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16 Apr 2019

The Jerwood Library is hosting six photographic portraits of Cambridge’s inspirational black graduates from the ‘Black Cantabs: History Makers’ exhibition. They were originally displayed at Cambridge University Library in Autumn 2018. The exhibition was curated by the Black Cantabs Research Society, a student group dedicated to telling the lost or forgotten stories of Cambridge’s black alumni.

The portraits tell the stories of black students in Cambridge, from forgotten pioneers of the 18th century to successful students of today.

The six portraits on display in the Jerwood are:

George Bridgetower (1778–1860) was an Afro-European virtuoso violinist born in Poland to an African father and German mother. George Bridgetower by Henry Edridge, 1790He attended Trinity Hall where he earned a Bachelor of Music in June 1811. As a child, Bridgetower gave violin concerts around Europe and his education was overseen by the Prince Regent (later George IV). In 1802 he travelled to Vienna and formed a friendship with Beethoven. They performed together and he dedicated his Kreutzer Sonata to him. One of the College’s meeting rooms is named after him.

Francis williamsFrancis Williams (ca. 1700—1770), was a poet and scholar and is believed (although records do not exist) to have been the first black student to attend the university. He was from a wealthy Jamaican family and travelled to Britain in the 1720s.

More recent graduates include actress Naomie Harris (1976- ), best known for her role as Moneypenny in the James Bond films. She studied social and political sciences at Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating in 1998.

Writer Zadie Smith (1975- ) studied English Literature at King’s College, graduating in the late 1990s. Her first novel, White Teeth, was published to widespread critical acclaim in 2000.

The last two photos are of current and recent students. In 2018, black women students at Cambridge gathered for a photo organised by the African Caribbean Society to mark 70 years since the first black woman graduated from the University and since women were admitted as full members. This woman was Gloria Claire Carpenter, a Jamaican, who studied law at Girton College from 1945 to 1948. She later became a prominent social reformer. The photo contains more than 50 undergraduates and graduates posed in front of the Senate House.

Also in 2018, British grime artist Stormzy established ‘The Stormzy Scholarship’, which provide financial support for four British black students during their degree courses. He is pictured meeting current students.

The photos will be displayed in the Jerwood Library until the end of Easter term.

For more information on Cambridge’s Black Cantabs, see