Wilfred White, a Black man, wearing a cassock and dog collar. He looks to the camera and holds his hands in front of him, index fingers pointing upwards

Dulwich, despite its rich history does not have an well-documented history of people of colour but we should acknowledge the contributions of all members of the community in shaping our past and present. The history of people of colour in Dulwich can be traced back to different periods, and their stories reflect the evolving social and cultural landscape of the area. We would appreciate hearing from anyone who can add to this history, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

During the 18th and early 19th centuries when Dulwich was undergoing suburban development, the transatlantic slave trade was still a significant part of the British economy. Dulwich’s connections with the slave trade and those residents who owned slaves and received compensation for them are recorded in the University College of London’s slave trade database. They include:

  • Richard Shawe of Casina House (a large mansion where Casino Avenue and the Sunray Estate is now) received £8,500 compensation for 468 slaves
  • William Tetlow Hibbert of Dulwich Hill House was a significant beneficiary of slave compensation, receiving about £37,000 for 2,034 slaves
  • Robert Hichens of The Grove, East Dulwich, was a stockbroker who received compensation of £3,000 for 217 slaves.

In addition, William Le Blanc was a lawyer who managed the Friern Manor Farm Estate in East Dulwich and acted for slave owners in West Indies. On the plus side, Anthony Highmore lived on Lordship Lane (about where Mount Adon Park is now) and was an abolitionist who wrote about evils of West Indian slavery. Highmore knew Ignatius Sancho the Black British abolitionist, writer and composer.

Dulwich has long been known for its cultural institutions, such as the Dulwich Picture Gallery, which houses a world-class collection. Throughout history, artists, musicians, and writers of colour have contributed to the cultural scene and their contributions have enriched Dulwich’s artistic life. Dorothy Akerele, nee Jackson, was born in Dulwich in 1913 and was of Nigerian, European and Native American descent. She was a musician and 'travelling variety artiste' who performed with her sister Bessie and her father Ellis Jackson, the noted jazz musician who also sang with the Billy Cotton band. The Jacksons lived in Rosendale Rd. The reggae singer and DJ Tippa Irie was born in Dulwich in 1965 and lived here for his first 10 years or so before moving to Brixton. He lived here with his parents, who came to Dulwich from Jamaica in 1960, and sisters; his father had a corner shop here. Ghanaian Dr Seth Cudjoe (1910-1984) was a Camberwell GP, musician, art-lover & political intellectual. The College Press (now Green's) in Dulwich Village) printed his 'Aids to African Autonomy' and he would have long discussions about art and politics at the shop. Munya Chawawa is a British-Zimbabwean actor, comedy rapper and comedian who was living in East Dulwich and when he gained fame with his parody news skits and his portrayal of characters such as a posh drill rapper called "Unknown P" and the chef "Jonny Oliver".

Soldiers of colour in World War One have often been forgotten, though they could be found in all branches of the armed forces. George Bemand was born in Jamaica in 1892 and went to Dulwich College. He is thought to be the first non-white officer to be accepted into the British Army. He died in 1916 when a shell hit his dugout; he was 24 years old. His brother Harold Bemand was born in Jamaica in 1897 and also attended Dulwich College. He joined the army straight from school and was killed at Ypres in 1917 aged just 19. 

In more recent times, Dulwich is becoming home to a more diverse and multicultural community where community organizations play a crucial role in celebrating and supporting the contributions and history of people of colour in the area. Benjamin Odeje, who played for Dulwich Hamlet FC, was the first Black footballer to represent England at any level. He made his debut against Northern Ireland in 1971, aged 15. Hussein Hegazi was an Egyptian international footballer who in 1911 became the first African to play in England, for Dulwich Hamlet FC. Mary Phillip, manager of the men's first team at Peckham Town FC (which plays on Dulwich Common) was the first Black woman to captain England football team.

In politics, Sam King (1926-2016) who lived on Warmington Rd, was the first Black councillor in East Dulwich and the first Black Mayor of Southwark. He also had a distinguished military career and co-founded what became the Notting Hill Carnival. 

In religion, Wilfred Wood, the former Bishop of Croydon, lived on Dog Kennel Hill in East Dulwich. He was the first Black bishop of the Church of England in the UK.

The history of people of colour in Dulwich, as in the wider UK, is a story of resilience, creativity and perseverance in the face of challenges. Its recognition is not just a matter of the past; it is ongoing, acknowledging the role that such individuals have played in shaping Dulwich’s cultural, social, and educational landscape.