By the mid-18th century, Glasgow dominated Britain's tobacco and sugar imports, and the city was also involved in the slave trade. In 2007 Glasgow Built Preservation Trust (GBPT), in partnership with Glasgow Anti Racist Alliance, developed an exhibition linking Glasgow’s built heritage with the slave trade. In September 2007, Glasgow’s Doors Open Day event marked the bicentenary with walks (both guided and by podcast), a pop-up exhibition, and an evening of drama, talks and music. The event was later transformed into a week long ‘built heritage festival’, from which a travelling exhibition and city trail were created by the historian Stephen Mullen.
Bristol was major trading port for the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century. The city of Bristol marked the bicentenary of the Abolition Act with more than 100 events across the city - exhibitions, plays, debates, talks, concerts - under the umbrella organisation Abolition 200. In January 2007, city leaders signed a declaration of regret for the city's role in the trade. Over the weekend of 24-25 March, bells rang out across the city and a Service of Remembrance and Reconciliation was held at Bristol Cathedral, organised by a partnership of the Cathedral and the Council of Black Churches. 2007 was themed as the Year of Black Achievement, aiming to bring better provision of black heritage resources to schools in Bristol, with a particular focus on black attainment. Over 30 creative community projects were funded by Abolition 200 - including art installations, educational projects and community theatre - to reflect the themes of education, commemoration and legacy.
Featured here are some of the events from Abolition 200.
Written by composer Paul Field, Cargo premiered in Hull City Hall in March 2007, sponsored by Hull City Council. Cargo featured contemporary songs, narration, dance and images that told the story of the struggles of slaves, the historical work of William Wilberforce and the abolition movement, through to the contemporary struggles against slavery today. Performers included the singer Coco Mbassi, saxophone player Mike Haughton and Springs Dance Company. The narrators and choir were local people, including members of City of Hull Youth Choir, Redemption Gospel Choir and Hot Gospel in Hull. Cargo was also performed in London, Plymouth, Bristol and Liverpool. Smaller events were put on by church and community groups around the UK, assisted by the script, score and backing track of the music being made available on CD-Rom.
After 1825, on leaving Parliament, William Wilberforce retired to Hendon Park in Mill Hill, North London, and during his retirement built a chapel on his estate, now St. Paul's Church. St. Paul's organised a programme of events in 2007 to mark the bicentenary, including concerts by The London Community Gospel Choir and The St. Ignatius Gospel Choir. A series of exhibitions in London Borough of Barnet libraries explored Wilberforce's local connections, and visits to local schools encouraged pupils to express their understanding of slavery and abolition in art, and stressed the need to continue the work of abolitionists today. The programme also included a number of open public meetings with invited speakers exploring different aspects of Wilberforce's life and work, including his collaborations with Thomas Clarkson and John Newton. In 2008 the Wilberforce Centre was opened in the crypt space of St. Paul's.
Southwark Pensioners Centre Black History Group led a project to explore the life of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther. Born in Yorubaland, Nigeria, kidnapped and sold into slavery, Crowther became the Anglican church's first African-born bishop and an influential missionary in West Africa. The Crowther's Journey project involved weekly research and discussion sessions and visits to places of significance, such as the church of St Mary in Islington, where Crowther was ordained. This booklet focuses on the responses and reflections of members of the group on Crowther, his life and his legacy.
Inspired by the bicentenary, the Distorted Image exhibition at Hereford Cathedral explored how distorted perceptions throughout history have resulted in prejudice, discrimination and enslavement. Incomplete or misleading images of human beings, who are black or female or in some way considered 'other', have resulted in unjust behaviour against them, particularly in the case of restricted legal and political rights. Alongside the example of slavery, this exhibition also looked at the invariably inferior position of women within church teaching. Distorted Image was part of the ongoing Mappa Mundi and Chained Library exhibition. The Hereford Mappa Mundi is a 13th century map featuring drawings of the history of humankind and the natural world, which records how medieval scholars interpreted the world in spiritual as well as geographical terms.
An exhibition to mark the bicentenary was developed by Enfield Museum Service in partnership with the British Museum and Enfield Racial Equality Council. The exhibition looked at West African culture, the development of the local African community, the links between the transatlantic slave trade and Enfield, wealthy landowners and Quaker abolitionists who lived in the area. Free family days held during school vacations offered traditional Ghanaian story-telling, dancing and drumming, crafts and object handling. Living History Days gave visitors the opportunity to meet actors portraying William Wilberforce and Olaudah Equiano. School workshops included a drama session and performance about a runaway slave developed from material from Lambeth Archive. The museum service also produced a book, edited by Valerie Munday, which explored further the links between Enfield and the slave trade. The book was sent to all schools in the borough, and formed the basis of a teaching resource aimed at Key Stages 2 and 3. Loan boxes and handling collections provided by the museum service include Ghanaian artefacts and items relating to the slave trade. In 2011, Enfield Racial Equality Council unveiled a plaque to commemorate abolition at the Enfield Civic Centre.
The Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society led a number of commemorative events to mark the bicentenary. In March 2007 an oak tree was planted in the churchyard of St John’s Church Leytonstone. At the ceremony there were a number of speeches, after which community nurse and local campaigner Mrs Zena Edmund-Charles was invited to plant the commemorative tree. There was also an art exhibition at St John's featuring artefacts and mementos of the period. A commemorative ‘Freedom Walk’ was led by local historian Peter Ashan, following a route around Leyton, Leytonstone and Walthamstow. The exhibition was shown again during Black History Month, alongside a video story of Olaudah Equiano.
In 2007 Westminster City Council supported a programme of events in the libraries, galleries and archives of the area, including films, walks and exhibitions, designed to provide opportunities to learn about the culture of Westminster's communities. Highlights included guided heritage walks with historian S. I. Martin, exhibitions of images from the Royal Geographical Society in Paddington Library, Maida Vale Library and Westminster Reference Library, and film screenings (in partnership with 100 Black Men of London). A partnership between the City of Westminster Archives Centre, Tate Britain, Parliamentary Archives, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery produced a heritage trail 'On the Road to Abolition: Ending the British Slave Trade', which takes in key sites, events and individuals in Westminster relating to the slave trade, between Trafalgar Square and Pimlico. In celebration of Black History Month, Westminster City Council produced a booklet, 'Black History in Westminster', detailing some of the borough's influential Black residents.
Manchester Cathedral held an exhibition on the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson in 2007. Clarkson was invited to preach a sermon at the Collegiate Church (which became Manchester Cathedral) in 1787, a sermon which had a profound impact on public opinion and support for anti-slavery societies in the city. Clarkson's name was recorded in the 'Book of Strange Preachers at the Collegiate Church, Manchester', on display at the exhibition.
A collaborative project between Churches Together in Northampton, English Heritage, Northamptonshire Black History Association (NBHA) and The Northampton Schools Excellence Cluster. Freedom From the Past: Long Time Coming was led by Mary Clarke, Director of the Doddridge Centre, where the NBHA office is based. The project commemorated the 1807 Act and the wider histories of black resistance and the fight against the slave trade through music, drama and historical workshops in Northampton.
The 'Passage' event was held in St Giles' Church on 25 March 2007, an evening of drama, songs and speeches reflecting on the legacies of slavery. There was a 150-strong gospel-style community choir drawn from schools in the Northampton area and local community groups. The event was one of a range of project activities in Northampton which brought together schools, community groups, churches and heritage organisations to explore the issues of slavery in the British Empire. Other events included a community event and 'Walk to Freedom' at the Northampton West Indian Community Association (NWICA) to mark 'Emancipation Day', annually held throughout the Caribbean to celebrate the abolition of slavery. English Heritage funded a professional DVD recording which was afterwards made freely available to NBHA members and others.
Gilt of Cain was unveiled by the Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in Fen Court, City of London, in September 2008. The artwork, a collaboration by sculptor Michael Visocchi and poet Lemn Sissay, commemorates the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. The granite sculpture is composed of a group of columns surrounding a podium – suggesting an ecclesiastical pulpit or slave auctioneer’s block. Extracts from Lemn Sissay’s poem, ‘Gilt of Cain’, are engraved into the granite.
Fen Court is the site of a churchyard formerly of St Gabriel’s Fenchurch St and now in the Parish of St Edmund the King and St Mary Woolnoth, Lombard St. The latter has a strong historical connection with the British abolitionist movement of the 18th and 19th centuries: Reverend John Newton, a slave-trader turned preacher and abolitionist, was rector of St Mary Woolnoth between 1780 – 1807. This project was initiated by Black British Heritage and the Parish of St Mary Woolnoth and was commissioned by the City of London Corporation in partnership with the British Land Company.
The Hidden Connections exhibition was a result of partnership between the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. The exhibition explored Ulster's links with slavery after 1807 via people, events and places, and looked at both the pro and anti-slavery debates in Northern Ireland. It drew on documents from PRONI’s archives, artefacts from the Ulster Museum and contemporary books and pamphlets from the Linen Hall Library and elsewhere. After its launch at Linen Hall Library, the exhibition toured Northern Ireland, travelling to Down Museum, the Harbour Museum in Derry, Lisburn City Library and the Ulster American Folk Park.
The wider Hidden Connections programme featured workshops exploring archival sources, performances and lectures by leading scholars. There was a panel discussion on ‘Slavery Now’, a walking tour of Belfast sites associated with the slavery issue, and a boat trip on the Lagan focusing on the port’s links with slave colonies. Gerry McLaughlin’s ‘Blood sugar’ is a drama documentary devoted to the literature of slavery, music and song. 'Freedom and Liberty' was the theme of the UK-wide Archives Awareness Event. PRONI organised special events and produced a catalogue, 'Ulster and Slavery', listing the references to slavery to be found in the archive.
The Lambeth and the Abolition programme included debates, historic trails, a video conferencing discussion between people in Brixton, Ghana and Jamaica, Caribbean family history classes, creative writing workshops, and a dedicated series of events within Black History Month. ‘The Runaways’, an original drama about a runaway slave boy and a kitchen maid in London in 1700, was performed in Lambeth primary schools, accompanied by a workshop. The project researched the local historical links to abolition, and famously the activities of the Clapham Sect (William Wilberforce and his associates) who attended Holy Trinity Church in Clapham. A booklet by historian S. I. Martin sets the history of abolition in the larger context, through his study of the African Academy at Clapham, and his mapping of some of the links between Lambeth, Jamaica and West Africa at the beginning of the 19th century.
This collaborative community initiative celebrated African and Caribbean culture in Leeds, with a focus on commemorating the Abolition Act by 'highlighting African achievement, liberation and aspirations'. New exhibitions, publications and resources were produced and over 100 bicentenary events organised under different themes: Education and Museums; Arts and Carnival Culture; Churches and Abolition; Legacy; Black History and Community Development; Media and Communications. Highlights included the photographic exhibition and pamphlet 'From Abolition to Commonwealth', which remembered indentured labour in Africa and the Caribbean after 1807, and the 40th anniversary of Leeds West Indian Carnival, with themes that highlighted heritage, liberation, respect and freedom. Project outputs included an education pack, black history classes, concerts, church services, lectures and performances.
This project was the Church of England’s official response to the bicentenary, as CMEAC (established by the Archbishops’ Council) explored the Church’s multi-faceted role in the history of slavery in Britain. Making our Mark focused on connections with local communities, opening access to heritage, and raising awareness of the legacies of slavery. The project had two main strands. The first was a set of regional dialogues – the Bicentenary Hearings – which represented local opportunities for discussion about experiences of slavery, as a way to make new connections between past and present, education and action. The Hearings took place in Liverpool, London, Birmingham, Hull and Southwark in February and March 2007. The second strand was the Walk of Witness, a heritage trail through London on 24 March 2007. Participants included government representatives, leaders in the Church of England, social justice organisations, ecumenical and multi-faith partners, and schools. A pack was produced for schools, including a DVD with footage from the Walk and Hearings.
A programme of events to mark the bicentenary was organised by Edinburgh Inter-Faith Association. This included a slavery walk in the footsteps of Robert Wedderburn, a commemoration and thanksgiving service at St John's Church in Edinburgh, and a debate and discussion on the theme 'Trading People - Then and Now'.
The Reconciliation Reredos project to develop a major public artwork was the response by Saint Stephen’s Church in Bristol city centre to a complex historical legacy. St Stephen's was the harbour church which benefitted from merchant’s donations, which effectively ‘blessed’ slave trade ships leaving the port, and which served as the burial site for Africans living in Bristol in the era of the transatlantic slave trade. The project involved the commissioning of a new altarpiece: four pieces of contemporary artwork exploring the mercantile connections that built the city of Bristol were created by artist Graeme Mortimer Evelyn, transforming the stone-carved Victorian Reredos housed in the church since 1875. A community learning programme engaged groups of people from the city through workshops, forums and events around the four focus concepts: Creation, Imago Dei (the Image of God in humanity), Reconciliation and Hope.
Samuel Ajayi Crowther was Britain's first Black Anglican Bishop. He was born in Yorubaland, part of modern South Western Nigeria. After being enslaved, he was rescued at sea by the Royal Navy and began his missionary education in Sierra Leone. Crowther studied in Islington on two separate occasions: first, at St Mary’s Parochial School, and later, at the Church Missionary Society College on Upper Street. He was ordained at St Mary's Church in Upper Street before returning to Africa to begin his missionary work. His ordination as Bishop was in recognition of the success of his missionary efforts in the Niger region. His life, and connections to the London Borough of Islington, were the subject of this exhibition at Islington Local History Centre.
The Gloucestershire Set All Free initiative was organised by Churches Together in Gloucester and other organisations to mark the bicentenary. An Events Guide set out some of the events, lectures, film screenings, music festivals and exhibitions taking place in Gloucestershire to remember the horrors of transatlantic slavery, while also making clear the imperative to take action to end modern forms of slavery. There were bicentenary related activities at Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery and Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. There were also a number of events at Gloucester Cathedral and local churches, including St Mary's in Wotton-under-Edge. Two exhibitions focused on contemporary slavery were organised by the Anti-Slavery International League. The Guide also includes details of various festivals with a focus on the bicentenary, including the 1 World Festival Freedom 07, the Gloucester International Rhythm and Blues Festival and Cheltenham Music and Literature Festivals.