I’m reading Black and British by David Olusoga, a terrific read reaching back to Roman times when forces of Afro-Romans arrived in the third century and were stationed in Cumbria. Olusoga sweeps forward through the Blackamoors, during Elizabethan times, to Black Britains who fought at Trafalgar, through to the wars of the 20th century. He writes much about the Georgian fashion for having a young black pageboy, such children were often treated like pets among the wealthy, dressed up and feted but often having little freedom or education.

Kat Armstrong wrote about this fashion in her historical crime novel A Pair of Sharp Eyes. When our young heroine, Coronation Ames first meets young Abraham, nicknamed Pug by his mistress, he is receiving kisses from his “Bristol Mama”. However, when they are alone, he shows Coronation a collar his mistress makes him wear.  

He bears a silver collar, engraved with ‘Abraham’ in large capitals. The boy unclasps the fastening. ‘Won’t you try it on?’ ‘I had rather not,’ I say, laughing, but to please him I stoop and he carefully places the collar about my neck. The silver is cold and heavy and exceedingly uncomfortable. ‘I can’t see my feet,’ I say, as my jaw catches on the rim. The collar is four inches wide, and not generously made; it pinches my throat. ‘Last time she tried to make me wear it I struggled until she gave up and had me whipped.’

David Olugosa’s Black and British is hugely readable and to say it fills gaps in the average knowledge is an understatement. However, fiction can put the paint on history, illustrate the story, make it more vivid than any history book. I won’t spoil the novel by telling you what happens to young Abraham and Coronation, but I will give you a link to the early pages so that you can become acquainted with A Pair of Sharp Eyes by Kat Armstrong.