200 Years On, U.K. Hunts for Grave of Man Called World’s 1st Black Sports Star

200 Years On, U.K. Hunts for Grave of Man Called World’s 1st Black Sports Star


Moreover, his vehicle of social advancement — a vicious and dangerous sport — says much about the limited prospects for black people. “If there were other things he could be doing, why boxing?” Professor Andrews said.

An illustration of the boxer Bill Richmond, who took the name of the town on Staten Island where he grew up as a slave. In Britain, he achieved great fame, taking up bare-knuckle fighting at age 40.

In any event, almost two centuries after his death, the spotlight has fallen on Mr. Richmond again because of a high-speed rail project that has prompted the renovation of Euston Station in the north of the city.

The work means digging up graveyards in London and Birmingham, as well as other historic sites along the route, in what Mike Court, the lead archaeologist for the first phase of High Speed 2, describes as Britain’s “biggest ever archaeological project.”

After his death, Mr. Richmond was buried in the graveyard next to St. James church, which was built in 1789 but demolished in the 1960s. Other prominent people laid to rest here included Capt. Matthew Flinders, who led the first circumnavigation of Australia, and James Christie, who founded Christie’s auctioneers in 1766.

But burials stopped in 1853, and around 1887, the cemetery was turned into a public garden.

Archaeologists have been surprised how well London’s damp clay soil has preserved skeletonized remains and some wooden coffins.

“Some of the coffins that we are finding look like they were put into the ground last week — really, really amazing,” said Mr. Court, speaking near the huge site, where about 160 archaeologists and dozens of construction and support staff are working.

He expects the excavation to yield a wealth of information for social historians about the diet, health, migration patterns and environment of the period. (The small number of lead coffins will not be opened.)



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