Census records and archive documents provide evidence for Black people in Britain at this time and list a range of professions. However, as we have seen from Bertie’s story, racism was widespread in England, with many employers refusing to hire Black people, landlords refusing to rent rooms and one high profile example of a London hotel refusing service to a Black RAF officer.
The government was under pressure to find jobs for English soldiers returning after WW1, leading to calls to repatriate merchant seamen from Britain’s overseas colonies who had helped fight in the war. (In 1925 this would result in the government passing the ‘Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order’ to exclude black and minority ethnic seamen from Britain). Being Black in Britain at this time also meant a lack of freedom in personal relationships.
Perspectives of the Lascelles Family
We know from the way that the Earl wrote about Bertie, and the Countess about Black people, that they were racially prejudiced. However, we also have strong evidence that Bertie was liked and trusted by the Lascelles family. We know from Amelia Robinson’s letters that the Countess gave small amounts of financial and material aid to Bertie’s family back in St. Vincent over a period of at least 15 years. The Earl also chose not prosecute Bertie for the theft of the money, which would have been well within his rights. On the other hand, the 5th Earl did not let Bertie go unpunished for his crime, withdrawing his employment and taking away Bertie’s freedom to live and work in Britain, which, given Bertie’s family circumstances, may have been equally distressing.
- Census: An official count, or survey of a population. The first official census in England took place in 1801