Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho, composer, writer, slave abolitionist and actor, died on 14th December 1780 and was buried on 17th December in the churchyard of the Broadway, or New, Chapel, which was an overflow burial area for the parish of St Margaret's Westminster. All the gravestones in the Broadway Chapel yard were cleared many years ago and the later church on the site was badly damaged by bombing in the Second World War and demolished. The area is now known as Christ Church gardens, on the corner of Broadway and Victoria Street.

His life

He was born on a slave ship in 1729, en route from Guinea to the Spanish West Indies. At Carthagena the bishop there christened him Ignatius (in honour of the Spanish founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius de Loyola). His mother died of disease and his father killed himself.

When he was about two years old he was taken to England, to a household in Greenwich. They gave him the surname Sancho, after the squire in Don Quixote. John, 2nd Duke of Montagu lived nearby and helped his education. Sancho then served his widow Mary (daughter of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough) as butler and later worked for his son in law as a valet.

On 17th December 1758 he married Ann Osborne, who was of African descent, in St Margaret's Westminster and he ran a grocery shop, near to the Houses of Parliament. Eight children were baptised at the church, but several died young. Elizabeth Bruce was baptised in 1766 and John Ignatius in 1768. Those who were baptised in the church and buried in the parish were:

  • Mary Ann died 1805
  • Frances Joanna died 1815
  • Ann Alice died 1766
  • Lydia died 1776
  • Katherine Margaret died 1779
  • William Leach Osborne died 1810, who ran the family shop. 

Sancho's wife Ann was buried with him in the Broadway chapel on 25th September 1817 aged 84.

He published a couple of plays (now lost) and musical compositions. His letters were published under his own name, and under a pseudonym Africanus. Thomas Gainsborough painted his portrait and he knew many members of the nobility and famous people of the day, such as actor David Garrick. He was the first black Briton to vote in an election and have an obituary published in the papers. The Gentleman's Magazine recorded his death: "In Charles Street, Westminster, Mr Ignatius Sancho, grocer and oilman" [ie. trading in oils and pickles].


On 19th December 2023 a Portland stone memorial tablet was unveiled for him by Arthur Torrington CBE, on the north wall of St Margaret's church, near the chapel of Christ the Intercessor. The tablet was given by The Equiano Society. The letters were cut by Marcia Bennett-Male and are painted a grey-blue colour. The inscription reads:

"IGNATIUS SANCHO 1729-1780 AFRICAN ABOLITIONIST AND POLYMATH. MARRIED ANN OSBOURNE IN THIS CHURCH 17 DECEMBER 1758. Use your endeavour to be a good man And leave the rest to God"

Further reading

Order of Service for the dedication of a memorial to Ignatius Sancho and Ann Osborne

Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho...by V. Carretta, 1998

Ignatius Sancho...an early African composer in England by J. Wright (ed.) 1981

Ignatius Sancho: an African man of letters by R. King (ed.) 1997

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

Ignatius Sancho
Portrait of Ignatius Sancho

Thomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ignatius Sancho
Sancho marriage entry

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Wall tablet to Ignatius Sancho, African, and slave abolitionist
Ignatius Sancho memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster