Photo of Mapping Black London team and Paterson Joseph

Visit from Novelist and Archivist

What We Learned from Recent publications and Public Records

7 April 2022

Written by: Amouraé Bhola-Chin

From left to right: Kathryn Price (Boughton House Registrar), Charlotte Grant (English Professor), Olly Ayers, Crispin Powell (Boughton House Archivist), Nicole N. Aljoe, Paterson Joseph (Actor and Novelist), Libby Collard, Odile Jordan, Amouraé Bhola-Chin and Ellen Valente.

We were fortunate to be in conversation with Paterson Joseph and Crispin Powell, one which was spurred on by our shared interest in the Sancho family, and more generally the Black populace of London in the 1700s.

It can be said that archival silence is an intimidating barrier for historians, who, like Joseph, Powell and the researchers on this project, aspire to pave a new narrative, concerning the histories of people of African descent. This is why discussions like this are crucial; they not only uncover gaps in our knowledge, but also provide a platform for difficult questions to be asked, like the following.

How do past matters generate audiences via critical fabulation?

What if the education of Ignatius’ children could act as a gateway into finding out more about the Black middle class lifestyle during the 1700s?

We collectively understand that delving into the differing modes of archival material is necessary when performing research in a niche area as the African and Caribbean presence in eighteenth century London. For instance, a provisional archive proves valuable in providing a case study on a particular experience, namely through the lens of a contemporary individual. Whilst a public record office, giving a wider scope into the interested demographic, opens the doors for debates to be had concerning the impact of the regional systems: legal, literary or otherwise. (This is definitely something to note when arriving blank-faced at the archives.)

As researchers, we continue on our journey to build a fuller picture of London in all its dynamism during the latter colonial period.

Paterson Joseph, an English actor-turned-novelist, last year fleshed out his insightful research on the Sanchonettes in his recent novel: The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho, released in October 2022.

We also thank the continued work of Crispin Powell, who has dedicated his time to retracing the footprints of Ignatius and his associates whilst making it accessible to the public as the Montagu family archivist at Boughton House.

Cover: The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph. Publisher: Hatchett Australia