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Cumbrian church is site of Britain’s first African settlement

Posted on: July 22, 2016 3:15 PM
A member of the North East of England African Community Association at the newly unveiled plaque commemorating the third century North African troops who formed part of the Roman garrison at Aballava, which is now the site of St Michael’s Church in Burgh-by-Sands.
Photo Credit: Diocese of Carlisle
Related Categories: Africa, BBC, Carlisle, England, History

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Researchers from the BBC’s history unit have identified a north Cumbrian church – in the extreme north west of England – as being on the site of the first ever recorded settlement of African people in Britain.

St Michael’s Church in Burgh-by-Sands, near Carlisle, was built on the site of the third century roman fort of Aballava. The BBC team connected this with the 1934 discover of a stone in the nearby village of Beaumont, with an inscription recording North African troops as part of the garrison at Aballava.

This week, a film crew visited the church with award winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga to record a segment for a two-part series, A Black History of Britain, exploring how Africa and its people helped shape Britain.

While there, they unveiled a plaque in the churchyard, which reads: “The first recorded African community in Britain guarded a Roman fort on this site. 3rd century AD.”

“This celebration of the first black community known of in Britain is witness to our inclusive, multi-cultural past, present and future,” the Revd Tudor Boddam-Whetham, Priest-in-Charge of St Michael’s, said.

“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.”