The hero African servant who saved the life of Sir Christopher Hatton honoured at new Kirby Hall exhibition

James Chappell saved the life of the viscount - now his life is being remembered as part of a national series of exhibitions

Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 5:02 am

A black servant who heroically saved the life of a local aristocrat is part of a serious of exhibitions taking place at English Heritage properties across the country to bring to life the untold stories of the African people connected to the sites.

James Chappell was born in 1648 and entered the service of the Hatton family at Kirby Hall, between Corby and Gretton, at the age of just 15. Sir Christopher Hatton was appointed the governor of Guernsey and moved to the channel island at Castle Cornet, taking James with him. In 1672 the castle keep and some of the living headquarters were destroyed after lightning hit the building, causing the gunpowder stores to explode. Hatton's wife and mother were tragically killed.

But his servant pulled Sir Christopher from the rubble and saved his life.

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Glory Samjolly with her portrait of James Chappell.

James returned to Kirby Hall with Hatton's household after this in 1672. On Sir Christopher’s death in 1706, he provided for James in his will, stating 'And to my servant James Chappell I give one annuity of twenty pounds a year during the term of his life.' With this gift, James was able to live as a free man with his wife, and set up home in the local area and died in 1730.

Now, he is to be remembered as part of the Painting our Past: The African Diaspora in England exhibition which will see six African figures from the past honoured in exhibitions around the country.

From Roman Britain to the 20th century, the lives of these different individuals span the centuries and their portraits will shed new light on the long history of African people in England. Commissioned by English Heritage, the paintings will be displayed at the forts, abbeys, historic houses and barracks where these individuals lived, visited or worked.

At Kirby Hall, today (Wednesday, June 9) Glory Samjolly’s portrait of James Chappell will go on display for the first time.

James Chappell was a black slave who saved the life of Sir Christopher Hatton

Glory Samjolly is an Afro-Caribbean and multidisciplinary artist whose work was featured in the National Gallery in March 2020.

Anna Eavis, English Heritage’s Curatorial Director, said: “African figures from the past have played significant roles at some of the historic sites in our care but many of their stories are not very well known. Placing their portraits on the walls of those sites is one way we hope to bring their stories to life and share them with a wider audience. We are also delighted to be working with these brilliant artists and seeing how they engage with the past, with all its complexities, is inspiring.”

English Heritage has commissioned the new portraits from artists who themselves identify as Black or mixed-heritage. The portrait subjects, the historic sites at which they’ll be displayed and the artists are:

· Emperor Septimius Severus (145-211) at Corbridge Roman Town on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland by Elena Onwochei-Garcia

· Abbot Hadrian (640-710) at St Augustine’s Abbey, Kent by Clifton Powell

· James Chappell (c.1648-1730) at Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire by Glory Samjolly

· Dido Belle (1761-1804) at Kenwood, London by Mikéla Henry-Lowe

· Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880) at Osborne, Isle of Wight by Hannah Uzor

· Arthur Roberts (1897-1982) at Berwick-upon-Tweed Barracks, Northumberland by Chloe Cox

You can find out more information about the exhibition and Black and African lives across the centuries in Britain here.