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Exhibition at London Metropolitan Archives

'Unforgotten Lives' presents the stories of Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous heritage who lived and worked in the city between 1560 and 1860 and are recorded in London’s archives. Exploring a range of experiences, these multi-layered stories speak of love, enterprise, wealth and family life; discrimination, hardship, resilience and resistance.

Informed by an ongoing research project which aims to reveal London’s complex and long-standing diversity and developed in partnership with Northeastern University London, the exhibition presents evidence of presence and community in documents created nearly 500 years ago. It celebrates well known figures from London’s past and introduces some of the thousands of names discovered in the archives.

Visitor using an interactive map at the Unforgotten London exhibition
Visitor using an interactive map at the Unforgotten London exhibition

Olaudah Equiano, a key figure in the movement to abolish slavery and member of the Sons of Africa, features with his daughter Joanna. The London life and family of Ellen and William Craft is documented, following their extraordinary escape from enslavement, and a manuscript voting record of Ignatius Sancho from 1774, believed to be the first time that a person of African heritage voted in an election in Britain, is displayed for the first time at London Metropolitan Archives.

Detail of a baptism record from 1598 showing details of a boy from Guyana who has been christened as 'Charles'
An early baptism record of ‘Charles’ at St Luke Chelsea, on February 13 1598. The text reads “Charles A boy by Estimacon [Estimation] x. or xii yers olde [10 or 12 years old] brought by Sr Walter Rawlie [Sir Walter Raleigh] from Guiana [Guyana]" LMA reference - P74/LUK/161/BAL-0022

We also meet many less familiar Londoners discovered by the research project including Katherine Auker, who successfully petitioned to be released from her enslaver in 1690. A man from Bengal known as John Morgan who escorts a cheetah to London in the 1760s and Prince Dederi Jaquoah who was baptised in the City of London in 1611.

Visitor looking at archive items in the Unforgotten London exhibition
Visitor looking at archive items in the Unforgotten London exhibition

The archives also tantalisingly reveal what may be the identity of the servant of Sir Joshua Reynolds, who appears in several of his iconic paintings.

Immersed in hundreds of years of London’s archives, Unforgotten Lives reveals glimpses of some of the 3300 people discovered by the research project to date, presenting their stories and their importance in the history of London.

Burial entry for Yemmerrawanyea at St John, Eltham in 1794
Register showing the burial of Yemmerrawanyea at St John, Eltham in 1794. Scholars suggest that the word 'Kebarrah' in the entry describes an indigenous man who has been initiated into manhood. LMA Reference - P97/JNB2/A/01/002