In November 2021, Songs of Praise aired a Black History Month special featuring the temporary installation of a blue heritage plaque to Olaudah Equiano. Formally known as Gastavas Vassa, Equiano is an important 18th century figure in British history. He was a leading abolitionist, and on publishing his book as related by himself on the horrors of human trafficking, the book became one of the most important first-hand accounts of slavery.
One of the reasons for the success of this Equiano’s 1789 book was his education.
He was born of Nigerian origin, although whether he was born on the continent is a point of recent debate. About aged eight he was sold in Virginia to Michael Pascal, then a junior Royal Naval officer. He was Pascal’s personal servant; Equiano first came to England in 1754.
Equiano’s considerable education was gained through the early aid of the Guerin sisters, cousins of his first master, Pascal. The sisters became his patrons on his first stay in London in 1757–59. They lived in Westminster, found a schoolmaster there for him, taught him to read, promoted his Christian education and baptism at St Margaret’s Westminster in February 1759.
In Pascal’s service, Equiano became a naval seaman and began a very eventful seagoing career which enabled him to save enough money in order to purchase his freedom.
He returned to London as a free man on 13 September 1767, at Rotherhithe. The first people he sought were the Guerin sisters. He found them living at 111 Maze Hill and spent two weeks at the house. His first choice on being reunited with them was to work as a servant or butler. Instead they helped him with his second choice, which was to be trained as a hairdresser, introducing him to a friend off the Haymarket, London.
To commemorate Olaudah Equiano’s stay at 111 Maze Hill, a blue heritage plaque will be unveiled by the Nubian Jak Community Trust on 17th December 2021. It will be the organization’s 67th plaque. Approval for the plaque on this Grade II property was granted by English Heritage/Historic England, with support from the Greenwich Society.