Black History Month: Part 2

Last week’s post looked at three black residents in Norwich connected to the campaign against slavery. This post turns the attention to black Norwich residents who are remembered through history in other unique and diverse ways.

Two of these were were men known only as ‘Cotton’ and ‘Charley’. Painted by John Dempsey in the 1820s, their portraits are now in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.


Cotton – an itinerant tradesman in 1820s Norwich. Painting by John Dempsey. Copyright Collection: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Charley, a Norwich shoe salesman in the 1820s. Painted by John Dempsey in 1823. Copyright Collection: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Charley, a Norwich shoe salesman in the 1820s. Painted by John Dempsey in 1823. Copyright Collection: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

William Darby was a butler in a house on All Saints’ Green. Darby married a white woman, Mary Stamps, and their son has a unique claim to fame, surely the only Norwich-born person mentioned in a Beatles lyric! in 1967 John Lennon saw an old poster in an antique shop in Sevenoaks in Kent. It advertised a circus entertainment in Rochdale in 1843 and gave the name Pablo Fanque: ‘Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, Town Meadows Rochdale. Grandest night of the season! And positively the last night but three! Being for the benefit of Mr Kite (late of Wells’s circus) and Mr J Henderson, the celebrated somerset thrower, wire dancer, vaulter, rider etc…’

Lennon was so entranced he put most of the text of the poster into his song ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!’ on the Beatles’ album ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Lennon could not know it, but Fanque was the first black circus proprietor in Britain: he was also Norwich-born. His real name was William Darby, son of William and Mary Darby, and born, probably in Norwich Workhouse, in 1810.

Another black resident in Victorian Norwich was Alexander Merrick Fuller. His father was Joseph Jackson Fuller, born the son of slave parents in Spanish Town, Jamaica, in 1825. Joseph married Elizabeth Johnson, a Jamaican schoolteacher apparently of Sierra Leone origin, and they had three children, one of whom was Alexander who was born in 1849 in Bimbia, Caeroon. Joseph worked as a Baptist missionary in the Cameroon for many years and, after his first wife died, married Charlotte Diboll a missionary from a Norfolk family, in 1861. The family links with Norfolk brought Fuller here, and he set up Alexander as an apprentice in a Norwich engineering firm. In 1871, the family was living in Rupert Street.

1871 census

Click image for larger version.

The census of that year lists Charlotte, Alexander (described as an engine fitter), and Joseph, Charlotte’s own son, born in about 1866. Alexander stayed in the city for many years after his apprenticeship, marrying Sophia Mace in 1874: they had six children in the city.

Our two Black History Month blog posts use information collected by Frank Meeres, archivist at Norfolk Record Office,  in his book, Strangers: A History of Norwich’s Incomers.

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