Historical Londoners’ stories of discrimination, resistance, and triumph over adversity remembered at City Corporation’s archives

Multi-layered stories of discrimination, resistance, and hardship, as well as enterprise, love, and triumph over adversity will be told in an inspirational new exhibition at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) from next month.

Unforgotten Lives, which opens at the City of London Corporation-owned archives on Wednesday 5 April, presents the archived stories of Londoners of African, Caribbean, and Asian heritage, who lived and worked in the capital between 1560 and 1860.

Developed with a research team at Northeastern University London and inspired by an ongoing research project at LMA, the free exhibition also features people with Canadian First Nations and Aboriginal Australian heritage.

Celebrating both well-known figures from London’s past and many people whose stories have not been told until now, visitors to LMA will find out more about the following, and many other, individuals:

* Ellen Craft and her husband William were born in Georgia, United States, in 1826 and 1824. Both were enslaved, but they escaped from their enslavers in 1848. During their escape, Ellen dressed as a man and passed herself off as a white plantation owner. Ellen and William spent 19 years in England, much of it in London bringing up their family

* A manuscript voting record from 1774 of Ignatius Sancho - believed to be the first time that a person of African heritage voted in an election in Britain – will be displayed for the first time.

* Yemmerrawanyea, a First Nations Australian of the Eora Nation, was part of Governor Arthur Phillip’s household and travelled to England arriving in 1793. He travelled with an older man, Woollarawarre Bennelong, who acted as an interlocutor between the Eora and the English. Phillip took the men to London where they lived in Mount Street, Grosvenor Square and toured the sights visiting the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral. While at Mount Street, they performed a song of the Eora Nation, which was notated and published in 1811, making it the oldest known published music from Australia. The two men became unwell and the party moved into the country at Eltham, where they could be nursed. Yemmerrawanyea did not recover, and was buried on 18 May 1794.

* Born in Patna in the modern state of Bihar in India, Sake Dean Mohamed was a soldier, writer, entrepreneur, and shampooing surgeon to the King. In 1810, he set up the Hindostanee Coffee House in Marylebone. Probably the first of its kind in the capital, it served Indian cuisine.

* Frederick (Ira) Aldridge was born in New York and in May 1825, he made theatrical history at just 17 by being the first modern actor of African heritage to play Othello - at the Royalty Theatre in London’s East End.

* Thu a Higon arrived in London from Canada in 1750 and settled in Hackney. She appears in the parish records of St John at Hackney in the same year when her son was baptised. Following the death of her husband Robert Pilgrim in 1751, she was sent to Hudson Bay in Canada.

The archives also reveal what is believed to be the identity of the servant of the leading English portraitist of the 18th century, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who appears in several of his iconic paintings.

Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage, and Libraries Committee, Wendy Hyde, said:

“As well as ensuring that these individuals’ lives are, and will continue to be, remembered, ‘Unforgotten Lives’ will celebrate the importance of diversity and how the capital’s many different communities have helped grow and shape the London that we recognise today.

“Some people’s stories will inspire and impress us, while others will serve as a reminder of how cruelly and unjustly we have treated others in the past - and all these accounts deserve to be told in this insightful exhibition.”

The City of London Corporation, which owns and manages London Metropolitan Archives, is the fourth largest funder of heritage and cultural activities in the UK and invests over £130m every year.

Unforgotten Lives runs from 5 April 2023 to March 2024 at London Metropolitan Archives. Admission FREE.


Notes to editors:

For further information about Unforgotten Lives as well as images, and requests for interviews, please contact Andrew Buckingham, Media Officer (Arts, Culture, and Heritage), City of London Corporation / 07795 333060 /

About the City of London Corporation:

The City of London Corporation, which owns and manages London Metropolitan Archives, is the governing body of the Square Mile dedicated to a vibrant and thriving City, supporting a diverse and sustainable London within a globally-successful UK –

About London Metropolitan Archives:

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), which is owned and managed by the City of London Corporation, is the archive repository for the Greater London area. The documents and books that LMA cares for, and provides access to, date from 1067 to the present day and collections are constantly expanding. The archives are free to use, as are the majority of resources in the public research rooms.

London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London, EC1R 0HB

London Metropolitan Archives is open to visitors at the following times:

  • Monday - 10am to 4pm
  • Tuesday - 10am to 4pm
  • Wednesday - 10am to 7pm
  • Thursday - 10am to 4pm
  • Saturdays - 11 February, 11 March - 10am to 4pm - please note that documents must be ordered in advance

(Closed on Bank Holidays - check the website for full details)