On 25 September 1929, the Hull Daily Mail published an article entitled ‘Interesting Hull Wedding: H.M.V. Coloured Artist and Local Bride’ about the marriage of Ben Simmons and Margaret Wyng that took place at St Nicholas Church, Hessle Common.  While the bride was a local woman born in Hull, their wedding was described as, “unique in that the bridegroom is a chief of the Gold Coast of West Africa.” 
In August 1929, a month before their wedding, Wyng was given the opportunity to record African American-style spirituals for Imperial Records.  The following week, Simmons was made aware that he was the Chief of Saltpond, which was located in the Gold Coast, after his Uncle had died and left him a fortune of around £42,000. However, despite their sudden good fortune, the couple decided to settle in Hull. They could not migrate to Africa to live on their estate because of a wound Simmonds received during his time in service, and they both agreed that London was better as a holiday destination rather than a permanent residence.
Sadly, their marriage did not last long as in 1935, Margaret went on to marry James T Newman in Liverpool. What happened to Simmons remains a mystery.
If you have any further information about either of these fascinating characters, please contact us.
In the late nineteenth century, various charitable organisations opened institutions for orphaned children in Hull and the city’s surrounding areas. They ranged from small properties which housed only 10 children to large homes which accommodated over 100. Most of these establishments were long term fixtures in the region and did not close until the second half of the twentieth century. However, although many of the children’s homes finally closed their doors in living memory for many locals, we have limited information about the children of African descent who were part of their history.
One of the first children’s homes in this area was also one of the most memorable. In 1862, ‘The Port of Hull Society for the Religious Instruction of Seaman’ rented a house in Castle Row to accommodate children who could not be looked after by their families for various reasons. Five years later, a donation of £5,000 from Sir Titus Salt, enabled the Society to buy a larger property, Thane House, which was situated on Park Street and could accommodate 150 children. It was later extended, in the 1870s to house a further 70 children bringing its total capacity to 220 boys and girls. Towards the turn of the twentieth century, the Society purchased an extensive piece of land on Cottingham Road to build a small community for orphaned children. As many locals may remember, in total 10 cottage homes were built and a swimming baths, school and hospital were all located on site. In each cottage, there were around 25 children who were cared for by a house mother (or Governess).
Although it has been difficult to find individual names of people who were placed in this establishment, there were many seafarers of African descent in Hull and East Yorkshire, some of whose children will have ended up in this home. The video clip entitled ‘A Family Affair’ from the Yorkshire Film Archive shows a child of African descent in the garden (4 minutes and 45 seconds) and later in the nursery (11 minutes and 31 seconds) of Newland Cottage Homes in the 1960s.
Much like the Newland Homes, the Hessle Cottage Homes located on Hull Road, Hessle were also built in the 1890s. Very little is known about this institution other than it housed around 100 children and was still running in 1962. Based on personal testimonies we know that there were at least three Black children, one girl and two boys from the same family in Hessle Cottage Homes during the 1940s.
Four years after ‘The Port of Hull Society for the Religious Instruction of Seaman’ had established a children’s home in Castle Row, ‘The Mariners’ Church Orphan Society (later renamed the ‘Hull Seaman’s and General Orphan Society) opened an Asylum and School on Spring Bank for orphans born within, or connected to Hull (including places like Bridlington, Grimsby and Goole). By 1911, the home could accommodate 200 children. However, in the 1920s, the Society bought and relocated the orphans to the larger premises of Hesslewood Hall (see pics above and below) which did not close until the 1980s. The Ali family were placed here during the 1950s and remember two other children of African descent living at Hesslewood House at the same time as them (click here to read the Ali family’s story).
Unfortunately, although we have found a few examples of boys and girls of African descent in Newland Homes, Hessle Cottage Homes and Hesslewood House, there are several other institutions that may possibly have housed children with Black heritage. These include:
Although, some of the census information is available for a selection of the children’s homes identified above, it has been difficult to prove that any of the boys and girls who were admitted had African heritage. In addition to the difficulty of identifying children of African descent in the census, the imposed 100-year closure rule on documents relating to individuals who were placed in the care system to protect their anonymity, only allows us to investigate the patchy surviving records of institutions before 1918. Therefore, for more recent information we must rely on oral history and personal testimonies.
If you have any information about boys or girls of African descent who lived in a children’s home in Hull or East Yorkshire please click here to contact us. We really need your help to reconstruct a narrative of the lives of children who lived in these institutions.
 Sailors’ Orphan Homes, Kingston Upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, http://www.childrenshomes.org.uk/HullSailors/ accessed 10/01/2018
The African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire project team would like to take this opportunity to say a very Happy New Year to everyone who has helped, supported and followed our project in the last eighteen months. We would also like to inform you of some changes that will be taking place to our schedule and remind you of the next ‘Our Histories Revealed’ exhibition.
From this week, we will be releasing a new story every Monday and a blog every Thursday. Don’t worry if you miss anything because we will also be uploading our ‘What’s New' blog on a Friday which you can check here.
Our Histories Revealed: Exhibition at the Beverley Treasure House
Between Saturday 5 May and Saturday 30 June we will be showcasing some of findings in an exhibition at the East Riding Treasure House, Beverley.
There will be associated events during the period of the exhibition, including:
For more information, please see pages 14 and 15 of the Treasure House exhibitions and events brochure - download here.
For information on where to find the East Riding Treasure House in Beverley and its opening hours, please visit the East Riding website here.
If you would like to get involved in our project or our exhibition, please contact us.
Download our Our Histories Revealed flyer [104 kb].