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Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Researching Black History at Bedfordshire Archives

Over the centuries people from around the globe have passed through or come to and settled in Bedfordshire. In addition people from Bedfordshire have had connections with people living in other parts of the world. This has contributed to a county with a rich and diverse history. At Bedfordshire Archives we are committed to collecting records of all Bedfordshire’s communities in an effort to preserve as wide a view as possible.  In spite of this commitment many people are not represented in the records we hold or will be recorded in such a way as to not make their backgrounds and personal experience apparent.

Among the reasons for this are:

  • Traditional archives are the records naturally generated by day-to-day business and if the business did not require the recording of personal details then those details would not, and should not, be recorded.
  • Not all community groups create traditional written records.
  • Not all community groups wish to deposit or donate the records they create to the local archive service.
  • Much of the material we do hold tends to be from the point of view of others addressing and commenting on ethnicity in the course of their business. This is most apparent in the records we hold regarding slavery and abolition, but will be present in all records dealing with this subject to some extent.
  • Even when records do record aspects of black history this element of the record may not be particularly noted in the catalogue entry. For example council minutes may include reference to equal opportunities amongst a variety of other subjects but the catalogue entry just says it is a minute book and the date because that is the way that council minute books have been traditionally catalogued. Photographs may show people going about their everyday lives and the cataloguer has to make a conscious decision whether to comment on the apparent ethnicity of the subjects.

This background to the records that are held as archives can make researching black history challenging. However, research can be done.

In the last thirty years there have been some attempts to record the lived experience of individuals via a number of oral history projects, and Bedfordshire Archives have been happy to receive the recordings and transcripts from these projects. The most notable is Jamaican Voices based in Luton (our reference Z1432), but also the wider brief of Luton Voices (Z214/12), the Changing Landscapes Changing Lives project based on Marston Vale (Z1205) and the Queens Park Lives project based on the Queens Park area of Bedford (P141/28/2/9).

The best place to start for prospective researchers is our Ethnic Sources List, which attempts to bring together references to different ethnic groups, which may otherwise be difficult to find.

If you are researching the slave trade and enslaved people two articles, Bedfordshire and the Slave Trade and Bedfordshire and the Abolition of Slavery,  written in 2008 by archivist James Collett-White, include references to material in our collections.

Content – restrictions and offensive language

Some archives contain personal information and access to these records may be restricted under data protection legislation. Where possible restrictions have been noted in the listing, but it is possible that not all restrictions have been indicated. In some cases access may be possible under exemption provisions made to enable historical research. Our collections are diverse, and span nearly 900 years, our catalogues have been created during the last 100 years. Offensive language and outdated terminology and imagery exist in our records and, we acknowledge that they may also exist in our catalogue descriptions. We aim to update catalogue descriptions, where appropriate, to clearly indicate where the use of offensive language has been informed directly from the original record and, where possible, use more inclusive, modern terminology. This is an ongoing process and we will not always get it right as language continues to evolve. This does not mean editing any original material or removing collections or records from public access. Where changes are made to existing catalogue descriptions, earlier descriptions will be archived to maintain a transparent archival record.