What evidence is there of a black presence in Britain and north west England?

Marriage A-la-Mode, Plate 4

Engraved by Simon Francis Ravenet, after William Hogarth (1697-1764), 1745
Etching and engraving on paper

Object number P.8362
Untraced find

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Marriage A-la-Mode, Plate 4

William Hogarth often used black characters in his work to satirise and comment on the morals of British society in the mid-1700s. He reversed contemporary conventional roles, using black characters to mock the behaviour of the upper classes. The black figures are shown as 'natural', in contrast to the artificiality of the upper class white figures. Hogarth's use of black characters reflects a growing black population during his lifetime, especially in London, and as servants to the aristocracy. By the end of the 1700s there were around 20,000 black people in Britain.

The inclusion of two black servants in this print signifies wealth derived from colonial commerce, emphasised by the tropically produced cup of chocolate being offered by one servant to the female guest. This dark brew also hints at the black servant's natural potency, contrasting with the artificiality of the singing castrato and the cross-legged, homosexual dandy.

The second black servant plays with a horned beast, commenting on the sexual infidelities that are being planned by the man and woman behind him. He is surrounded by a random collection of African and American goods, displaying the greed of wealthy collectors and their exploitation of the colonies.

This information was provided by curators from The Whitworth Art Gallery.