Cumbrian church site identified as first African settlement in Britain

A north Cumbrian church has been identified as being on the site of the first ever recorded settlement of African people in Britain.

A BBC film crew with Burgh-by-Sands Primary pupilsThis week a film crew working on a new BBC historical series, A Black History of Britain, visited St Michael’s, Burgh-by-Sands to shoot the unveiling of a special commemorative plaque.

It follows the discovery in 1934 of a stone in Beaumont which recorded North African troops as part of the garrison of the Roman fort of Aballava in the third century. St Michael’s was later built on the site.

An inscription on the plaque reads: “The first recorded African community in Britain guarded a Roman fort on this site. 3rd century AD. A BBC History Project.”

A member of the North East of England African Community AssociationOn Tuesday, film crew members spent nearly 12 hours at the site and joined members of the congregation, representatives of the North East of England African Community Association and local residents and school children for the unveiling.

The Rev’d Tudor Boddam-Whetham, Priest-in-Charge, said: “We were blessed to be able to film on such a lovely day which showcased our village and church beautifully. In fact it was probably a bit too hot for some!

“This celebration of the first black community known of in Britain is witness to our inclusive, multi-cultural past, present and future.

“Here at St Michael's Church, all can worship Jesus, our creator and eternal King, who was born as a Jew to save people from all nations.

“So it is very fitting that here, where soldiers from many nations were stationed, we continue to warmly welcome thousands of visitors each year from all around the world, and this plaque and the publicity around it will, we hope, bring even more to enjoy that history, and the church's welcome.”

The filming will feature in the new four-part series, presented by BAFTA-winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, and which will be broadcast on BBC Two later this year. It explores how Africa and its people helped shape Britain.

As well as filming the plaque being attached to the church railings, the crew also used a drone for aerial shots of fields around the site. A second identical plaque was also installed in the church tower.

St Michael's churchwarden Carolyne BainesCarolyne Baines, churchwarden at St Michael’s, said: “It was wonderful to see so many different groups gathered together to mark this event.

“In particular it was lovely to see Year five and six pupils from Burgh-by-Sands Primary able to show to all those there, artwork of what they thought their village may have looked like in the third century.

“There was a wonderful buzz of excitement on the day. We now look forward to seeing our village and church feature when A Black History of Britain is broadcast in November.”

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For further information contact Dave Roberts, Diocesan Communications Manager, on 07469 153658, 01768 807764 or at communications@carlislediocese.org.uk.