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Monday, 01 January 2007
Black Boy

Black Boy Pub in Sevenoaks

This is the Black Boy pub in Sevenoaks. The official explanation for the name, as posted on the outside wall of the pub, goes as follows:

There are many versions behind the unusual name of this unique house.

The renowned author of Knole and the Sackvilles, Vita Sackville-West, mentions in her chapter on Knole House in James I’s reign, a John Morockoe, a Blackamoor. John must have been a remarkable man as it has been suggested that Black Boy Lane, now known as Bank Street, was named after him.

Another suggestion is that the lane was named after a teacher from Sevenoaks School.

Whatever the reason we do know that the Black Boy dates back to 1616, it is therefore fitting that you can once again sit back and enjoy atmosphere [sic] of this ancient inn, coupled with the hospitality of Shepherd Neame, Britain’s Oldest Brewers, who also date back to the 17th Century.

Far from being a unique house, this pub is one of at least five pubs of the same name that can be found in England today. The other four are:

  1. Black Boy pub in Bushey Heath, Watford, London;
  2. Black Boy in Banbury;
  3. Black Boy in Bewdley; and
  4. Blackboy’s Inn in Uckfield.

There are also about 10 English streets or villages bearing this name.

Following the same theme there was a pub in Back Lane, Exeter called Labour in Vain. The Exeter Memories website gives a more frank explanation of the probable origins of the name:

Mentioned Flying Post 1846 ref AER, fate unknown. One known derivation of this name is displayed on the sign - it shows a black-boy being washed to make him white - they weren’t so politically correct in former times.

The British Muslim Heritage website has an interesting article on coffee, which is believed to have been introduced to Britiain in the 17th Century. (Many records were destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666).

Whether some of these coffee-houses were actually run by Muslim proprietors at one time is a matter for conjecture. However, what can be found in the records are a number of very interesting names. Up to 57 different “Turk’s Head” coffee-houses were recorded in one form or other. We also find “The Jerusalem Coffee-house”; various types of the “Blackamoor” or “Ye Blackmore’s Head”; “The Oriental Cigar Divan”; “The Saracen’s Head” (of Dickens fame); “The Africa and Senegal Coffee-house”; “The Sultaness”; “The Sultan’s Head”; “Solyman’s Coffee House”; “Morat Ye Great”, and many, many more examples can be found, among them the first Indian restaurant of London, “The Hindoostanee” of 1810.

Each coffee-house has its own interesting history. They were all certainly influenced by the Ottoman coffee-house model, which does raise questions about the origins of at least the first few proprietors. Coffee-houses served not only coffee, but some of them offered the lure of tobacco and hookah pipes; tea was also served as it found its way over from the China seas (also initially via the Muslim world). The serving staff seems to have dressed the part, and a “black boy” seeking refuge from the West Indies was sometimes employed as a star attraction to customers. The signs outside, and with them the coffee tokens that were used to purchase, were often be-turbaned.

The “Great Turk Coffee House” (also known as “Morat Ye Great”) in Exchange Alley in 1662 is a case in point. Apparently, inside could be found a bust of “Sultan Almurath IV” himself, “the most detestable tyrant that ever ruled the Ottoman Empire”. The customer could not only find coffee, tea and tobacco here, but also chocolate and a range of sherbets, which, according to the Mercurius Publicus (12-19 March 1662), were “made in Turkie; made of lemons, roses, and violets perfumed”. Another chronicler of the time has suggested that “Morat” was actually the name of the proprietor himself.

The London Gazette of 2-8 September, 1658 advertised what is purported to be the first place to sell tea: “That Excellent, and by all Physitians approved, China Drink, called by Chineans, Tcha, by other Nations Tay, alias Tee, is sold at the Sultaness-head, a Cophee-house, in Sweeting’s Rents by the Royal Exchange, London”. The tokens for the coffee-house bore the Sultaness’ veiled head. Its origins are otherwise obscure, other than it may have moved to the site of Morat Ye Great after its destruction in the Great Fire. The Sultaness Coffee House was also mentioned by Charles Dickens in a number of his works, notably Little Dorrit, and this implies the survival of this particular coffee-house for about two hundred years.

...

These coffee-houses took London society by storm for about 400 years. They functioned not only as social venues, but many artists and writers began to congregate and hold meetings in them; business and banking transactions took place in them; Freemasons had their Lodge meetings in them. Many coffee-houses, due to their sea-born connections, even set up a postal system for collecting and carrying letters abroad, which annoyed the struggling Postal Service no end. Often they went hand in hand with Turkish baths, which were also becoming a popular London feature. Whatever the local ethos of the area, whether it be one of literary prowess or ill-repute, the coffee-house became the main focal-point for all of this activity. They even gained a reputation for being meeting places for religious or political dissidents, and hence at one point in the mid to late seventeenth century were “under suspicion as being centres of intrigue and treasonable-talk”.

Most coffee shops in the UK today probably have an American theme, and have names that evoke the USA with words like Republic and Star in the name.

Posted by bigblue on 01/01/2007 at 08:51 PM
Filed under: EuropeUnited KingdomEngland • (2) CommentsPermalinkBookmark or Share

The National Archives site on black British history:

Although the British government tried several times to get rid of groups of Black people, there was clearly a settled Black and Asian population here throughout the period 1500-1850. Although we do not know their numbers, there are some (rather contradictory) clues. In 1764, for example, the Gentleman’s Magazine estimated that 20,000 Black people lived in London, a figure accepted by the anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp. In 1772, Lord Mansfield put the number in the country as a whole at 15,000.

A poignant record of Black people’s lives and deaths in Britain is provided by surviving tombstones. A famous and frequently quoted one is that of 18-year-old Scipio Africanus, who died on 21 December 1720. He is buried in Henbury cemetery, near Bristol. Another is that of ‘Sambo’ of Sunderland Point, Lancaster, whose inscription reads ‘Here lies Poor Sambo A faithful Negro’ - an epitaph that typifies the patronising attitudes towards Black people at the time.

Posted by bigblue  on  01/01/2007  at  11:12 PM

In my another blog review Laura links to an interesting article on black history in Kent which informs that

At Knole in 1624 there were two servants described as ‘Blackmoors’, Grace Robinson and John Morockoe. We know that there was a succession of African men working there, all named (or renamed) ‘John Morockoe’.

This is the old I can’t pronounce your name, I’m going to call you John colonial wheeze.

Posted by bigblue  on  03/01/2007  at  06:55 PM

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