The flower-seller is wearing a bright white skirt, a flat, wide hat, and a knitted shawl. She stands next to her stall between two pillars on the St Leonards seafront. It’s buckling slightly under the weight of the flowers. And that’s about as much as we know about her.
For nearly 150 years, her picture sat in an archive, gathering dust. But now a team of artists has set out to discover her untold story. Who was this Black woman selling flowers in 19th century Hastings?
It’s a task that could involve spending hours in local history archives and poring over public records, but at the end will hopefully form part of a new exhibition on the roles women of colour have played in Britain’s history.
The exhibition, put together by artists at Collage Arts, aims to fight prejudices and share a part of Britain’s history that has been neglected for so long. And they’re asking for your help to track down the woman in the picture.
“There’s something about the expression on her face I find fascinating. The location of where the photo was taken is on the seafront, so it’s most likely she’s gazing into the sea,” says Sarah Buller, Collage Arts’ project lead for They Came Before Us, who believes the photo was taken in the late 1800s or early 1900s.
“I love that she’s selling something beautiful, whilst looking at something beautiful and that she must have been such an unusual sight to see for passers by. I’ve looked at a lot of old photos of Hastings and St Leonards, and none have been so emotive for me.”