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Date created: 10/22/2020

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) is pleased to announce the publication of a new project dataset, Switching the Lens - Rediscovering Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous Heritage, 1561 to 1840.

Switching the Lens refocuses our attention on Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous heritage. The dataset highlights records of over 2600 individuals drawn from Anglican parish registers at London Metropolitan Archives and is the result of  research carried out by staff and volunteers, which began as the British Library funded Black and Asian Londoners project carried out in 2000 to 2002, and continues today at LMA.

London has long been home to a very diverse population, a fact often obscured by mainstream British history which traditionally excludes the histories of people of colour, centres ‘whiteness’ and upholds narratives constructed by colonialism. The project name reflects the variety and breadth of the contribution made by Londoners from many diverse communities. ‘Rediscovering’ embraces the fact that this history has always been present; ‘Switching the Lens’, that we are taking a proactive approach to highlight it more widely.

Entry in the register of baptisms for St Katherine by the Tower for Katherine Auker on 29 February 1688
Entry in the register of baptisms for St Katherine by the Tower for Katherine Auker on 29 February 1688

The histories revealed are a testimony to the diversity of London life. We encounter:

  • Mary Fillis, a Moroccan who was baptised in 1597
  • Charles, a boy brought by Sir Walter Raleigh from Guyana and baptised in 1597
  • Walter Anberey, born in the kingdom of Dungala (Sudan) and baptised in Tottenham in 1610
  • Anne Vause, wife of Anthonie, a royal trumpeter employed at the Tower of London and buried in 1616
  • Phillip, an Indian born in Zarat (Surat), Gujarat and baptised in 1623
  • George Adomo, from Jacquin and servant to the Emperor of Dahomey (Benin), who was baptised in 1732
  • Jonathan Strong, an enslaved man brought to London from Barbados who challenges the status of slavery in the City courts in 1767
  • Beuraws Panfield, a sailor from HMS Voluntaire, who, having fought in Napoleonic wars, was baptised in Bethnal Green in 1813

Switching the Lens offers an exciting and intriguing insight into the lived experiences of people arriving in London from 16th to 19th centuries. It helps to reframe perceptions of immigration and presents materials to develop a deeper understanding of the complex historical relationships between London, the UK and the world.

The dataset, along with digitised images of entries from the parish registers, can be accessed via our LMA Collections Catalogue. You can access it by following the link to 'Switching the Lens' from the home page, by following the link to 'more search options' or alternatively by the link to 'digital documents'. Detailed information about the project and tips for searching the records can be found at these links. You can search by keyword, as well as by location, ethnicity and by date.

Search the 'Switching the Lens' dataset

Volunteers needed!

We are looking for volunteers interested in systematically searching parish registers online to look for entries relating to Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous heritage. The search will cover registers from the 1500s to 1837, and we are focusing on completing the search of registers from the 100+ parishes that make up the City of London (the area commonly described as 'the Square Mile').

Our parish registers have been digitised by Ancestry.co.uk, so this is a project that can be undertaken from home. Volunteers will be given access to LMA’s digitised parish records on Ancestry, and we can set you registers to search that match your skills and experience. You will need access to your own PC or tablet as well as internet access, and we would suggest that this project is best suited to those who can offer two to four hours of searching a week – searching is best done in short bursts. Training in searching LMA’s parish registers collections online will be given. This is a project that is only offered remotely, but staff will be available to help you via email or Zoom.

This is a project perfectly suited for volunteers who are looking to improve their skills in reading and interpreting old handwriting, who are interested in parish registers and local history, or who are curious about the population of London. Parish registers give a unique insight into London’s communities at specific times and dates. As the project doesn’t require you to visit LMA, it is open to researchers who based outside London or who wish to fit volunteering around other commitments.

If you are interested in volunteering on the Switching the Lens project, or have any queries, please email LMA Enquiries.