London is adorned with numerous landmarks that bear witness to the intricate history of African settlement in the city.
Despite not all being adorned with blue plaques, these sites carry tales of African influence that have left an indelible mark on the capital.
As I delved into the writing of my debut book, “Settlers,” I encountered this lesson repeatedly.
The dynamic nature of the city has expanded this historical map beyond the confines of inter-war structures and culturally significant edifices, now encompassing vibrant markets, amapiano-fueled day parties, and chic restaurants.
These landmarks narrate distinct stories of African influence, interwoven with the narrative of the black Caribbean diaspora, shaping the city’s vibrant, multifaceted, and ever-pulsating essence.
To coincide with the paperback release of my book, here are nine lesser-known landmarks that bridge the past, present, and future of African London.
Ridley Road Market: A Melting Pot of Cultures
Established in the late 19th century, Ridley Road Market in east London has long served as a melting pot for diverse migrant communities.
Over the years, it has become a hub for African heritage settlers amidst its colorful tapestry of Irish, Jewish, Turkish, Caribbean, and South Asian interactions.
The market’s bustling atmosphere echoes with the legacy of African culture through wax print fabrics, calabash bowls, and the presence of African land snails.
Ridley Road Market stands as a testament to London’s vibrant and meaningful cultural centers.
West African Students’ Union House: A Cultural Oasis in Unexpected Quarters
Camden, an area not often associated with Black African culture, holds a surprising treasure in the West African Students’ Union House.
Since 1933, this location has been a haven for overseas students and a hub for Black African culture, doubling as a social club and a base for a potent political group.
Notably, it hosted one of the first formal West African restaurants in Britain, solidifying its significance in the city’s cultural landscape.
DLT Brunch and Recess: Celebrating Youth and Diasporic Identity
DLT Brunch and Recess are more than just day parties; they epitomize the carefree spirit of modern young Black Londoners.
Founded by second-generation British-Nigerians, these events seamlessly blend Caribbean and African influences, echoed in their Afrobeats performances and cultural vibrancy.
With roots in purposeful diasporic partying, these roving celebrations pay homage to a rich tradition.
Sumner Road Chapel: Pioneering Spirituality and Community
Peckham’s Sumner Road Chapel holds historical and spiritual significance as the birthplace of the first black majority Pentecostal church in the UK.
Initiated in 1906 by Ghanaian entrepreneur turned preacher Thomas Brem Wilson, the chapel navigated a turbulent journey, becoming a blueprint for worship houses tailored to London’s African diaspora.
Wembley Stadium: A Snapshot of Colonial Spectacle
Originally constructed for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition, Wembley Stadium featured a fabricated West African village, symbolizing imperial prowess.
This “living museum” showcased invited Nigerians, offering a colonial spectacle that contrasts with the stadium’s athletic legacy and its sole surviving building from the exhibition, the India Pavilion.
The Africa Centre: A Cultural Haven
Established in 1964 in Covent Garden, The Africa Centre served as a cultural home for London’s diverse African diaspora.
Famed for its pan-African restaurant, lively Soweto bar, and Jazzie B’s legendary parties, this multi-faceted institution thrived in the heart of the city.
Today, its legacy lives on in a new complex in Southwark, preserving its impactful spirit.
Draughtboard Alley: A Cosmopolitan Community’s Fragile Haven
Draughtboard Alley in Canning Town was a thriving cosmopolitan community in the aftermath of World War I, with Somali and Asian sailors forging a vibrant neighborhood.
Despite its mixed heritage families and charitable institutions, the community faced racist attacks and eventual demolition, revealing the fragility of its utopian existence.
805: Culinary Influence and African-Themed Celebrity Folklore
The certified Old Kent Road establishment, 805, became a focal point for African-themed celebrity stories when Star Wars actor John Boyega introduced co-star Harrison Ford to a traditional Nigerian meal.
This restaurant embodies a lineage of eateries shaping London’s culinary and cultural landscape, offering a glimpse into the continent’s ongoing influence.
The Black Mile: A Nexus of Progressiveness
In the 1930s, Soho’s “Black Mile” was a vibrant haven for the inter-war black community.
Amidst police raids and moral panic, clubs like The Nest and The Shim Sham nurtured social and sexual progressiveness.
These venues, with their indelible mark on Soho’s character, significantly shaped the district’s freeness, grit, and coolness, fueled by the presence of African descent.
Each of these landmarks weaves a narrative thread that connects the past, present, and future of African London, ultimately contributing to the city’s rich tapestry of cultures and histories.