1903 Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of the most popular books in Britain in Victorian times. It told the story of enslaved black people escaping slavery. The story was adapted into a show for the stage and again proved hugely popular with audiences in the UK and Bradford.
In 1903 Uncle Tom’s Cabin was performed at St George’s Hall, one of multiple performances of this story involving both black and white performers in this era. ‘Mr Charles Harrington’s No 1 Great American Company, in the world- famous musical drama Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Adapted from Mrs Beecher-Stowes beautiful work. First class company including chorus of Real Negroes’.
In 1904 Bradford corporation hosted a trade exhibition to celebrate the opening of Cartwright Hall and this included the re-creation of a Somali village. About 100 Somalis built the village and lived in it, performing displays for the crowds from May until October 1904. At least 9 postcards were on sale: Chakim the Doctor, Fourteen Children at School, Washing Day were some of the titles.
The Somalis attracted many of the 2.4 million visitors to the exhibition. One woman gave birth to a daughter in mid-September and tragically another woman Halimo Adbi Batel died from Tuberculosis. She was reportedly given the first Muslim burial in the city, attended by hundreds of people. Today we see this re-enactment of a Somali village as a demeaning kind of ‘human zoo’, however, it would be a mistake to view this group of performers as nothing more than unworldly ‘victims’. On their departure from Bradford, it was noted that half the men wore English suits, many spoke English and, unhappy about the pay for their work, went to the town hall to negotiate a fairer deal. They were booked to appear in Belgium in 1905 and the leader suggested that working at the exhibition was better than trading sheep.
In 2004, a hundred years after the exhibition, a carved memorial headstone was erected on Halimo Adbi Batel’s unmarked grave in Scholemoor Cemetery in Bradford.
To learn more about the Somali Village go to –
1907 The Kingston Choral Union of Jamaica perform at St George’s Hall.
This group (also known as the Native choir from Jamaica) were a black male and female singing group from Kingston in Jamaica who toured the UK between 1906 -1908 to great success. The original group was made up of 12 members including the director/conductor T. Ellis. Their repertoire included plantation songs, work and freedom songs, baroque music, Jamaican folk songs, the national anthem and hymns.