The Ancestors: Uncovering Their Journey

Join us as we explore the stories of the Prisoners of War who were held at Portchester Castle in the 18th century

English Heritage

Shout Out Loud

National Youth Theatre Rehearsals for 'The Ancestors' at Porchester Castle (2)English Heritage

Members of the National Youth Theatre (NYT), in collaboration with Shout Out Loud and researchers from the University of Warwick, shine new light on the lives of the Caribbean Prisoners of War (PoWs) held at Portchester Castle in the 18th century.

Twelve young Black women from the NYT explored historical sources connected to Revolution in the Caribbean, and Portchester Castle, in particular developing their own creative responses to a play written by a White French prisoner of war about the Revolution in Haiti. 

The young British women of African or Afro-Caribbean heritage involved in the project were able to explore and engage with a lesser told chapter of Black British and French history. 

Behind-the-Scenes of 'The Ancestors' Monologues at Porchester Castle (4) by James HendersonEnglish Heritage

In response, they first wrote and performed monologues, interpreting the research to provide fresh perspectives on the experiences of the prisoners: particularly those of the women and children who were also captured. Their stories have hardly been told and it is their experiences that the monologues imagine and give voice to. 

Here, we share some of those monologues, telling stories of the prisoners all the way from their homes in the Caribbean to their imprisonment at Portchester.

Dido Belle - A Musical Voyage' - BrainstormingEnglish Heritage

It’s 1796, and Britain and France are at war. Several French Caribbean islands have abolished slavery.  Britain has decided to take advantage of the upheaval to bring those islands under British colonial rule.

In the ensuing conflict, over 2,500 individuals, almost all Black or mixed-race, are captured on the islands of St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada and brought to Britain as PoWs. 

These prisoners are not only soldiers; women and children are also amongst the captured.  

Watercolour Ships by Nicholas PocockEnglish Heritage

The passage to Britain was gruelling. In the cramped and unhygienic conditions on board the ships, disease was rife.
Over 200 people, the majority of whom were prisoners, did not survive the journey.

Portchester CastleOriginal Source: PORTCHESTER CASTLE

Those that did survive the journey found themselves in a grey and unfriendly new land.

For the 2,500 that were captured and transported from the warm, vibrant shores of the Caribbean to Britain in the dead of winter, it must have been a huge culture shock.

Watercolour Portchester Castle by Captain DurrantEnglish Heritage

The Black and mixed-race prisoners at Portchester were treated with a certain degree of care and considerable efforts were made to improve the quality of their living conditions in the prison. These efforts included the provision of extra blankets and warm clothing. 

A number of prisoners, including soldiers, women and children were repatriated from 1797 onwards, while others were held at the castle for some years before being repatriated to France.

This is only a fraction of the history and variety of lived experiences of the prisoners held within the walls of Portchester Castle. There are many more stories to uncover and more imagined voices to hear through the work of the NYT actors. 

Learn more about the development of the final play, ‘The Ancestors’ here and watch all monologues created as part of the Research and Development here.

Credits: Story

Head to the Shout Out Loud project page where you will be able to see some of the performance as part of a short documentary film. Or if you want to know more about Portchester Castle, including how to visit, all the information can be found here.

Find out about how to join the National Youth Theatre here.

This project and the performances were made possible by support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, DCMS Youth Accelerator Fund, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the David Toguri Bursary Fund, Arts Council England, the Culture Recovery Fund and Playful Productions.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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