if Hitler won the war, his government would re-introduce slavery in the West Indians colonies. In 1944, he volunteered in the Royal Airforce. After three months of training, he was posted at a fighter station near Folkestone and served as an engineer.Sam King MBE playing the trumpet.

After returning to Jamaica, he found resettling back into civilian life difficult, so he took the opportunity to travel to Britain on Empire Windrush in 1948 and settled in South London. He re-joined the RAF, and later worked for the Royal Mail.

Later he became Southwark’s first black mayor (1983-84) and a prominent campaigner for the West Indies community, it was London’s first West Indies carnival that eventually became Notting Hill Carnival (he organised this alongside Claudia Jones).

Sam King is best known for setting up the Windrush foundation in 1995 with his friend Arthur Torrington. This aimed to celebrate the arrival of people from the Caribbean to Britain following World War II and was first charitable organisation whose objectives are to keep alive the memories of the young men and women who were amongst the first wave of post-war settlers in England.Sam King MBE with war medals.

On the 40th anniversary of the Windrush’s first docking in 1998, Sam King was awarded his MBE for his outstanding service to Britain.

He sadly passed away in June 2016 at 90 years old.

Extra Information - find out about Sam King's time at the General Post Office and the racism he faced. 

Information sourced from: The BBC website, The Windrush Foundation website, and the Black History Month website

Mona Baptiste (1928-1993):

Baptiste turned 20 the day before she arrived in Britain on Empire Windrush. As she was one of only few women on the ship, she had travelled first class. The Trinidad-born blues singer also entertained fellow passengers (ex-servicemen) onboard the ship (see below).Mona Baptiste playing music to passengers on Empire Windrush.

She was and up-and-coming singer in Trinidad who from the age of 14 was singing on the radio and attending dances. However, on arrival in Britain she declared her occupation as ‘clerk’ however her musical ambitions were not well concealed. She quickly absorbed herself in London’s nightclub and ballroom scene which was already influenced by the calypso and highlife music popularised by the capital’s small pre-war black community.  

Within a few weeks, she appeared on the BBC’s Light Programme with Stanley Black and his Dance Orchestra. Soon after she toured with some of the most popular artists of the day including Ted Heath and Stephane Grappelli. Mona was eventually recognised on the international stage, especially in Germany, where she decided to settle and make dozens of records singing in German. She was largely popular from songs such as “Calypso Blues” and “There’s Something in the Air”. She also acted in multiple musical films such as Dancing in the Sun (1954).

However, her son Marcel has previously commented that it was marriage that ruined his mother’s career as a singer. Her first husband died in a car crash, so Mona devoted the 1960s to bring up her son, then aged five. But in 1972 she moved to Ireland after marrying her second husband. The marriage appeared unhappy and he did not her to go out on tour.

Mona died in 1993, aged 65, having suffered a stroke. Little had been heard from her in years but sadly, so few Britons knew about her and her work.

Information sourced from: Windrush Foundation, Camden New Journal, Historycal Roots

Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797):

Born in southern Nigeria, Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped aged 11 and sold to a Royal Navy Officer, Lieutenant MichOlaudah Equiano ael Pascal, who renamed him Gustavus Vassa. Equiano travelled the seas with Pascal for eight years, during which time he learned to read and write.

He was sold again to a ship captain. Equiano was able to earn money by trading on the side which allowed him to buy his freedom in 1766 where he then spent much of the next 20 years travelling. In 1786 he become part of the abolitionist group ‘The Sons of Africa’, considered to be Britain’s first black political organisation, which campaigned to end African slavery.

In 1789, Cambridge University Press published Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano’, which in 2017 was featured in The Guardian’s 100 best nonfiction books of all time. In his article, Robert McCrum states that Black literature begins with these 18th century slave memoirs of which Equiano’s are the most famous.

In 1792 Equiano married Susannah Cullen and they made their home in Soham, Cambridgeshire. They went on to have two daughters – Anna Maria (born October 1793) and Joanna (born April 1795). Susannah died in February 1796 and was buried in Soham – her gravestone states ‘Susannah Vassa, wife of Gustavus the African, aged 34 years’. Equiano died a year after in March 1797, his burial place is not known. Anna Maria then died aged four and is buried at St. Andrew’s Church in Chesterton. There is a memorial to her on the church wall which reads:

Near this Place lies Interred

Anna Maria Vassa

Daughter of Gustavus Vassa, the African

She died July 21 1797 aged 4 years

Information sourced from: Capturing Cambridge, The Guardian, BBC History

Albert Gordon – Cambridge’s First Black Pub Landlord

Albert Gordon came to the UK in 1960. In 1969 married his wife Lorna and adopted the children she had through her previous marriage. Together they ran the Midland Arms on Devonshire Road (now the Devonshire Arms off Mill Road) during the 1970s. Doing this they broke every social barrier possible.

He was the driving force of West Indian culture for the city and often featured in the Cambridge Evening News (below). When the pub first opened, customers demanded Reggae music. It was unheard of to have a dancing licence in a pub, yet having approached the police, fire service, council and magistrates’ court to have a disco pub. He was eventually granted a licence.

Albert and Lorna Gordon in Cambridge Evening News (1970s)

Lucy Gordon, Albert’s adoptive daughter spoke about the different events the family hosted such as a ‘Charity Pram Race’ starting at the Midland Tavern, going along to several pubs on Mill Road. Groups would push their friends from pub to pub having a pint in each along the way. He often made friends with other landlords, encouraging custom between pubs.

Lucy also noted how much her parents loved people, so Albert Gordon and his family. being the landlord and lady of the Midland Tavern during the 70s suited them well. People loved the atmosphere and the mix of people – from 70s teddy boys with suits and slicked back hair, rock and roll boys and students. He was notably indiscriminate, welcoming the Irish who were often discriminated against at the time.

Albert and Lorna closed their pub in the later 1970s, but despite the end of the Midland Arms, Cambridge locals still remember the community hub of the 1970s.

Information sourced from: Cambridge News, Capturing Cambridge's website

Please visit the Cambridge City’s ‘Capturing Cambridge’ page for further information about the history of Cambridge.

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