The first recorded African community in Britain [Background] Burgh by Sands

Plaque recording the first African community in Britain

The first recorded African community in Britain was based at Burgh by Sands some 1,800 years ago.

There was a fort on Hadrian's wall at Burgh by Sands, known to Romans as Aballava. In the 3rd century AD it was home to a contingent of troops from North Africa called ‘the Aurelian Moors', named after the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These soldiers are likely to have settled in the area and had families there.

How do we know? Well, in 1934 a Roman altar was found reused as a building stone in a cottage in nearly Beaumont, recording a dedication to Jupiter by Caelius Vibianus, commander of the Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum (The Unit of Aurelian Moors), who would have been recruited from the Berber people of Mauretania, now present day Morocco and West Algeria. The altar is dated to about AD 253-8. (R G Collingwood & R P Wright, The Roman Inscriptions of Britain, Vol 1, (Oxford University Press, 1965) RIB 2042, p626).

Some time later, maybe as much as a hundred years later, the Notitia Dignitatum, a list of all the commanding officers and regiments of the Roman Army, lists per Lineam Valli (along the line of the Wall) Praefectus Numeri Maurorum Aurelianorum, Aballava (the Prefect of the Unit of Aurelian Moors, at Aballava. (A L F Rivet & Colin Smith, The Place-Names of Roman Britain, (Cambridge University Press, 1979), p.220). By this date, the regiment would have been recruiting locally, particularly from the sons of serving soldiers married to local women.

You can learn more about this on the BBC programme 'Black and British: a Forgotten History'., from which the above image is taken