Black History Month 2022

Black people who have shaped the towns and cities in which GoodGym operates

October 12, 2022

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Black History Month is a time to learn about and celebrate the Black people who have been a part of creating so much of the Britain we all live in today. These figures have often been forgotten, or the importance of their work diminished. Here we share some brief information on some of the people that have shaped the towns and cities in which GoodGym operates.


Ignatius was born on a slave ship in 1729 and instantly sold into slavary in Granada. Whilst there his parents died and he was soon ‘gifted’ to a family in Greenwich. Here he was befriended by the Duke of Montagu who was reportedly impressed with his intellect. The Duke encouraged Sancho to read and he became a butler for the Duchess of Montagu, serving in their household located close to Greenwich Park where the GoodGym Greenwich group meet, until her death in 1751.


A portrait of Sancho by the artist Thomas Gainsborough

Sancho became heavily involved in the public debate over the slave trade and in 1766 wrote a letter to Laurence Sterne, a popular novelist, urging him to use his influence to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade. Sterne published this letter, and his own response, in which he supported Sancho and shone a light on the barbaric nature of the slave trade. This was widely read and contributed greatly to societal discussions that were going on at the time.

Sancho married in 1773 and is recorded as owning a grocery store in Westminster the same year. Due to his financially independent status he was eligible to vote and in 1774 became the first black person of African origin to vote in parliamentary elections in Britain.

Sancho wrote many other letters throughout his life and following his death they were published and instantly became best sellers. Multiple editions were published over the following years and the letters became an integral part of the movement to end slavery. He once wrote “… the Christians’ abominable traffic for slaves and the horrid cruelty and treachery of the African Kings – encouraged by their Christian customers who carry them guns to furnish them with the hellish means of killing and kidnapping.”

… the Christians’ abominable traffic for slaves and the horrid cruelty and treachery of the African Kings – encouraged by their Christian customers who carry them guns to furnish them with the hellish means of killing and kidnapping


Emma Clarke was born in Bootle in 1876, an area now home to many Liverpool GoodGymers and tasks such as Bootle in Bloom. Emma was keen on football, and like the majority of children in those days mainly played on the cobble streets near where she lived.

Women’s football was gaining popularity and in 1895 she became the first black woman to play for the British Ladies Football Team, as it was then known. The exhibition match, ‘North vs South’ took place in Crouch End and is believed to have been watched by over 10,000 people.

In 1897, she made an appearance for a team described as "The New Woman and Ten of Her Lady Friends" (a feminist group campaigning for equal rights) against "Eleven Gentlemen" which they won 3-1. A report in the Hull Daily Mail from the time demonstrated the view of some calling the game 'grotesque football'.

Clarke continued playing football into the 20th century and while little is known about her life beyond this, she is thought of as a pioneer for the women’s game.


Emma Clarke in 1895


Pablo Fanqu was born William Darby in Norwich in 1810. Details of his early life are unclear and he is thought to have joined a local circus as an apprentice in 1821 where he changed his name for his act. Pablo proved to be a prodigy, becoming an expert acrobat, tightrope walker and was renowned as one of the best horse trainers of his day.

Fanqu went on to own and manage his own circus touring extensively around the UK for 30 years and becoming the first ever black circus owner.

In the 1960’s Fanqu's circus was immortalised in The Beatles’ song ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’ after John Lennon saw an old poster for his show.



Olaudah Equiano was born in the Kingdom of Benin, which now forms part of Nigeria. He was enslaved and had various owners until being bought by Robert King, an American Quaker. King taught him to read and write, and allowed him to buy his freedom.

Equiano settled in England and after a decade of working at sea, lived in Westminster and became heavily involved in the abolitionist movement. He campaigned alongside groups such as the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

In 1789 he published his memoir, 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African', which detailed the horrors of the slave trade. The book was widely read and is one of the earliest-known examples of published writing by an African writer in England. The book contributed to the growing anti-slavery movement and brought the brutality of the slave trade to many new people.


A pictire of Olaudah Equiano by Daniel Orme, used as the cover of his autobiography


Think carnival and you automatically think of Notting Hill but the roots of this event as it is today can be traced to Leeds and a man called Arthur France.

Arthur France was born on the Caribbean island Nevis, in September 1935 and was a direct descendant of enslaved Africans. In 1957 he moved to Leeds where he became very active in his local community and the anti-rascist movement. In August 1967, France founded the first West Indian Carnival in Europe and was instrumental in organising the event, personally recruiting people to be involved, making costumes and organising troupes.

France went on to do many more things to support communities in Leeds including sitting on the Leeds City Council Race Equality Advisory Forum , and chairing the Leeds Bi-Centenary Transformation Project securing funding to regenerate parts of the city. He was awarded an MBE in recognition of his work for the Community in 1997.

N.B for all you Carnival historians it is true that the Notting Hill Carnival can be traced back to the 1950s where static indoor events were held. However, the Carnival held in Leeds in 1967 was the first to include all four elements of carnival: a Calypso King contest, a Carnival Queen show, a last lap dance and a steel band contest.


Have your own GoodGym story to share with the community? Email and we'll be in touch.
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