Review of the year: 2020

It’s been a bit of a year!

On the scale of things we were pretty well situated, my wife and I both have jobs which can be done online effectively although Sharon’s university employers, in common with many universities, had an unwarranted enthusiasm for maintaining some face to face student contact and getting students on site.

We have a moderate sized garden where Thomas (now nearly 9) and I played a lot of football, touchingly (and rather naively) he thinks I should be a professional football player! Thomas and I also did quite a lot of baking together. Home-schooling was a battle of attrition, Sharon took the lead on this, for which I am eternally grateful. My part was largely the baking which we passed off as "maths". Thomas took the philosophical view that home was not school and we were not teachers therefore there could be no home-schooling. By the end, and in common with many parents, he was spending most of his time watching videos and playing games on a tablet but we made it through and he is now really happy to be back to school.


We live next door to a supermarket which was handy particularly in the early days of lockdown when there were shortages of random food items, and often queuing to get into the shop. As a result of covid, and the forthcoming final exit of the UK from the EU, we now have a second freezer and a moderate stockpile of food.

We are on the edge of Chester, so we can walk from our front door into the countryside. I also discovered cycling for leisure again, and found the routes out along the Greenway and back along the River Dee were rather good – car-free, well-paved and almost entirely flat. I also cycled out to Ness Gardens as part of my company’s annual "challenge", any "challenge" that involves coffee and cake at the mid-point is fine by me!

This years blogging has been thin but rather more varied than usual, I found I had less time for reading than normal. The traffic to my website has increased this year though, presumably because people have more time on their hands.

I wrote a couple of technology blog posts (Type annotations in Python and Unit testing in Python), these are pretty popular – I guess people are often googling for just the problem I have been seeking to fix.

I attending some counselling sessions for anxiety earlier in the year, so obviously blogged about that. Coronavirus has not been a problem from an anxiety point of view (other than the normal anxieties everyone else has!): I have been largely forbidden from doing the things that made me anxious!

Since I was spending more time in the conservatory, playing drums and guitar, I gave it a bit of an upgrade. I also wrote a rare "Gear review" post about the Boss RC-3 Loop station – it’s a guitar thing!

On the book front You look like a thing and I love you by Janelle Shane had me sniggering quietly to myself reading it on the train, it’s an overview to machine learning mainly focussed on the often hysterical results of machine learning. I read How the states got their shapes by Mark Stein, followed by 1491 by Charles C.Mann about pre-Columbian civilisation in the Americas. The Black Lives Matter movement reached the UK, and I was rather proud to see the residents of Bristol (one of my home cities) chuck a statue of the slaver, Edward Colston, into the harbour. My actions on BLM were modest, I deliberately started followed people who weren’t like me on social media, and read Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga – this has helped me think differently about British history. Also by David Olusoga (and Melanie Backe-Hanson) I read A House Through Time and related to houses, I read The Address Book by Deirdre Mask.

Along the lines of my more usual reading in the history of science I read The Egg and Sperm Race by Matthew Cobb – which is about how we came to understand reproduction in animals (and humans). The Pope of Physics by Gino Segrè and Bettina Hoerlin – about Enrico Fermi, Science City by Alexandra Rose and Jane Desborough – about science in London, The clock and the camshaft by John Farrell – about technology in the medieval period, who would have thought hammering was so important! Finally, and a little unclassifiable were  Sea monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet van Duzer and Your voice speaks volumes by Jane Setter.

We didn’t really manage a holiday away this year, we visited my father-in-law in Malvern for a few days but various restrictions and our caution made anything more an impossibility. Here we are climbing up to British Camp on the Malvern Hills


Thomas learned to ride a bike! He’s not shown much interest until now, we bought a cheap second hand bike from Bren Bikes and he was riding without support within a couple of hours.

As an end to a poor year my dad passed away a week before Christmas. He’d moved to a care home in January this year following the death of my stepmother a little over a year ago. Initially rather ill, and a little confused, his health improved as the year progressed. By lockdown he had started making short trips out on the train. In lockdown he engaged with the social life of the care home, and was making daily walks around the garden but towards the end of the year his health was declining. He died rather suddenly on Thursday 17th December, my brother had seen him the previous Saturday. We are grateful for his mercifully quick end, and the final year he had. I wrote an eulogy which you can find here. The funeral was held on 30th December with most attending online, as many have done through this year – I posted the Order of Service here which includes the music, readings, eulogy and photos.

A picture of dad with Thomas and Sharon


My winter gloom is not so bad this year because I’m not cycling to and from work in the dark, obviously circumstances have made it a rather sad end to the year.

I guess all that can be said now is "Here’s to a better 2021!".

Order of service

A Service of Celebration for the life of

Andrew Hopkinson

11th August 1939 ~ 17th December 2020

Christchurch Ceremony Hall

Wednesday 30th December 2020 at 11:00am

Service conducted by Anna Wildeman

Order of Service


‘The Elements Song’ – Tom Lehrer



‘You want a Physicist to speak at your Funeral’ – Aaron Freeman

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him/her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let him/her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her/his eyes, that those photons created within her/him constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.


by Ian and Paul

The eulogy is here


‘New World Symphony – Largo’ – Dvořák

An album of photographs of Andrew Hopkinson on Google Photos


‘Miss me, but let me go’ by Christina Rossetti

When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little, but not for long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
A step on the road to home.

When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.




‘As we look back’ by Clare Jones

As we look back over time
We find ourselves wondering
Did we remember to thank you enough
For all you have done for us?
For all the times you were by our sides
To help and support us
To celebrate our successes
To understand our problems
And accept our defeats?
Or for teaching us by your example,
The value of hard work, good judgement,
Courage and integrity?
We wonder if we ever thanked you
For the sacrifices you made.
To let us have the very best?
And for the simple things
Like laughter, smiles and times we shared?
If we have forgotten to show our
Gratitude enough for all the things you did,
We’re thanking you now.
And we are hoping you knew all along,
How much you meant to us.


‘Coronation Scot’ – Vivian Ellis

A recording of the funeral service

Thank you for attending this service in loving memory of Andy

Donations, if desired, for

Sustrans – the charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle

may be made online by visiting

or sent to Tapper Funeral Service

89~91 Barrack Road, Christchurch BH23 2AJ

Tel: 01202 478887

Book review: The Address Book by Deirdre Mask

the_address_bookNext up is The Address Book by Deirdre Mask, this book is work related but to be honest I’d be reading it anyway. I work for a company, GBG, which provides address lookup services, it takes addresses typed by consumers and matches them to the definitive address data to provide a "clean" deliverable address. This means I have contemplated the structure of addresses, how they vary from country to country and how important they are for our day to day life.

The Address Book starts with some motivational chapters around why we should be interested in addresses, starting with a description of the situation in West Virginia where consistent street addressing was only introduced in the 1990s, and the problems that arise from this! Also included in this section are reports from Kolkata and Haiti.

In Kolkata the focus is on Addressing the Unaddressed, a charitable organisation which provides those living in slums with an "address" which enables them to access services. We often use an address as part of the identity of a person, a name is not enough. There are a number of Ian Hopkinson’s in the UK, and indeed around the world but I am the only one living at my address. In fact the Addressing the Unaddressed addresses are based on Google’s Plus Codes, these are not traditional street addresses, rather shorthand for latitude-longitude pairs. What3words provides a similar, closed source service. Mask discusses the shortcomings of such systems towards the end of the book. Essentially they provide no sense of community around living in shared labelled spaces.

In Haiti the discussion is around an outbreak of cholera, ultimately linked to the UN forces there to support the country after the 2010 earthquake but it starts with a discussion of Jon Snow and his famous work on the Broad Street pump. The importance of addressing is that when Snow was doing his work In London the General Registry Office had relatively recently (1837) started recording births and deaths, including the address at which they took place. This type of epidemiological study is not possible without street addressing, certainly not at that time. Nowadays we can use GPS devices to pinpoint deaths in the absence of addresses.

Addressing starts with street names, and in the UK, and other European countries street names started with function. Main Street, Church Lane are the more socially acceptable examples. However, as cities grew duplicate names became a problem. In 1853 London had 25 Victoria Streets and 25 Albert Streets. The pressure to add numbering to street names comes from centralised governments, if you want to take a census of your population to tax them or raise an army or plan services then numbered street addresses are pretty much essential. Registration of land ownership is also important. Such censuses generally started in the 18th century. Following on from this was the introduction of cheap, universal postage – which also requires street addressing. Requiring citizens to have surnames was part of the same process of enumerating the population.

The common scheme of using odd numbers on one side of a street and even on the other was invented by Clement Biddle in 1790, it is not the only system. There are other ways though, in Japan numbering is often by date of construction i.e. newer buildings have higher numbers. The Czech Republic has a dual numbering system, each address has a number used for navigation and a number used for government registrations. There are also systems where numbering is based on distance along a road.

The American scheme of numbering rather than naming streets, or at least naming them in a very systematic and often anodyne fashion dates back to Philadelphia and the Quakers involved in its founding. Quakers were not enthusiastic about naming things after people – hence the numbering system.

Circling back to street names, these are often intensely political, Mask talks about naming and commemoration in South Africa, America, Iran and Germany. In South Africa and America these disputes revolve around race, for South Africa it is to what degree figures from the apartheid era are celebrated, and what actions should exclude someone from commemoration in a street name. In America it is the celebration of Confederate figures that stirs passions. Iran likes to celebrate revolutionaries in its street names, and the case Mask cites is Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker – an uncomfortable topic for me as someone who is English (and grew up during the IRA bombing campaign in the seventies). Germany is included for its Nazification/De-Nazification process – after the Second World War many streets and places simply reverted back to pre-Nazi names. There are a surprising number of "Jew Streets" in Germany, Jewish people have long been restricted to living in particular places.

Naming and addressing are deeply personal, efforts to number houses are often resisted or treated with suspicion. The removal of long standing place names causes a sense of dislocation, the selection of names can cause distress. We’ve seen some of this in the UK with our branch of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In New York City there is a process for buying street addresses, so developers will pay money to get an address on a desirable street even if their building is not accessible from that street!

This is an enjoyable read, written in an approachable manner about a fascinating subject.

Eulogy for Andrew Hopkinson

My dad, Andrew Hopkinson, died in Bournemouth Hospital at about 11:45am on Thursday 17th December 2020. He was born 11th August 1939.

Dad grew up in Yorkshire with his brothers David, Barry and John. He attended Bradford Grammar School, we still have his school reports and his passion for maths was obvious even then.

David remembers:

Andy and I were avid readers from quite a young age with similar tastes.  To avoid friction we had a rule that whoever brought a book home had absolute right to it, and could demand it to be handed over even when the other was engrossed in it.  This agreement  worked very well though we did have occasional problems to persuade our father to abide by it.

Barry remembers:

Most of my memories of my brother Andy go back to our teenage years when we were particularly close.

We were in the scouts together at Baildon (6th Shipley Baildon Methodists Group) where we would meet weekly. We were a very active troop, one of our contemporaries being Ian Clough, who went on to be the first British climber (together with Chris Bonnington) to make the ascent of the North Wall of the Eiger. We did not aspire to such great things but we did go on together to gain the “Queen’s Scout Award” which was no mean achievement. I think we were the only ones to do so from Baildon in our era. We enjoyed annual scout camps together in Nidderdale and Borrowdale in the Lake District.

In the summer of 1958 we spent about 5 weeks together cycling around Europe. Our expedition took us down to Dover to make the channel crossing to Boulogne then across northern France to Strasbourg, through the Black Forest of western Germany and onward to Munich and Innsbruck before heading back through Austria, Switzerland and France. We were pulled in by the police near Innsbruck for not dismounting on the descent of a steep hill. I had done a bit of German at school and pleaded ignorance, repeatedly saying “Ich verstehe nicht, ich bin ein Englander”. The police simply shrugged their shoulders and muttered “Englanders, hah hah hah”. Just as I thought I was getting somewhere Andy says “Oh, Ich verstehe” and got us landed with an on the spot fine. We didn’t have any of the electronic gismos available today that provide a myriad of statistics and I don’t even have a record of the actual mileage covered, but I would guess at getting on for 3,000 miles (a few years ago I cycled to Rome to raise funds for the local hospice and covered 1,535 miles (I didn’t return home by bike on that occasion). We did all this with full camping gear and cooked all our own meals of course.

One Easter in the very early sixties Andy went to the Isle of Arran with me and two friends from the Bradford Pothole Club. While there we made the traverse of the whole of the Arran ridge plus Goat Fell in a day. From the summit of Goat Fell two of us dashed down to Brodick to get some beer while Andy and our other friend cooked the evening meal. It was a Sunday and although we managed to convince the barman we were bona fide travellers we were not permitted any “carry outs” so we downed a quick couple of pints before returning to our camp in Glen Rosa to break the sad news to the others.

Andy also joined us on at least one of our Bradford Pothole Club camps in the Lake District but I never managed to get him underground in any of the many caves in our beloved Yorkshire Dales.

Then Andy went to work and live in Dorset!

“Cheerio Andy, we had some happy times together before our paths parted all those years ago”

He went up to Jesus College, Cambridge where he gained a 1st in Mathematics. He was cox of the Jesus College boat in the River Cam Bumps races. Here he felt he was with like-minded people, and he kept in touch with the College throughout his life, and would always tell stories of his time there.

He moved to Dorset to work at the UK Atomic Energy Authority site at Winfrith. A job he kept for his whole working life. He wrote computer code to simulate nuclear reactors; this is where he met my mum, Sylvia.

From a former colleague:

I was sorry to hear about Andrew – I’ve probably mentioned in the past that his work on drum dynamics – AEEW M 1123 – ‘A New Model for the Dynamics of Steam Drums’, is quoted in connection with water/steam separation in ‘Simulation and Control of Electrical Power Stations’, J. B. Knowles , John Wiley – a collection of papers produced from UKAEA and CEGB.

I can’t recall ever meeting him but I do remember borrowing his copy of Pippard on thermodynamics for many years.

In the early days Andy was an enthusiastic rock climber as well as a keen walker, Eric C. remembers:

As you probably know, I shared a flat with Andy at Sutton Poyntz near Weymouth for about 4-5 years, and it was an agreeable time. Andy was a gentleman with a fine temperament, and I think we enjoyed each other’s company. I’m enclosing a photo of Andy when we were camped in Easter 1963 in the Lake District at Wasdale. We were all trying to traverse round Wasdale before going back for dinner! I’m also enclosing a composite picture of Andy, Anth, Sheila and Tony George together with other members and friends of Wessex [Mountaineering Club] members in the Christmas 1962 camp at Wasdale – proof that in those days – 58 years ago we were still capable of climbing moderate sized mountains!

My younger brother, Paul, and I were born in the early seventies. We lived in Wool on Colliers Lane until we successively left for university. Dad was a stickler for safety, and would often tell the story of how, when we were returning home from the hospital after my birth, he had strapped my cot into the backseat of the car – the nurse had said it was customary for the mother to hold the baby in her arms! And so throughout our childhood Paul and I wore seatbelts in the back of the car, long before it was a legal requirement. This saved our lives exactly once.

Dad was a quiet, methodical DIYer. His most memorable project was a large stone fireplace/sideboard which he made from carefully labelled Portland stone, taking great care to hide wires for the stereo and TV that sat upon it – he despised visible wires.

It was not until I was quite old that I discovered that not all people keep a little book in the glove box of their car where they record every time they buy petrol, how much it cost and the car mileage at that point. Dad was always a methodical record keeper.

At Christmas I like to remember him for the time he heated a spoon to warm up brandy to set the Christmas pudding on fire, and tested the temperature of the spoon on his trousers, only to discover that polyester melts!

Dad did a lot of cycling and camping as a child; he kept cycling through most of his life but only as a way of getting around. Our holidays revolved around camping and walking, often in the New Forest, Scotland or Devon but also in great tours around Europe – a bigger organisational challenge in the days before the internet. Our final holiday with dad as a family was a road trip around the West Coast of the United States, starting in Calgary and going all the way down to the Grand Canyon and then back up through San Francisco and along the Pacific Coast crossing back through the Rockies. He told us glacial meltwater was a milky blue and too cold to swim in.

Dad kept an allotment on and off through much of his life, a passion he had inherited from his father. He was still worrying about harvesting and storing the apples from the trees in the garden shortly before he moved into the care home.

Trains were a constant through his life, I can remember his subscription to Modern Railways magazine arriving every month, and when he came to visit us in Chester from Christchurch the engineering works he saw on the way were often the first topic of conversation. He was happy to sit down and just read the national railway timetable. He had hoped to live to travel on the first leg of HS2, and see his first great-grandchild – I’m not sure what the priority was there!

Dad met Susan, my stepmother, on a night walk with the Ramblers Association, she was impressed by his ability to cook a full breakfast on a Primus stove after walking through the night. With Susan, my stepbrothers Kevin and Dominic joined the family.

Following his retirement, Susan and dad went on many walking trips, both around the United Kingdom and further afield in Italy, France, Tenerife and New Zealand. For their four month trip to Australia and New Zealand, my brother Paul was shocked to discover that all they took with them was a small rucksack each – the sort of size most of us would use as a day bag. After staying in bothies in New Zealand they looked to do similar in the Highlands.

Dad and Susan also attended many concerts together, joined the University of the Third Age which they enjoyed almost to the ends of their lives. Dad never lost his enthusiasm for learning new things. They were frequent users of the local library.

Dad was delighted when Sharon and I got married, after many years of “living in sin”. He was an enthusiastic grandparent when our son Thomas, now 8, was born. As he was for his other grandchildren, Chloe and Zach, Jamie and Alex.

From Margaret K., one of his friends at the Ramblers:

Andy was one of the first people I chatted with when I joined the Ramblers in early 2003 and from then on talking with him was always interesting.  I learnt a great deal more from him than he did from me.  He and Susan were enthusiastic users of public libraries and he found intriguing books to read on a wide variety of subjects.  I found that reading some of his recommendations led me to all sorts of interesting information.   His love of navigation and the countryside, especially the New Forest, made him a much appreciated leader of Ramblers’ walks and he was one of the leaders I observed in learning to lead walks myself.  

He was an efficient secretary of the East Dorset Group of the Ramblers for a couple of long stints up to 2003 and soon after that became a careful chairman of the group for a few years, at that time helping to develop the group’s involvement in the Purbeck Plod, a 25 mile challenge walk.  He volunteered at White Mill, which is on the River Stour near Blandford and at the visitor centre at Hengistbury Head.  

Susan was still walking when I joined the Ramblers but her health problems made her pull out as time went on.  My husband Bernie and I exchanged some dinner dates with the two of them, the last one in autumn 2019 when Susan was already very ill but she and Andy pulled out all the stops to get her out to the pub where we met.  

In the last few years dad and Susan had both been seriously ill but they looked after each other. Following Susan’s death at the end of 2019, dad spent his final year in the Sunrise of Southbourne care home. He had a propensity to hoard things (plastic bags) and liked to save a few pennies – over 10,000 tooth picks were cleared from the house when he moved into the care home.

Initially rather ill, his health improved through the first few months, and he started taking extended trips out. Then the coronavirus came and he was confined to the home, but took full opportunity of the social opportunities it presented.

From Lana W. at Sunrise Care Home:

Thank you for putting your trust in us and for letting us look after Andy over the past year. He was a true gentleman who will always hold a special place in all of our hearts. I am going to miss his stories and seeing him complete his laps around the garden. He is already greatly missed by all especially the residents in mind gym.

My brother, Paul, was able to visit him on the Saturday before he died, he was a little down having been unwell for a couple of months but brightened up showing Paul around the pictures at the home. Kevin was able to visit him briefly in hospital on the morning he died.

Choosing music for dad’s funeral was hard, he was not really a musical person. From my childhood I remember The Hippopotamus Song by Flanders and Swann, Littles Boxes by Pete Seeger, Morningtown Ride by The Seekers, and The Elements by Tom Lehrer (actually a lot of Tom Lehrer, mostly entirely inappropriate for a funeral!). We thought of two solid funeral favourites, The Enigma Variations by Elgar – dad was interested in early computing and cryptography, visiting Bletchley Park where the German Enigma code was cracked. And Dvorak’s New World Symphony (better known as the Hovis advert music). It seems appropriate for dad to use music featuring a Yorkshireman providing a voice-over for a boy pushing a bicycle up a hill in Dorset, cycling, hills, Dorset and Yorkshire all being things he loved. We finished with Coronation Scot by Vivian Ellis – Coronation Scot was a famous locomotive inaugurated in the 1930s and the music has a steam-train theme to it.

We collected some photos of dad, they are here.

There is a lot of dad in me.

Rest in peace.

Book review: Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga

black_and_britishSince October was Black History Month I thought Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga would make a very appropriate read. Although, to be honest, I bought it before I realised and in all likelihood by the time you read this Black History Month will have finished.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the Preface where Olusoga writes about his motivation for writing the book. As a British-Nigerian this is visceral, the talk by Enoch Powell of “sending back” non-white citizens of Britain meant he feared he would be separated from his family as a boy. When the National Front were hounding people out of their homes, it was he who was being hounded out. This is absolutely in no way a criticism of Olusoga, or a reason to ignore the contents of this book. It is to contrast with my own detached, academic position as a white British reader.

Following an introduction which gives an outline of the contents of the whole book, the chapters proceed in chronological order with some themes relating to the same time covered in separate chapters. I’ve listed these out at the end of this review as a reminder to myself as much as anything.

There have been black people in Britain for thousands of years, the very first were identified during the Roman occupation. The ancient Romans and Greeks knew of Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, and the nature of the Roman Empire was that its subjects were mobile to a degree. After the fall of the Roman Empire, access to Africa was via the Arab/Muslim empire across North Africa with little contact with Europe. As a consequence European knowledge of African was limited to myths. The story picks up again in the 15th century with the Portuguese exploring the West African coast, they also started the slave trade in black Africans. The British took the first tentative steps in the “triangular slave trade” in the 16th century. The triangle trade saw the movement of manufactured goods from Britain to Africa, slaves from Africa to American and raw materials, sugar, tobacco, and cotton back to Britain.

At this time the West African states were powerful, and experienced in trade with the Portuguese and before them the Arabs. European explorers and merchants suffered large loses to disease – a situation which persisted into the 19th century. Black Africans were found as translators, and sailors, even courtiers in Britain. In Lisbon they made up as much as 20% of the population in the 16th century. They were the subject of curiosity, apparently little specific malice due to their colour, but lived under the Christian view that whiteness represented purity, and blackness the opposite.

British involvement in the slave trade picked up as it acquired colonies in the West Indies and US, the production of sugar and tobacco was lucrative if you had a good supply of cheap (slave) labour. It is at this point that black African slaves are dehumanised, the 1661 Barbados Slave Code puts this in writing. Plantation owners in the West Indies cannot see black Africans as human, they are too numerous and too economically valuable to be seen as such. The Royal African Company is formed as an exclusive vehicle for the slave trade in Britain, and is to take up to 75% of the slave trade in the late 17th century and early 18th century.

In Britain the situation is a bit different, there are a growing number of black people, often brought as the property of wealthy slavers, traders and plantation owners. But their legal status in Britain is hazy, and kept deliberately so for much of the 18th century. In the second half of the 18th century Granville Sharp started a campaign to release slaves in Britain, and later to campaign against slavery itself.  There was a degree of romanticism in the view that British air was too pure for a slave to breathe, so that none were slaves whilst at the same time profiting massively from slavery. From this start the Abolitionist movement grew, first ending British involvement in the slave trade (with Wilberforces 1807 bill), ending slavery in the West Indies in 1838 and then going on to try to end slavery globally.

This was seen as a moral crusade by the British, although there was a lively circuit of African-American speakers promoting the cause in Britain. Olusoga points out that the British have always been much more willing to talk about Abolition than slavery. In this context black Africans are still not seen as equal people, at least by some Abolitionists, but rather they wish to end slavery in the same way as they wish to see the end of cruelty to animals and children.

Freetown in Sierra Leone became an important location in the story, former slaves played a part fighting on the side of the British in the American Revolution, and their payment was freedom. Britain was squeamish about giving them their freedom in Britain. Some went to Nova Scotia, but there was also a plan to establish Freetown in Sierra Leone. The first attempt at this failed abysmally but eventually a colony was established there and the traces of that early history still remain in the modern city.

The British public appeared fairly well disposed towards black people in the first half of the 19th century but in the second half of the century there was a rise in Social Darwinism and scientific racism. Black people were increasingly spoken off as being mentally inferior, often child-like. These ideas grew from Darwin’s theory of evolution but they were motivated by a desire for conquest. In the final 30 years of the 19th century the white European powers colonised 90% of Africa in the “Scramble for Africa”. A theme that was to recur through the 20th century was an aversion to inter-racial relationships, specifically children fathered by black men with white women.

Britain’s attitude to black men for the two world wars was ambivalent, in both cases they were desperate for soldiers but, particularly in the First World War, very keen that black men should not fight white men – worrying this would give them unhelpful ideas when they returned to their homes in the minority white run colonies. In the Second World War the key feature was the huge influx of African American GIs to Britain, and the greatest issue was the treatment of Africa American GIs by their white colleagues (it was atrocious). British civilians were appalled by this. However in the aftermath of both wars there were racially motivated attacks on black men by organised white mobs. The motivation for this, at least in part, was that demobilised white men felt that black men had jobs that were rightfully theirs and economic times were hard. The official response to this was unhelpful to say the least, largely treating the black men as the transgressors. This treatment echoes down the years, and was part of the mis-trust of the police that fuelled the riots of the early eighties and, if we are honest, is still current today.

The book finishes with the post-war period, looking at the passengers on the Empire Windrush and the rise of Enoch Powell. The cry started by Powell in the seventies was to “send them back”, and picked up by the National Front. Powell was a culmination of a tacit program by governments of both stripes to justify the exclusion of black immigrants which had been ongoing since the Second World War. It was during the sixties that the public started to think the same way in larger numbers.

For West Indians and Africans from a number of modern states, Britain is the “home country”, in the same way as it is for white Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians. The difference is that immigrants from these countries are broadly officially welcomed and have been since the end of the British Empire. Black people have not been given that welcome.

Black and British is quite a long read, it packs a lot in but it is well-structured and readable. For me, as a white British middle class man, Olusoga presents from quite a different viewpoint. This is sometimes uncomfortable but I think necessarily so. It helps make more sense of the recent Black Lives Matter movement, but also the racism of the 1970s and the riots of the early eighties, in Britain, with smaller recurrences more recently.

Chapter Themes

  1. Sons of Ham – black people in Roman Britain and onwards, the start of the British slave trade in the 16th century;
  2. Blackamoors – black people in Tudor Britain, the development of the slave trade through to the end of the 18th century to service the tobacco and sugar plantations in the West Indies and America;
  3. For Blacks or Dogs – black people in Georgian Britain, the overspill of the slave trade;
  4. Too Pure an Air for Slaves – Granville Sharp and the start of the Abolitionist movement in the late 18th Century;
  5. Province of Freedom – Africa Americans and the American Revolution, leading to the foundation of Freetown in Sierra Leone;
  6. The Monster is Dead – the path to Abolition with the trade banned in 1806 and slavery  in the West Indies banned in 1838;
  7. Moral Mission – British mission to end slavery around the world in the Victorian period, with black speakers touring Britain. Minstrelism;
  8. Liberated Africans – the West Africa Squadron, aiming to abolish slavery by military means, the conquest of Lagos;
  9. Cotton is King – the US civil war and its impact on the cotton mills of northern England;
  10. Mercy in a Massacre – the rise of Social Darwinism and scientific racism in the second half of the 19th century;
  11. Darkest Africa – the 30 year Scrabble for Africa, when the Europeans colonised all but Ethiopia and Liberia. The rise of human zoos;
  12. We are a Coloured Empire – World War I and the black British Empire;
  13. We Prefer their Company – World War II and African American GIs;
  14. Swamped – immigration to post-war Britain;