Visiting the London Metropolitan Archives
20 April 2022
Written by: Amouraé Bhola-Chin
Teaming up with just one magnifying glass put us in good stead to locate several missing locations and some unsuspected finds.
An early success of the day was locating a digitised document displaying the payment of an apprenticeship undertaken by one of Sancho’s Black mentees, Julius Soubise, born in St. Kitts (then St. Christopher). Although we’d already established the connection between Sancho’s patron, Elizabeth the Duchess of Queensbury and Soubise, it was refreshing to confirm his association with Domenico Angelo Tremamondo, who taught him, alongside many aristocrats, the art of fencing in his school in Soho.
Another find which reassured me that I was heading in the right direction was a panoramic sketch of Cannon Row and the historic Charles Street: addresses which the Sancho family would have lived onwards from 1762. This is of geographical significance since much of Sancho’s letter correspondence would have begun from the shop at No.19 Charles Street. Furthermore, the picture was dated 1780, the same year his death was recorded by the then popular newspapers: The Gazetter and New Daily Advertiser.
“..archivists bury unexpected files in collections: these reveal themselves as jewels for researchers.” – Amouraé Bhola-Chin, in conversation
Locating the Covent Garden Theatre, which now sits as the Royal Opera House, was a notable end to the day. Sancho would have visited there numerous times, as he recounts doing so in his letters. It’s from these mentions where we learn much about his fully-rounded character – from his noticeable humour, to his pleasure of the arts (including music and literature).
When initially beginning this project, reminding myself that online sources can’t stand alone— despite their claims of being situated within historicity —proved tiresome. But in the months since, archival trips have become second nature as one of our navigation tools, and act to underpin our ability to trace the lives of historical Black Londoners.
Who knew we’d one day walk into an archive and feel a sense of comfort while being confronted with the unknown?