Black Entrepreneurs Throughout UK History

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Diversity and inclusion are two important elements of the self-employed community. And while they may seem like modern concerns, there have been notable Black entrepreneurs throughout UK history.

As part of Black History Month, we want to share some inspiring figures, by celebrating the successes of freelancers and independent business owners from a range of backgrounds. And across a range of time periods, overcoming various challenges to build their own businesses and careers.


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Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780)

Composer, actor, campaigner and grocery shop-owner

Orphaned after being born on a slave ship sailing to what is now Colombia, Sancho was named by a family who brought him to Greenwich, London as a slave. A voracious reader in time when slaves were not permitted an education, his intelligence was noticed by a Duke who offered him a paid role as a butler, before later becoming a free man.

Not only did he support himself and his family through his talent for writing, publishing and selling songs, dances, music, poetry and plats, but he also bought and ran a successful grocery shop in Westminster. And as notable creative figure and businessman, he became the first known black person of African descent to vote in British parliament elections in 1774 and 1780.


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George Africanus (c.1763 – 1834)

Employment agency founder and landlord

Born in Sierra Leone, and transported to England as a young child in slavery, Africanus likely worked as a servant before becoming apprenticed to become a brass founder. As an adult he moved to Nottingham, marrying Esther Shaw and founding a business with her.

The Africanus Register of Servants operated for more than 60 years, with George also becoming a freeholder and investing in business premises and accommodation as a landlord, which additionally entitled him the right to vote. He’s commemorated with plaques at his former place of business and residence, and on the railings of St Mary’s churchyard in Nottingham as “Nottingham’s first black entrepreneur”.


John Edmonstone 

Taxidermist (unknown-unkown)

Born into slavery on a wood plantation in what was then British Guiana, Edmonstone came to Scotland with his master in 1817. After becoming freed, he set up shop as a “bird-stuffer” in Edinburgh in 1823 and taught taxidermy to students attending the nearby University of Edinburgh.

One such student was Charles Darwin, who benefitted from those skills during the voyage of HMS Beagle. Edmonstone also worked for the Royal Museum of the University, and continued to run his taxidermy shop from various Edinburgh locations into the 1840s.


Cesar Picton (c.1755-1836)

Coal merchant

Given as a present to British Baronet and MP Sir John Phillips around the age of six alongside “a parakeet and a foreign duck”, Picton worked as a servant until the deaths of Sir John and his wife.

His surname was given from Picton Castle, in Pembrokeshire, which was a significant site for mining coal. And this, along with connections through the family, probably led to him using a legacy of £100 from Lady Phillips to start a coal merchant business which enabled him to buy properties in Kingston Upon Thames, including a wharf and malthouse. He appears to have retired around the age of 52, described in deeds as a “gentleman”. Both Picton House in Kingston Upon Thames, and his later residence in Thames Ditton (also named Picton House) display commemorative plaques.


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Pablo Fanque (born Willliam Darby 1810-1871)

Equestrian performer and circus proprietor

One of at least five children born in Norwich, Darby was apprenticed at age 11 to circus proprietor William Batty, making his first known appearance in December, 1821. As an adult, he took the professional name of Pablo Fanque and operated his own circus for around 30 years, including performing for Queen Victoria and members of the royal family.

Along with a commemorative plaque in Norwich and recognition of his equestrian skills, the title and lyrics of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” by The Beatles came from a 19th-century poster for a performance in Rochdale.


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Evelyn Dove (1902-1987)

Recording artist

Born in 1902, Evelyn Dove attended the Royal Academy of Music, touring and performing around the world in the 1920s and 1930s. The first black singer to be broadcast on BBC radio, she was one of the most popular singers throughout World War 2, before leaving the BBC in 1949.

Despite a shortage of work leading her to apply for a job as a Post Office telephonist in 1955, she was cast in a television drama the following year, named Mrs Patterson, followed by more appearances in film and television, and on stage in West End productions.


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Margaret Busby CBE (1944-)

Publisher and journalist

Sent to study in England at the age of five from her home in what is now Ghana, Margaret Busy met her future business partner Clive Allison at a party while studying at Bedford College, London University.

She became the first black female book publisher, and also the youngest, when the first titles appeared in 1967, and continued as Editorial Director for 20 years publishing many notable authors. And has since worked as editorial director at Earthscan before pursuing a freelance career as an editor, writer and critic. Her work includes two anthologies of female African literature and a co-authored history of the Notting Hill Carnival, with a wide range of writing for newspapers, the stage, radio dramatisations, presenting for TV and radio. She has also served on the board, or in advisory positions, for a number of cultural organisations, and judged awards including as chair of the 202 Booker Prize. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2021.


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Kanya King CBE

Entrepreneur and founder

The youngest of nine children born in Kilburn, London to an Irish mother and Ghanaian father who died when she was 13, King grew up in a crowded council flat, dropping out of school at 16 to give birth to her son.

She went on to study English Literature at Goldsmiths College, working for Radio 2 and as a TV researcher before re-mortgaging her house to fund a mainstream British awards ceremony celebrating music influenced and inspired by black music. Also persuading Carlton TV to broadcast it, and organising the event inside six weeks. 

Over 26 years, the MOBO Awards (Music of Black Origin) have showcased a variety of UK and international musical talent, appearing on the BBC, Channel 4, ITV2 and Channel 5. And Kanya King has been recognised as one of the most powerful and influential British entrepreneurs, along with receiving an MBE in 1999, and a CBE in 2018.


Bruce Oldfield OBE (1950-)

Fashion designer and label founder

Fostered as a child and brought up in the care of children’s charity Barnardo’s, his first foster mother was a seamstress, which led to his love of fashion. Graduating from St Martin’s School of Art in 1973, he staged his first one-man show for Henri Bendel before returning to London to show his first collection.

The Bruce Oldfield label launched in 1975, with couture clothes for individual clients including most famously, Diana, Princess of Wales. His first London boutique opened in 1984, and since then he’s designed clothes for generations of icons, along with a new employee uniform for McDonald’s in 2008.

Oldfield is also a vice president on Barnado’s, and was awarded an OBE for services to the fashion industry in 1990.


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Michelle Ogundehin

Journalist, editor and consultancy founder

Ogundehin is a writer, author, brand consultant and TV presenter, having studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture, and becoming Editor-in-Chief at Elle Decoration UK, launching new titles and also relaunching Real Homes magazine in addition to contributing to various other publications.

Michelle has also co-presented various television shows, including Grand Designs: House of the Year, along with being the Head Judge on Interior Design Masters., authored a best-selling book, and founded creative consultancy MO:Studio Ltd in 2002. In 2021 she was appointed to the broad of Trustees of The Design Museum, and announced as a Visiting Professor to the Manchester School of Architecture.


Trevor Robinson OBE

Creative Director and Founder

After studying Art at Chelsea College of Art and Hounslow College, Robinson began a career in advertising. This included the award-winning Orange Tango campaign, and for other brands including Apple Tango, Martini and Golden Wonder Pots.

In 1995 he founded Quiet Storm, the UK’s first joint creative agency and production company. An employee-owned company with well-known clients including Google, Netflix, Haribo and more, alongside a 25-year history of pro-bono charity work, 2007 saw the launch of not-for-profit Create Not Hate, which aims to help young people underrepresented in the creative industry, and to address social issues they live with. Robinson was awarded an OBE in 2009 for his services to UK advertising.


Sharmaden Reid MBE (1984-)

Entrepreneur and founder

British Jamaican entrepreneur Sharmadean Reid began hip hop zine WAG focusing on street smart feminism during her degree in Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins, which developed into the WAHappening blog, WAH Power Lunches, and then WAH nail salons since 2009.

In 2016, she partnered with Tabitha Goldstaub to launch Future Girl Corp, a business boot camp for women entrepreneurs, and in 2017 co-founded an image-based booking system for beaty professionals, Beautystack alongside Daniel Woodbury and Ken Lalobo, before creating The Stack World in 2021 as a platform to enable women to find, create and row their own community. She was awarded an MBE in 2015 for services to the nail and beauty industry.


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Steven Bartlett (1992-)

Co-founder and investor

Born in Botswana, Bartlett grew up in Plymouth from the age of two, and dropped out of Manchester Metropolitan University after just one lecture.

In 2014, he co-founded Social Chain, a social media marketing company which went public with a market valuation of more than $200 million in 2019 following a merger with German online retailer Lumaland. He’s also created one of the most popular podcast series in Europe, and has become the youngest-ever investor on the BBC show Dragon’s Den.


Timothy Armoo

Business founder and entrepreneur

After starting his first company at the age of 14, and selling his first media business at just 17, Timothy Armoo was in his second year of university studying Computer Science when he co-founded Fanbytes with Ambrose Cooke and Mitchel Fasanya.

As an influencer and social media marketing agency targeting Gen Z, they’ve worked with brands ranging from Sony, McDonalds and Nike to the UK Government before being acquired by marketing agency Brainlabs in 2022 for an undisclosed amount. And in 2020, they launched the Fanbytes Impact Fund to help black-owned businesses and creators to gain awareness.



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Meet the author

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Dan Thornton

Freelance writer, marketer, SEO