Stephen Bourne

stephen bourne

ESTHER BRUCE – A BLACK LONDON SEAMSTRESS: HER STORY 1912-1994

Esther Bruce – A Black London Seamstress: Her Story 1912–1994 provides a first-hand account of the life of a black Londoner in the pre-Empire Windrush years.

When Esther Bruce was born in Fulham (London) in 1912, only small black communities existed in Britain. However, Esther’s father Joseph was a rare example of a black man who made his home in a white working-class community before the First World War. Joseph and Esther were accepted by their white neighbours, including Mrs. Johnson (known as Granny) who later adopted Esther into her family.

When Esther was a young child her father instilled in his daughter a sense of pride in being black and British. After leaving school in the 1920s she worked as a seamstress. In the 1930s she made dresses for the famous African American singer Elisabeth Welch. Esther also befriended another black citizen of Fulham, the Jamaican nationalist Marcus Garvey. During the war, Esther supported her community and volunteered as a fire watcher.

Friendly and outgoing, Esther found it easy to integrate into the culturally diverse Britain of the post-war years, and she was happy to collaborate with her adopted nephew, Stephen Bourne, on her autobiography. First published in 1991 it became an instant success.

This third edition is a revised and updated version of the autobiography and includes several photographs not seen in the earlier editions. The story of Stephen’s search for Esther’s half-brother Billy Bruce has also been added.

Copies of the book are available by sending a £4.50 cheque (made payable to ‘Sean Creighton’) to 6 Oakhill Road, London SW16 5RG.