• Date and time: Monday 3 June 2024, 8pm to 9pm
  • Location: Online only
  • Admission: Free admission, booking required

Book tickets

Event details

The idea that Britain became a mixed-race country after 1945 is a common mistake. Georgian England had a large and distinctive Black community. Whether prosperous citizens or newly freed slaves, many ran the risk of kidnap and sale to plantations. 

Gretchen Gerzina, author of Black England and actor Paterson Joseph, author of the historical novel The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho, will discuss the dramatic and often moving stories of Georgian England’s forgotten Black community.

In 18th-century England, Black people could be found in clubs and pubs, there were special churches, Black-only balls and organisations for helping Black people who were out of work or in trouble. Many were famous and respected, including Ignatius Sancho, a correspondent of Laurence Sterne, who is the subject of Paterson’s award-winning debut novel. Other notable figures include Francis Barber, Doctor Johnson's beloved manservant; Francis Williams, a Cambridge scholar; the heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle; and Olaudah Equiano whose Interesting Narrative went into multiple editions. But far more were ill-paid and ill-treated servants or beggars, despite having served Britain in war and on the seas. For alongside the free world there was slavery, from which many of these Black Britons had escaped.

Join Gretchen and Paterson for this in conversation event as they reveal the triumphs and tortures of Black Georgian England and bring to light a fascinating chapter of our shared past – a chapter that has been ignored too long.

This event will take place live on Zoom Webinar. You will receive a link to join a couple of days before the event and a reminder an hour before. During the event, you can ask questions via a Q&A function, but audience cameras and microphones will remain muted throughout.

Book sales

You can buy copies of many of our speakers’ books from Fox Lane Books, a local independent bookseller and Festival partner. In some cases, author signed bookplates are available too. 

About the speakers

Gretchen Gerzina is the Paul Murray Kendall Chair in Biography, and Professor of English, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA. Previously a tenured professor at Vassar College and Barnard College, Columbia University, she was also the Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor of Biography at Dartmouth College where she was the first black woman to chair an Ivy League English Department. In addition, she was the Eastman Professor at Oxford University (Balliol College), Professor at Brunel University, and has directed three academic programs in African American Studies. She has written several acclaimed books including Carrington, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Mr and Mrs Prince. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Antiquarian Society, and appears often on radio and podcasts in Britain and America.

Paterson Joseph is a British actor and writer. Recently seen on Vigil and Noughts and Crosses, he has also starred in Peep Show and Law & Order UK and played Arthur Slugworth in the recent Wonka movie. He is the author of The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho which reimagines the life and times of the maverick Black writer and composer in 18th-century London. In 2023 he was installed as Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University.


University of York