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Heritage Exhibition: African Figures ‘Forgotten’ By England’s Cultural Past Unveiled

A new English Heritage exhibition unveiled on Wednesday aims to shine a light on figures traditionally forgotten by England’s cultural history.

Painting our Past: The African Diaspora in England draws together new portraits of six historical figures – spanning Roman Britain to the 20th Century – that reflect the long history of African people in England.

The figures include Septimius Severus, an African-born Roman emperor who strengthened Hadrian’s Wall, and James Chappell, a black 17th Century servant at Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire who saved the life of the then owner, Sir Christopher Hatton.

The paintings are on display at the English Heritage-linked forts, abbeys, historic houses and barracks where these individuals lived, visited or worked. This includes the return of the portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Queen Victoria’s African goddaughter, to Osborne House, Victoria’s seaside home on the Isle of Wight.

Anna Eavis, English Heritage’s curatorial director, said: “African figures from the past have played significant roles at some of the historic sites in our care but many of their stories are not very well known.

“Placing their portraits on the walls of those sites is one way we hope to bring their stories to life and share them with a wider audience.”

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