Shirley’s favourite historical figures
One of Shirley’s favourite historical figures on the walk is Sarah Parker Remond, one of the first Black women to study in London and someone Shirley discovered when planning a walk for International Women’s Day. “She wanted to raise awareness for the Black cause in the States during the Civil War and also she was a suffragist as well,” Shirley says. Senate House Library is where we come across Mary Prince, another favourite. An abolitionist, Prince came to the country as an enslaved nursemaid and wrote The History of Mary Prince, the first narrative of a Black woman to be published in Britain.
Friends House, the Quaker centre on Euston Road, is another space that reveals unexpected aspects of Black history: “Quakers were very early abolitionists. Another side which nobody talks about is all the women that were really quite passionate about anti-slavery,” Shirley says. Jamaican-born physician Harold Moody features on the walk and is someone who was supported in his campaigning by the Quakers. His ‘League of Coloured Peoples’ – a civil rights organisation – was founded on Tottenham Court Road in 1931.
Highlighting Black contributions to society
A child of the Windrush generation, Shirley clearly sees the impact that wave of immigration had on London. “Every time I hit a big transport hub, I think of the contribution the post-Windrush people have made to just moving millions of people around in London, all the time.” Shirley’s walks may take in the history of slavery in this city and mentions the compensation payments made to slave owners in the UK after abolition, but she’s also keenly focused on the positive stories in Black history. “You have to remember what the country was like, what London was like after the war, it was damaged. Black people put it back together and they’re still taking us all around London, looking after us.”
Through these walks, Shirley’s aim is that people see themselves reflected in these spaces. She says she wants to “encourage people to walk around and look up, look down and question, ‘I wonder who works there? I wonder what it would have been like’”.