MOOP HISTORIES: Fanny Eaton, a hidden figure in plain sight

MOOP volunteer Layemi Ikomi reveals the story behind this mixed-race muse whose face was immortalised in masterpieces, yet her name was written out of history

Sketch of Fanny Eaton, Walter Fryer Stocks, 1859

Sketch of Fanny Eaton, Walter Fryer Stocks, 1859

As a mixed-race individual I am constantly seeking representation in British history. In recent times, the acknowledgment of minorities in European history has become widely accepted in popular culture with films such as Belle, the colour-blind casting of BBC’s Les Miserables and in exhibitions such as Black Victorians: Black People in British Art 1800-1900 that took place in 2005. This is why I was immediately drawn to the story of Fanny Eaton and eager to discover more about her.

There is little documentation on the life of Eaton. Yet she appears so frequently in the art that we adore, in the museums we frequent, and in the histories of Victorian England. It was in these arenas that I first came across this overlooked individual.

Fanny Eaton, born in 1835 as Fanny Antwistle, was a Jamaican immigrant who came to Britain in 1843 at the age of eight. In the letters and descriptions discussing her, she was referred to as “mulatto”, indicating her mixed-race heritage. Throughout her younger life she lived in London and worked as a charwoman, which we would now understand as a house cleaner. By the time she was 22, she had married James Eaton and would go on to have ten children with him before his death at the age of 43. It was just after she had given birth to her second child that she began modelling for the Pre-Raphaelite artists. This is how she exists in our minds today, stuck in time through the paintings by Dante Rossetti, Joanna Mary Boyce Wells and Simeon Solomon. 

I first discovered Fanny Eaton in The Mother of Moses by Solomon - a popular Pre-Raphaelite artist. Eaton stands in the scene as the mother of Moses, looking down on her son in an archaic setting. Eaton was popular among the Pre-Raphaelite circle due to her racial ambiguity, meaning she could blend in to an array of identities when being painted. The irony being that her mixed-race heritage was both the reason we can identify her today and the reason she was forgotten in history.

The Mother of Moses,  Simeon Solomon, 1860

The Mother of Moses, Simeon Solomon, 1860

The reality is that the black presence in British history is overlooked because history does not focus on the lives of ordinary people

When we look at the Pre-Raphaelite artists depictions of Eaton, we don’t actually see her. We see the characters she blended in to so well through her “racial ambiguity”. My favourite images of Eaton, therefore, are the sketches that aim to capture her likeness without the guise of a character forced onto her. This is where I see Eaton, not through decadence or a character but as herself (see the sketch of her at the very top).

The power of this ordinary person’s biography is significant as through Eaton we are confronted with the black presence in British history. Her existence defies conventional historical teachings, and makes us re-consider whose stories are being told. The reality is that the black presence in British history is overlooked because history does not focus on the lives of ordinary people. We are lucky that there were individuals that wanted her legacy to survive, or she would have been forgotten with the many other people of colour who worked as sitters in Victorian Britain.

I was so happy to find this figure hidden in plain sight. Her existence is a reminder that ordinary people exist in the highest establishments. Her presence is a time-portal stretching minority history in Britain beyond what I was made to believe true. Black history in Britain pre-dates the Windrush generation and is larger than token heroes such as Mary Seacole. Eaton shows us that for centuries there have been ordinary black people in Britain and it is our task now to find them and tell their stories.

Do you know of an ordinary person’s story we should we be telling?

Let us know by messaging us on museumofordinarypeople@gmail.com

Brighton then and now: the "ordinary" history at your fingertips

Curious about Brighton’s past? MOOP volunteer Jordan Taylor reveals a top resource for exploring the individual histories of the city’s buildings – from your flat to your favourite sushi restaurant

Clock Tower redevelopment in the early 1960s

Clock Tower redevelopment in the early 1960s

If, like myself, you are insatiably curious about the unknown histories around you, then there are ways you can find out more. Brighton is a treasure trove of social history and many organisations in this area have accumulated collections that can help even the most amateur historian discover more about those who stood before them.

For example, The James Gray Collection. Born in 1904, James Gray was a local Brighton man who worked in insurance. A chance acquisition of photos depicting Western Road in the 1950s set Gray on a mission that was to define the rest of his life: collecting one of the most comprehensive groups of photos depicting Brighton and the surrounding area.

Owned by The Regency Society – which runs campaigns to protect Brighton’s heritage – the beauty of this archive lies not only in its breadth and depth, but in its ability to help researchers track down lesser known histories of the city. In the most simple way, you can scroll through the collection to potentially find your own house – what it looked like, who lived there, On a more complex level, the archive can be used to track land developments and to see how the landscape of Brighton has changed through the years.

The entire collection –  totalling a staggering 7,500 images – has been digitised and put into thirty nine volumes, separated into areas of the city. Gray took care to accompany some of the photographs with handwritten annotations describing the area or scene depicted, whilst for those without any description a team of volunteers continue to track down and identify what is shown.

A great example is displayed here - looking across Middle Street towards The Spotted Dog, now known as The Hop Poles. By comparing this image with Google Maps (a more modern, but no less useful tool), one can see that the building to the right has since been replaced, now home to the restaurant Sushimani, whereas the pub is almost unchanged. Browsing the images in this fashion gives one a sense of how Brighton has found itself at the crossroads of old and new.

The collection is available, free of charge, at the website of The Regency Society, or you can view the physical photos at The Keep archive.


For more information about James Gray, The Regency Society and the collection, visit
regencysociety-jamesgray.com

MOOP loves: "Dutty Ken: The Man that Created the Scene and The Atmosphere"

MOOP volunteer Poppy Falk felt compelled to tell the story of a legendary Bristol landlord. She describes the process – and the strange serendipity – that led to her creating an audio piece in memory of Louis Hayles (aka Dutty Ken)

The Star and Garter pub, Montpelier, Bristol – formerly run by Dutty Ken

The Star and Garter pub, Montpelier, Bristol – formerly run by Dutty Ken

The strange timings in this project began as soon as it started. It was early February in 2017, I was a student doing a radio module and time was running out to come up with an idea. As my mind cast to home, I thought of the pub at the end of my road, run by local legend “Dutty Ken” (Louis Hayles). I got on the train home to Bristol with the intention of going to the Star and Garter pub to ask Ken if I could interview him.

Shortly after getting into Bristol, news had broke that the landlord, DJ and general vibe bringer had passed away, and tributes began to pour in. The area was devastated at the loss of such a prominent member of the community. I was too late. I was also very aware of the fact that this wasn’t about me, and I worried carrying on with the project would be insensitive, however I talked to my tutor, Al Riddell, and he suggested that it could become a remembrance piece.

As someone who had grown up in the area, and often lost my mum to late-night locks-ins at the pub, I had heard many stories about Ken. Thus, the piece is an exploration of Ken’s style, personality and his impact on local musicians, DJs and artists. It follows two members of the community, first, ‘Hatty’, my mum and a Montpelier resident for 15 years, who regularly frequented the pub, and who had endless tales of nights spent there and her sadness at Ken’s passing. Secondly, ‘Mark’, who knew Ken for 27 years, 22 of those he spent working as a DJ for the Star and Garter, Mark’s stories show Ken’s duality; a kind, well-spirited man, who’s temper flared at times. Although I wasn’t able to interview Ken personally, I was lucky that his vimeo had a lot of videos, so the audio of Ken’s voice and music throughout is from this archive.

I made the piece with the intention of it being shared with my local community, as a way of reminiscing about a man who had a huge impact on the area we co-exist in

The next temporal consequence was that my hand-in day was the same day as Ken’s funeral. I waited a little bit to share it, as again, I felt weird about the timing, but ultimately, I made the piece with the intention of it being shared with my local community, as a way of reminiscing about a man who had a huge impact on the area we co-exist in. I shared the project on Facebook and much to my relief, it was really well received.

Two years on, as I write this, the fog of mystery and concern over the future of the pub lifts. With many cultural venues being made into luxury flats, locals worried the same fate would attack the Star and Garter. However, the estate agent’s sign outside which originally read “site acquired for development” has now been crossed out to read “site acquired to stay a pub.” The new owner, Malcolm Haynes, who was instrumental in the return of St Paul’s Carnival, and has worked on Glastonbury festival since 1990, is currently renovating but plans to keep the vibe the same. Hopefully, in Mark’s words, the pub will remain: “a link to a bygone era in the midst of all this changing area.”


Click here to listen to Poppy’s audio piece: “Dutty Ken, The Man that Created the Scene and the Atmosphere”

We love hearing about projects that celebrate the lives of ordinary people.

Email us on museumofordinarpeople@gmail.com to tell us about yours.

In pictures – MINI MOOP: CHRISTMAS

For those who weren’t able to make it along to MINI MOOP: CHRISTMAS - our pop-up exhibition at Brighton’s Jubilee Library – here’s a small selection of the 40 ordinary people’s stories it presented.

This exhibition captured the depth and diversity of emotions the festive period can evoke from different people - Christmas isn’t a jolly time of year for everyone, and we wanted to acknowledge that.

This MINI MOOP also showed how powerful everyday objects can be when it comes to triggering memories, and how powerfully they resonate with others to provoke empathy and understanding - tying all of this together with a Christmas theme.

A heartfelt thank you to all the ordinary people who shared their stories, memories and objects with us.

Photo credits: Jakub Golis

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A letter from my Aunt

My aunt Sheila, who I called Aunt, was incredibly important to me as a child, like a second mother.

She bought me my first record player, my first camera and my first dictionary, inspiring my future more than my parents did. We lost touch – hadn’t seen here since the death of her husband, my Uncle Harold, in the early nineties. In 2010, we broke the silence by sending her a Christmas card and, a month later, she sent this reply with its surprising story.

We planned to call her and arrange to go up to London for a visit. We hadn’t got round to it and in the summer of that year, we got the news that she had passed away.

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My first and last Christmas in my country of origin (Hungary) with my friends, her parents and mine was a magical experience. We four sat around a king fir tree with presents around it. Mine was two oranges and a packet of chewing gum. I’ve never had oranges or chewing gum before and was determined to keep them for as long as I could.

We kept the Christmas celebrations secret from our neighbours because any religious festivity was frowned upon by the Communist regime and we could not trust anyone not to report us to the authorities. This was my last Christmas with my friend and a few months later the revolution, or as the authorities preferred to call it “the uprising” broke out and people just disappeared, including our friends.

We met years later and remembered old times. Since them, however, all three of them and my parents have died and I will always remember that magical Christmas with them.

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This little piece of angle bauble is all that I have left of a decoration my mum gave me for my new home the Christmas before she passed away.

My stepson accidentally broke it a few years ago and at first I was very upset, as you can imagine, but it turned out he was much more upset than me and went out of his way to find a new version.

This made me think about family and how sad memories can be re-framed. Christmas, which for a while was full of unhappy memories and feelings of loss, can become something to look forward to again and you can create new family and new memories.

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Disco Pete

A Brighton Band Aid-style Christmas song and music video featuring elderly legends Disco Pete and Dancing Ann and a host of celebrities, was created in 2016 to raise funds for a local befriending charity. All proceeds from sales of Jingle Bell Brighton Rocks by newly-formed supergroup The Brighton Belles were donated to Time To Talk Befriending.

Jingle Bell Rock’s main star is Brighton’s oldest raver, Sussex-born Pete Turner, 80, whose unbending passion for music and dancing has earned him many fans.

The Brighton Belles want to encourage communities across Brighton to befriend their elderly neighbours this Christmas.

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The red card was the first one I ever made for someone. The card with kings on it was the first one someone made for me.

His little face as he gave me this card was so precious. We had discovered the gift of giving.

Get involved!

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Look out for this in your local library across Brighton and Hove!

MINI MOOP: CHRISTMAS collection boxes are available for you to donate exhibits for our next exhibition, telling ordinary people's Christmas stories.

You'll find them in the following libraries across Brighton and Hove:
Jubilee Library
Coldean Library
Hangleton Library
Hove Library
Moulsecoomb Library
Patcham Library
Portslade Library
Rottingdean Library
Saltdean Library
Whitehawk Library
Woodingdean Library

Here's what you need to do:

1) Bring along your object/Christmas decoration (safely wrapped and sealed in an envelope).

2) Include a short, handwritten paragraph telling the story behind it. What does this object mean to you?

3)Include a stamped, addressed envelope if you would like the object returned to you once the exhibition is over (December 29th).

4)...Come along to Brighton's Jubilee Library from December 5th-29th to see the final exhibition!

MINI MOOP: CHRISTMAS

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EXCITING NEWS 
WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE PART OF OUR NEXT EXHIBITION?

MOOP is back in Brighton in December with a mini pop-up exhibition (a Mini MOOP, if you will).

From December 5th-28th, MINI MOOP: CHRISTMAS will be inside Jubilee Library, telling ordinary people's Christmas stories through everyday objects – and we want YOU to help us create it.

Do you have:
• A Christmas decoration with a story behind it?
• An everyday object that reminds you of a story about Christmas/ triggers a Christmas memory?
• A photo or object that tells a story about a Brighton Christmas tradition?

To read about how you can lend an exhibit for MINI MOOP: CHRISTMAS click HERE.

Podcast MOOP Talk: Action

Hope you're all feeling Easy Like Sunday Morning!

It's the perfect time to feed your mind with a podcast.

Have a listen to the podcasts of our last two talks – MOOP Talk: Museum and MOOP Talk: Action – created by the wonderful BN1 Productions.

These talks explored two themes that resonated with MOOP – and left us feeling inspired to continue pushing ahead with the next stage of our museum.

Here's the link: https://bit.ly/2PN7aq4

We hope you enjoy! 

Brighton Summit

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Our workshop at the #BrightonSummit with Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce (BHCC)– where local business people used everyday objects to explore their business aims, which we turned into an interactive exhibition – all in a couple of hours!

If you're here at #BrightonSummit, come interact with our exhibition at 5.15 – bring a new friend!

Pick an object that emotionally resonates with you and your business, leave your business card, and see which delegates respond!

MOOP Talk: Action

The past 24 hours have been NON-STOP ACTION - hence the fact we are only just posting this!

Back at our original home The Spire, MOOP brought out the mics, the cameras, the mocktails – and the Loud Shirt Beer – for MOOP Talk: Action, an evening that was about how small actions can have a huge, positive ripple effects.

We had passionate speakers – Tim from Brighton Table Tennis Club, Jacob from @brightonmigrantsolidarity/ #Thousand41000 and Liz and Maddocks from #LWithTheT – with a shoutout for the incredible Evie and Caitlin from Park Life: Save Our Parks

We had some action plans created before our eyes – pretty sure we now have a new blueprint for Hove promenade and a fully assembled clean-up committee for a communal area in Whitehawk 🙌

We even had a couple on their first date! ❤️ We'd love to know how it went??

A massive, teary thank you to everyone who turned up, showed their support, bought drinks, took part in the conversation, volunteered, helped clean up - each one of those actions makes a big difference to us.

Big MOOP love! Podcast by BN1 Productions coming soon!