5 Black Cumbrian Stories

How many Brilliant Black Cumbrian stories can you think of?

It’s easy to think of Black people in Cumbria as a recent thing  but in fact there are records of Black people in the county from Roman times and no doubt there were Black people here since before then, though records are harder to come by for obvious reasons. Over the many years Black people have made countless contributions to Cumbria and here are just five to get you started on your own journey of discovery!

John Kent Britain’s First Black Police Officer

John Kent (1805 – 20 July 1886) is Britain’s first black officer. He was a constable at Maryport before joining the Carlisle City Police, and is reported to be the first black police officer in Britain. Kent was the son of Thomas Kent, a seaman who worked on the estate of a Cumberland colonial civil service worker in the West Indies. Kent’s father is believed to have originally arrived at Whitehaven, England, where he worked at Abbey House, Calder Abbey, in the service of the Senhouse family, where he was ‘considered a slave’. He was later given his freedom and went to sea. Thomas Kent’s son, John Kent, married a white woman, Mary from Longtown, and settled on Botchergate Street, first recorded in the 1841 national census. He was described as a “quiet, inoffensive man” as well as a “big powerful man”. When he was a police officer people called him ‘Black Kent’ and on his death his obituary in the Carlisle Journal announced that “Black Kent is Dead” and the Carlisle Patriot described the passing of Kent as “The Death of a Carlisle Notable”.

Sources: Wikipedia

Peter Foley Groundbreaking Footballer

Peter Foley MBE, joined Workington Reds  in the 1960s not only as Cumbria’s first black professional footballer but at a time when the number of black footballers in the UK could be counted on one hand. He played over 80 games for Workington as a forward and scored some 16 goals for the club, before moving on to Scunthorpe where he kept a young Kevin Keegan out of the team for a couple of years. Later, Foley became an ambassador for racial equality in football, receiving an Order of the British Empire for his work.

Speaking to Independent he explained the realities of racism during his playing years.

“I’ll never forget one particular match. I was getting so much abuse from one spectator that the referee stopped the game and had him thrown out of the ground. I never witnessed anything like it before or since – yet the referee never said anything to me. But what made it worse was seeing fans shouting racist abuse with their little boys sitting next to them. You knew that one day they would start shouting the same.”

Sources: News & Star and Independent articles, Wikipedia

Winifred Langton Campaigner

Winifred’s Parents

Winifred’s mother was a working-class London suffragette and her father a Woolwich Arsenal foreman, who was the son of a freed slave from Guyana. Winifred wrote a book about her parents – Courage.

Born in London, Winifred moved to Cumbria in the mid-60s to be nearer her daughter. Winifred was a tireless campaigner raising so much money for Medical Aid to Vietnam that she was awarded a medal and invited to the opening of the hospital which she had helped to equip. In 1988, the Vietnamese ambassador even came to stay with her at her Ulverston home. A lifelong communist and campaigner, in 1967 Winifred founded a Hiroshima Day Vigil which took place annually for more than thirty years at the Market Cross in Ulverston. By the 1980s she and other “pensioners for peace” joined the protests at Greenham Common. In 1999 Ulverston town council honoured her with a certificate of appreciation of her work for the local community.

Sources: Guardian article, LostLangtons website.

Marcia Reid-Fotheringham

Marcia was Cumbria’s first black High Sheriff and Britain’s fifth black person to hold the prestigious post. The origins of the post of High Sheriff come from Saxon times and High Sheriff’s hold their post for a year. Marcia was High Sheriff for Cumbria 2019/2020 and is currently Deputy Lieutenant. Born in London and raised in New York, USA Marcia moved to Cumbria in 1997 after meeting her future husband Jim Fotheringham who she married in 1999. 

Throughout her working life in both the US and Cumbria, Marcia has worked as a clinical psychologist and family therapist, a clinical supervisor, a mental health director, a senior administrator, and a facilitator. Since 2001, Marcia has been a Magistrate (JP), sitting in the Adult Court (crime) and on the Family Court Panel. An avid supporter of justice Marcia is Trustee on a number of local charitable boards including Cumbria Community Foundation, Multiculturl Cumbria and of course… a supporter of Anti Racist Cumbria.

Sources: Cumbria Community Foundation

Roy Francis Britain’s First Black Coach

Not only was Roy Francis rugby’s first black coach, he was Britain’s first black coach of any sport. As a coach, he had become a leader with authority over white men in Britain at a time when that would have been unthinkable in all other areas of society. Colour bars in the 1950s prevented many black people from getting jobs. It would be 23 more years before Viv Anderson became the first black man to play football for England, and 32 more years before Bernie Grant became the UK’s first black MP. Born in Wales Roy fell in love with the game of Rugby Union but switched to playing Rugby League as class battles raged around the sport. He initially played rugby union for Brynmawr before becoming one of the first black rugby league players when he switched codes and made the journey north to Wigan as a 17-year-old in 1936. Roy Francis was a wonderful player but the young winger was told he would not succeed at the club and it has been suggested – including by Francis himself – that the colour of his skin was the reason for his departure. Barrow saw a chance to sign him. Francis joined the Cumbrian club in January 1939 and began notching up tries at an astonishing rate, before World War Two hit. Post-war, Francis returned to Barrow and our county can be proud of links to this great man. His prolific form thrust him into the Great Britain reckoning to tour Australia. Unfortunately, he came up against another glass ceiling as Australia still operated a colour bar and Francis wasn’t picked. He later became a player-coach at Hull before becoming their full team coach five years later. His successes are many though go beyond silverware and accolades

“He was really the first person in British sport to use modern coaching methods,” says sports historian Tony Collins.

Sources: BBC article