Honouring Francis Barber

In 2022 the architects Brownhill Haywood Brown were commissioned by Lichfield City Council to install a blue plaque for Francis Barber, Samuel Johnson's servant and friend. Barber is thought to have been the first black schoolteacher in England and is thus of national significance.

The aim of the plaque is "to help the public to understand the contribution made to our country by black people"; more than a century and a half before the Windrush generation.

The location chosen was Cruck House on Stowe Street, a building which would have been known by Francis as he lived in the original Stowe Street from 1785 to 1793.

Ed. Higgins, Principle Design and Conservation Officer for Lichfield District Council, consulted English Heritage regarding a suitable position for the plaque on Cruck House, a late 15th century building, listed Grade II*, which contains some modern fabric from the partial rebuilding in the late 20th century in addition to the very old timber 'cruck' framing. Following a site visit in June 2022, a location on a modern infil panel on the north side of the building was chosen.

The City of Sanctuary group were instrumental in instigating the project and the wording on the plaque was developed in consultation with Lichfield City councillors and other local groups, including Lichfield Civic Society, Francis Barber' descendent Cedric Barber, his biographer Michael Bundock and Dr Jak Bella from the Nubian Jak Community Trust.

The plaque was manufactured by Sign Cast of Bilston and modelled in the style of historic blue plaques elsewhere. This is not, however, the only blue plaque dedicated to the memory of Francis Barber as, in 2016, a BBC History Project provided one outside Samuel Johnson's London home at 17 Gough Square. This has now been moved inside the building but is visible hrough a window.

Lorna Bushell
May 2023

The Francis Barber plaque on Cruck House

Photo - William Henwood, 2023