How Black History Influenced The Elemental Detectives
In honor of Black History Month, Patrice Lawrence has curated a collection of facts drawn from her research into Black history that inspired her writing of The Elemental Detectives.
1. Covent Garden was famous for its market. In the 18th century, it sold produce from across the world, including the African continent and West Indies. The Dutch-born artist Jan Griffier I painted Covent Garden in the early 1700s. Look carefully and you’ll see a young boy of African heritage playing with a hoop in the middle.
2. In the 18th century, plantation owners would meet in coffee shops such as the Jamaica Coffee Shop and Lloyd’s Coffee Shop in the City of London. Notices about the sale of enslaved people and rewards for those who had escaped would be posted there. There are blue plaques on buildings remembering these old coffee shops – but not their role in enslaving Africans.
3. Jonathan Strong, who inspired Robert Strong, spent many months being treated for the injuries inflicted on him at St Bartholemew’s Hospital. There’s been a hospital on this site for 900 years.
4. The famous painter, William Hogarth, died in 1764, the year that the Elemental Detectives is set. His paintings often show enslaved African children in England, like Robert, dressed in turbans and silks to serve rich families.
5. Poultry Compter was a small, filthy prison on a London street called Poultry. Jonathan Strong was kidnapped and wrongly imprisoned there with the intention of enslaving him to work on a plantation in the West Indies. It was across the road from the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House (where Marisee and Robert are taken) and down the road from Mary-Le-Bow, with the all-watching gold Dragon weathervane…
6. In John Roque’s map of mid-18th century London, there is a place north of London (now Clerkenwell) called Black Mary’s Hole, also Black Mary’s Well. It was on the banks of the River Fleet. There is some speculation that a Black woman called Mary looked after the well. This was the inspiration for Madam Mary-Ay Blackwell, Marisee’s grandma and Keeper of London’s Wells.
7. Wolfgang Mozart, born in Salzburg, in 1756 was a child prodigy – his name and music is known across the globe. Joseph Bologne, Chevalier De St George, born 1745, was sometimes referred to as the Black Mozart. He was the first composer of classical music of African descent to receive widespread critical acclaim. His achievements have not been so well-remembered.
8. Just across the River Thames from the Isle of Dog and Millwall, you’ll find the ruins of the Palace of Placentia, also known as Greenwich Palace. Elizabeth I was born here. However, it’s also important because of John Blanke. He was a trumpeter in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII. His image is possibly the only one we have of an African person in Tudor England.
9. Emma and Robert pass William Beckford’s house on Soho Square. William Beckford was a real person who grew immensely rich from using enslaved people to work his sugar plantations in Jamaica. He was Lord Mayor of London twice and there is a big statue of him in London’s Guildhall.
10. The Chad water elementals’ head quarters are in the Mithraeum, a Roman temple that is now in the basement of the Bloomberg offices in the City of London. Modern research on Roman skeletons in London has revealed that some were of Black African heritage. London has been home to diverse communities for centuries!
You can find Patrice Lawrence on Twitter @LawrencePatrice.