The Museum of London Docklands houses the Port and River collections of the Museum of London. The aim of these museums is to showcase the growth and development of London, from the Roman era through to the present day. In a period of expansion for the Museum of London, the Museum of London Docklands was opened in 2003 in a Grade I listed warehouse on West India Quay, the historic trading heart of London.
Due to its location in a warehouse which would very likely have stored sugar, and other slave-produced items, the history of the transatlantic slave trade and its impact on London fits well within this space. ‘London, Sugar and Slavery’ was originally produced in 2007 as part of the bicentenary commemorations but has since become a permanent part of the museum. The displays have a local focus, supported through a wide range of objects, and consider the impact of the slave trade on London historically and today.
On entering the gallery visitors are met with a list of ships that traded slaves from the West India Quay- placing them right there in the story. Next there are discussions of the economics of slavery, and indications of how the money made from it changed the city of London forever. The exhibition also includes discussions of resistance, and abolition- centring the movement on the mass movement in the wider population with a case entitled ‘Abolition on the Streets.’ To bring the display up to date there is a discussion of representations of black people in popular culture, with objects including children’s books, film memorabilia, toys and prints, in line with a further piece on racism in London.
The Museum of London Docklands opened the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery in 2007, and it remains a permanent exhibition. The museum, housed in an old sugar warehouse on London’s West India Dock, retold the narrative of the transatlantic slave trade from the perspective of London, once the fourth largest slaving port in the world. Through personal accounts, film, music, interactive exhibits and over 140 objects, the exhibition looks at the various stages of the transatlantic slave trade, including life and trade on the West India Dock, and conditions for the enslaved on the Middle Passage and the Caribbean plantations. The final section of the gallery focuses on the legacies of the slave trade for British society today. Community collaborations also helped shape the gallery.
The museum also created a walking trail for the local area, highlighting key architectural features and buildings that had a role in the transatlantic slave trade. The Slave Map of London was developed in collaboration with three London museums: the Cuming Museum in Southwark, Bruce Castle Museum in Haringey and Fulham Palace Museum. Users navigated an online map to discover over 100 different locations throughout London which played a part in the transatlantic slave trade and the fight to end it. A schools programme that accompanied the opening of the exhibition included drama performances and workshops. Courses that ran alongside the exhibition in 2007 included ‘Resistance and Achievement: the story of African and Caribbean people in Britain’, in partnership with Middlesex University.
In 2018, the museum reflected on the 10 year anniversary of London, Sugar and Slavery with a workshop to explore the significance of the gallery, with contributions from artists, museum practitioners and emerging artists.