Uncrowned Kings: Slavery, Wealth and Statues in London – Part 2

Slavery, Wealth and Statues in London – Part 2

Following on from our earlier post, on London statues that commemorate slave-trades, slave owners and slavery apologists and other racists…

It’s also instructive to illustrate that slave trading and slave plantation-owning meant big bucks – not all of it was invested in commissioning bronze or stone idols of the wealthy…

In London as in the UK as a whole – there’s just too much to even list when it comes to slavery-related wealth, and how that wealth was then ploughed into buying land, big houses, investing in industries.

Just to concentrate on ONE small area of South-East London – around Deptford, Lee and Blackheath – just as an example. You can broaden this out to any number of areas in the capital, and beyond; slave-sweated millions funded everything from educational institutions to art galleries, from factories to fashion… It’s estimated that the British Industrial Revolution could not have had anything like the scope that it did without the huge amounts of ready cash swilling around derived from slave-trading, supplying the plantations and selling the sugar and other products slaves made cheaply.

Deptford

Deptford Dockyard was an important naval dockyard and base at Deptford on the River Thames, in what is now the London Borough of Lewisham, operated by the Royal Navy from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. It built and maintained warships for 350 years. Over the centuries, as Britain’s Imperial expansion, based heavily on its naval seapower, demanded more and more ships, and the royal dockyards like Deptford, Woolwich, Chatham and Portsmouth were often busy, and grew larger and larger, employing more and more workers.

Deptford became an important seafaring and trading centre. Ships were built, fitted out and stocked with provisions here before being launched on voyages around the world, and were repaired here when they returned. Royal Navy ships sailing from Deptford protected Britain’s growing empire and trade routes. The early English Navy played a huge part in the beginnings of the Atlantic Slave trade.Traders and explorers also sailed from the dockyards. People interested in sea voyaging came to Deptford, hoping for support from the king or financial backing from rich London merchants.

Ships began sailing to Africa from here as early as the 16th century, and possibly before. While rumours of gold were an important initial impetus to enterprise with Africa and slaves became of paramount significance, other items of trade should not be overlooked. Hides, camwood, indigo, cotton, resin, soap and ivory from elephants and hippos also attracted London sea traders and their merchant backers to West Africa.

Many sea captains owned or stayed in houses close to the dockyard. During the seventeenth century many of the wealthy merchants involved in trade with Africa lived houses nearby in Deptford Green, Lee or Blackheath. Hoping to make big profits, they invested money in ships that sailed to Africa to trade for exotic goods and capture African people, who were shipped across the Atlantic to work as slaves on plantations in the British colonies in the Caribbean. The ships returned to Deptford where the sugar, tobacco and other crops produced by these plantations were unpacked and stored before being sold. This became known as the Triangular Trade.

Captain John Hawkins was the first English slave trader – historian Joan Anim-Addo describes him as “the English father of the Atlantic Slave Trade”.
Hawkins and his cousin Francis Drake found fame as prominent ‘privateers’ (licensed pirates) operating against the Spanish Empire’s ships in the Caribbean, and gradually beginning to trade in the area.
“A feature of the shipping engaged in West Indian privateering… [was] the overwhelming predominance of Londoners. There are forty-one ships mentioned herein whose port of origin has been traced; thirty-one were from London.” (Kenneth Andrews) The Royal Dockyard at Deptford played a significant role in London’s privateering ventures.

He was appointed Treasurer of the Royal Navy and lived at the Treasurer’s House at Deptford dockyards. On his first voyage he captured 300 Africans and took them to the Caribbean, selling them to the Spanish settlers there in exchange for animal skins, ginger, sugar and pearls. These were very exotic goods then, and made Hawkins a fortune when he sold them to London merchants. This was the beginning of the triangular trade across the Atlantic.

Hawkins and other pioneering seamen found on the coast of Africa local people skilled in the manufacture of trading commodities such as pepper and cloth, and African traders, manufacturers and skilled artisans in organised communities. This was not widely reported: the distorted representation of African lifestyle and patterns of existence, portraying them as savages with no real culture; this was given prominence in the century to follow, as English slave trading took root. In fact, traders were met by organised groups skilled in defending the waterways, particularly the rivers leading upstream into the heart of Africa. The coastal Africans, they found, had an established maritime culture, with skilled handling of the canoe a speciality. Naval forces consisting of small, specialised African crafts were initially able to repel Europe’s sophisticated maritime war machinery.

Hawkins made four slave trading voyages to Sierra Leone, sailing from Deptford, between 1564 and 1569; Queen Elizabeth I backed him, sending navy ships to protect his slave ships.

John Hawkins Coat of Arms

When John Hawkins was knighted by the Queen he had a crest of arms drawn up that included a picture of an African bound with ropes, acknowledging the money he made from captured Africans.

John Hawkins’ brother-in-law Edward Fenton also traded for slaves in Sierra Leone. He was buried at St Nicholas’ church in Deptford, which is named after the patron saint of sailors. In the church there is also a statue of Hawkins’ brother William, another slave trader.

The Pett family were master shipbuilders in Deptford for several generations and built many of the ships that were involved in the Atlantic trade. The timber for shipbuilding came from their estate near Chiselhurst (now called Petts Wood). 

Deptford was a place of arrivals and departures. Many British people who owned or ran plantations and went to live in the Caribbean set sail from Deptford. Many people of African origin who came to Britain landed at Deptford. Some were sailors and some were brought to work in Britain as slaves or servants.

In 1652, Oliver Cromwell was a regular visitor to Deptford to oversee the building of two ships The James and The Diamond, ships which formed part of a fleet Cromwell sent in 1654 to capture Jamaica from the Spanish, where sugar plantations were established worked by African slaves. After the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, Deptford royalist John Evelyn was appointed to the Kings’ Council for Foreign Plantations in 1671, set up to advise King Charles II on how to govern his new colonies (where slaves worked on the plantations). He was also treasurer of the Royal Hospital for Seamen in Greenwich, which is now the Old Royal Naval College and was not far from Sayes Court. John Evelyn’s wife’s family had been naval administrators for many generations and their home, Sayes Court, was sandwiched between the dockyard and the victualling yards.

Samuel Pepys, born in London in 1633, is famous for his diary, which records the details of his life from 1660 until 1669. In 1673 he was made Secretary to the Admiralty. Naval ships were sent by the Admiralty to protect British colonies, particularly to the West Indies with its profitable sugar plantations.

Samuel Pepys was also a shareholder in the Royal Adventurers into Africa, a company set up by London merchants, which traded with West Africa and transported enslaved Africans in company ships to work on plantations.

The Pepys Estate in Deptford is named after Samuel Pepys. From 1665 to 1673 he was Surveyor-General of the Victualling. Where the Pepys Estate now stands was the site of the Red House stores, where ships were victualled (stocked with food and other provisions). Records show that the Red House warehouses were also used to store tobacco grown and cut by African slaves, which had been shipped to Deptford from plantations in Jamaica.

Captain Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, set sail from Deptford on a later voyage in 1791, sailing for the South Seas to collect breadfruit trees from Tahiti. He landed 347 trees at Port Royal, Jamaica, in 1793. Bligh’s plan was to grow breadfruits on the plantations in the Caribbean as cheap food for slaves. The breadfruit grew well and became essential part of the diet of the enslaved Africans, along with yam and plantain. By giving slaves food that was cheap to grow, the plantation owners could make a bigger profit. What the enslaved Africans preferred to eat was not taken into consideration.

Robert Blake, statue, Deptford Town Hall

Deptford Town Hall, built in 1905, houses three statues of slave pioneers (and imperial heroes) Francis Drake, Robert Blake and Horatio Nelson:

  • Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540 – 1596) was a pioneer of the slave trade making at least three royally sponsored trips to West Africa to kidnap Africans and sell them. Elizabeth I awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581 which he received on the Golden Hind in Deptford.
  • Robert Blake (1598 – 1657) was an admiral who served under Oliver Cromwell throughout the English Civil War. He fought the Dutch to secure the trade triangle between the Caribbean, West Africa and England. Cromwell was responsible for trafficking the first waves of

    Francis Drake statue, Deptford Town Hall

    enslaved people to and from the Caribbean; installing the plantation system in Jamaica; and the massacres in Drogheda (1649).

  • Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805), was a naval flag officer whose leadership is credited with a number of decisive British victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815). Nelson spent a large part of his career in the Caribbean and developed an affinity with the slave owners there, using his influence to argue against the abolitionist movement in Britain.

This building is now managed by Goldsmiths University

A debate has been going on there, stimulated by Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action, a BME-led student protest group launched in 2019. Their protests led to accurate descriptions being published on Goldsmiths website to ‘help reinterpret the building’s history through a contemporary lens”.

Goldsmiths Deptford Town Hall, SE14 6AF


Land and Lordships

The involvement of Deptford ships in slaving led to huge profits for some merchants – some of this money as spent buying up or building posh houses to show off and enjoy these ill-gotten gains.

Lewisham areas such as Lee and Deptford saw massive change as a result of a national thrust towards quick profits. Enriched slaving merchants used their new profits to buy land and titles, symbols of status and power. Areas like Lewisham, Lee and Blackheath were popular neighbourhoods with some of the men who made fortunes selling human flesh.

Take one example: the Manor House at Lee, near Lewisham. In Henry VIl’s reign the manor house of Lee was set in 575 acres of arable land, an area larger than some West Indian islands. Between the mid-16th century  and the early 1700s, the land was bought and sold many times over – often from one slave-trader to another.

A number of the wealthier local residents profited directly from the African Caribbean trade and plantations. John Thomson, son of Maurice Thomson, leased Lee House for three years after his father’s death. Like many whose wealth was founded on slavery, he became a member of ‘the mother of parliaments’, was knighted and was later made Baron Haversham. His wife, Frances Annesley, was a member of an old Lee family. Her father, Arthur Annesley, Earl of Anglesey, successively President of the Council of State and Treasurer of the Navy, amd Lord Privy Seal, had a hand in the many decisions affecting the governing of newly founded slave-based colonies in the West Indies, including petitions from Maurice Thomson and other merchants.

Another Lee resident, William Coleman, was a factor or agent based in London. Coleman’s wife was related to one of the Deputy Governors of the Caribbean island of St Christopher. He made a pile from trade with the West Indies, specifically arranging credit to individual planters, then importing their goods and exporting them supplies – for a fat commission. Coleman took up residence at the Manor House in Lee around 1750. Already 66 when he bought the property, Coleman made a number of further property purchases which extended the family estate locally. In February 1748 part of Lee Farm had been added. In April 1766 more land was acquired.

As a young man in the 1720s, Coleman had been the London agent for the West Indian proprietor and planter John Pinney and his heirs. Pinney was a plantation owner on the island of Nevis. (Pinney himself may have been associated with Lee).

John Pinney, a ‘respected and responsible’ planter with political clout in Nevis, treated his slaves in the manner of the times. Profit from sugar was all-consuming. Pinney is reputed to have made his (black) sugar boiler test the sugar before by making him dip thumb and forefinger into the scalding syrup to see whether the sugar that stuck had boiled to the right consistency.

Thomas Lucas was nephew and partner to William Coleman. Their firm, Coleman & Lucas, did lots of business with John Pinney in Nevis until 1773. (Some property purchased by Coleman at Lee was possibly an investment on behalf of Lucas). When Coleman died, some 88 years old in 1771, his chief heir was Thomas Lucas whose inheritance included not only the manor house at Lee but also property in the West Indies. Lucas’ influence with Nevis Governor Woodley ensured John Pinney’s son, John Pinney the younger,  was appointed to a seat on the council of Nevis.

Economic power in the West Indies meant wealth, which meant political power in the islands, and guaranteed political power in Westminster. The ‘West India Lobby’ evolved a connected, influential network which worked for their own interests above all. Thomas Lucas was elected an MP for Cornwall in 1780, became treasurer of Guy’s Hospital in 1764, and its president in 1775. When he lost his Parliamentary seat four years later, one of the new MPs for his area was Francis Baring, (who also succeeded him in his residence at Lee).

Lucas established a family tomb at St Margaret’s, Lee. His first wife was buried there in 1756 and his second wife in 1776. On his own death in 1784 most of his property passed to his third wife, Eliza, who subsequently married John Angerstein of Greenwich (see below), taking her inherited property into her marriage with him.

Francis Baring was apprenticed to the leading Manchester and West Indies merchant Samuel Touchet. Baring’s rise to power an influence was meteoric: he allegedly made his first money out of dealing in slaves while still a very young man of 16 (though where did he get the money to buy them?). He became a household name in banking and finance. He joined the Baring family business (oh, THAT’s where he got his money aged 16!); they traded in linen and wool. Francis developed this into a merchant banking house. (Capitalism being the bastard child of textiles and banking since its very birth). Baring was made a baronet in 1793: three years later he purchased the manor house and estate in Lee. He enlarged the estate and built the present day Lee Manor House. By 1815 Baring’s had become the largest and richest merchant banking house in the country.
Baring operated at the highest level of finance and politics for the time: director of the East India Company, adviser to government, financier in the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars… slave trading was only a part of his top-flight manipulation in the formative years of UK capitalism….
Barings Bank of course hit the international spotlight in 1995 when a single broker, Nicholas Leeson, caused its bankruptcy. Baring even got his own street named after him in Lewisham – Baring Road, Lee, which runs from the South Circular up to Grove Park.

The Slavers of Blackheath

In the 18th century, around 20 merchants lived in houses around the edge of Blackheath: a fair number of them were deeply involved in the slave trade and slave plantations.

William Innes lived in Grotes Place. He was a leading West India merchant and supporter of the slave trade. Thomas King, of Dartmouth Grove, was a partner in the firm of slave agents Camden, Calvert & King. At one time the company is thought to have owned one in every five slave ships that sailed from London to Africa. Francis Abbatt was a shipping merchant and made much of his wealth shipping slaves. He is now most remembered for founding the Royal Blackheath Golf Club, thought to be the oldest golf club in Great Britain.

Local historians think the golf course became an ideal place for merchants involved in the slave trade to share ideas and make trading agreements.

Members of the golf club included:
Thomas King, (see above)

Francis Baring, of Lee, above.

Ambrose Crowley, an iron merchant who manufactured iron manacles, shackles and collars used on slave ships. These were used to stop enslaved Africans from fighting back, and to stop them committing suicide by throwing themselves overboard, which some Africans chose to do to escape a life of slavery.

In 1744, Alderman Samuel Fludyer purchased the prestigious Dacre House in Blackheath, adding a cherry orchard to the estate. Samuel and Thomas Fludyer were partners in a well-known firm of warehousemen and merchants, who traded widely, supplying the West Indies plantations with goods.

In 1747 the wealthy alderman is reputed to have spent the considerable sum of £1,500 on his campaign to be elected for Parliament. Fludyer was an associate of William Beckford, Alderman, MP, and massive slave plantation owner – the ‘uncrowned King of Jamaica’. Samuel was elected MP for Chippenham in 1754.

The most famous of the Blackheath slave-owning businessmen was John Julius Angerstein, founder of Lloyds of London, set up to insure slave ships and co-owned plantations in Grenada.. A cautious businessman, Angerstein made much of his wealth through East Indian trade, but he inherited extensive West Indian business interests, through his wife’s earlier marriage to Thomas Lucas (see above). He owned a third share in a slave estate in Grenada, one of the islands that fell under English control at the end of the Anglo-French Seven Years War (1756-63).

Angerstein built Woodlands House, Mycenae Road, Blackheath between 1772 and 1774; in the latter year he drew up the policies on which Lloyds’ insurance business is still based. Angerstein’s painting collection later became the foundation for the National Gallery.

He was also a Churchwarden at St Alfege’s church in Greenwich. Inside the church, near the west door there is a memorial stone to him. Angerstein Wharf, Horn Road, in Charlton, also is also named for him.

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The above reflects a small part of the wealth slave-trading brought to one part of London. Pan that out across the capital, across the country. Whatever change the Black Lives Matter movement can bring to bear on the present and the future, understanding how kidnapping, exploitation and genocide of Africans profited the ruling elites in the UK, and fed into the culture, is crucial. It’s not erasing history to draw attention to statues, memorials and street names that honour these wealthy men, or to point out where their wealth came from, and what that money created and contributed to.

Some great investigative work has been and is being done in many areas… check out Inside Croydon with some research into slave-ownership, in another South London manor, Croydon…

More info on who owned slaves – not just who traded them and profited from this hour-industry – can be found at Legacies of British Slave-ownership 

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Set against the luxurious homes and self-congratulatory memorials of the golfing slave-trading elite, there is of course the mirror image of their lives – the lives of the Black Africans they shipped in, shipped out, bought and sold; ownership of and attendance from personal Black slaves and later Black servants was prestigious in itself, like a kind of exotic badge of your status. British plantation-owners, merchants and naval officers often brought their slaves with them when they returned to from their plantations.

But Black people and their descendants made independent lives as well, although expansive monuments to their passing through are fewer…

Deptford was the first place any slaves brought to England in the early days of the trade may have disembarked. African Olaudah Equiano – who fought to become a freed man and was one of the key figures in the slave abolitionist movement – was initially trafficked to Deptford, as related in his autobiographical Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano’:

“we… arrived at Deptford the 10th of December, where we cast anchor just as it was high water. The ship was up about half an hour, when my master ordered the barge to be manned; and all in an instant, without having before given me the least reason to suspect anything of the matter, he forced me into the barge; saying, I was going to leave him, but he would take care I should not… he swore I should not move out of his sight; and if I did he would cut my throat, at the same time taking his hanger. I began, however, to collect myself and, plucking up courage, I told him I was free, and he could not by law serve me so… just as we had got a little below Gravesend, we came alongside of a ship which was going away the next tide for the West Indies; her name was the Charming Sally, Captain James Doran; and my master went on board and agreed with him for me; and in a little time I was sent for into the cabin. When I came there Captain Doran asked me if I knew him; I answered that I did not; Then, said he, ‘you are now my slave’.”

In 1772: “a Captain at Deptford beat his Negro boy in so cruel a manner that he died”.

The earliest known record of a black person living in Deptford is a record in the parish register of the burial in 1593 of ‘Cornelius a Blackamoor’ on 2nd March at St Margaret’s church in Lee. Black people were often referred to as “Negroes” and “blackamoors” at this time. There is no information in the record about Cornelius’s age, his job or his family.

There are no records to show how many black people lived in London in Cornelius’s lifetime: enough, though, to provoke decrees from Queen Elizabeth I that there were too many and they should be expelled. The total number of people living in London then is also unknown. Many historians agree that during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the number of black people living in London increased. Historian Steve Martin estimates that by the end of the eighteenth century London was home to 10,000 to 15,000 people of African origin, among a total of 800,000 residents. Enough lived around central London to form networks and communities: a number gathered, for instance, to hold a party celebrate Lord Mansfield’s court ruling in 1772 that transporting slaves onto British shores was demonstrably illegal.

From the evidence provided by parish registers we know that many black people lived in and around Deptford in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These records, now held in local archives, show that increasing numbers of black people were baptised or buried at St Nicholas’ church and St Paul’s church in Deptford; St Margaret’s Church in Lee and St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich. Deptford and Greenwich were home to a lot of people who worked at the dockyards or on board ships. It is likely that many were of African origin. Archaeological excavations at the burial ground at the old Greenwich naval hospital (now the Royal Naval College) showed that two sailors buried there were African. Parish registers show that black mariners were buried at St Paul’s church in Deptford. Other archive records show that a black seaman who lived in Deptford led a mutiny on the ship, the Zant in 1721, because “we had too many Officers, and that the work was too hard.”

Samuel Pepys, the famous London diarist, wrote in his diary in April 1669: “for a cookmaid, we have… used a blackmoore of Mr. Batelier’s, Doll, who dresses our meat mighty well.” We do not know any more of Doll’s story, but perhaps when she came to London she arrived at Deptford.

Not all black people who came to London were slaves. Many were free people and some decided to settle in or near Deptford, where the ships they arrived in had landed. Most people of African origin who lived in London had jobs and lived as ordinary members of the working class. Only a few, like Olaudah Equiano, were members of the middle and upper classes. Many black people in London, like many white people, lived in poverty, and there are very few detailed records of their lives. There are very few details of the lives of poor people living in London at this time as most could not write, and so were unable to write diaries, letters or books about their lives.

Belinda Charlton was baptised at St Margaret’s church, Lee on 13th June 1725. Her baptism record shows that she was born in 1705, and she was described as a ‘black maid lodging at Blackheath’. She was not described as ‘servant of’ or ‘belonging to’ someone, which might have been written in the record if she was a slave. In the eighteenth century it was thought that people who were baptised could not be made slaves, and baptism became a sign of being free. So Belinda Charlton may have been a free woman, perhaps working in one of the large houses owned by wealthy merchants in Lee and Blackheath. From the record in the parish register we do not know Belinda’s age, place of origin or when she died.

It is likely that some of the black people living in south London in the eighteenth century had been soldiers. Thousands of Black people who had fought on the side of the British in the American War of Independence in 1776 came to Britain. Slaves who had fought in the war were promised their freedom and a pension. The British government never gave them their pensions, so many were forced to become beggars. 

As opposition to the slave trade began to grow in the eighteenth century, black people living or working in south London added their voices to the call for abolition. One group who we know about were the Sons of Africa, who included Olaudah Equiano.

And in the centuries since, Lewisham, Deptford, New Cross and other parts of South East London have become home to large Black communities – many descended from the slaves shipped to the Caribbean by Angerstein, Hawkins and their ilk… The presence of so many Africans has always enraged racists, especially those who love to celebrate the Empire, Britain’s glorious naval past, etc – all built on selling human beings for profit. But attempts to drive Back people out from this area have met with fierce resistance – witness the Battle of Lewisham and the Black People’s Day of Action,

It’s racism that tries to erase history – not toppling statues. 

Down Off Your Pedestals: Slavery, Wealth and Statues in London – Part 1

Down Off Your Pedestals

Slavery, Wealth and Statues in London – Part 1

Suddenly statues, the people they represent and the symbolic struggles they either depict or conceal are big news…

The dumping of a statue of slave-trading worthy Edward Colston into the dock in Bristol by Black Lives matter protestors has brought the issue of how historical figures are represented in public, what interests these monuments serve, and opened up discussions about whether these statues should be left where they are, removed to museums, or toppled.

Outrage has erupted at the protestors ‘erasing history’ – outrage usually expressed by people who either wilfully or ignorantly would rather obscure Britain’s central role in the horrific genocidal slave trade; for whom profits made from mass kidnapping and naked exploitation are fine (especially if some of it was later spent on charitable works), but people angrily demanding that Black people in the present not be murdered by police are transgressing the ‘ways things are done’.

Go through the ‘proper channels’, demonstrators are told (although campaigners have been trying to get Colston’s bronze moved through lobbying and debate for years, always blocked by powerful and wealthy interests).

Well, Colston is in the proper channel now…

The authorities plan to chase people they’ve identified as being involved in the toppling; it’s great to cheer as movements topple things, but lets not forget to support those who the state targets

Local authorities, museums and institutions are hurrying to show their anti-racist credentials by removing some of these statues. Removing SYMBOLS of racism, slavery and oppression can, however, be an effective way of diverting a movement of rage and fire for justice, into a concentration on symbols, rather than reality. A smokescreen for a lack on concrete change behind the symbols. Changing the present and the future is the whole point of raising the past, exposing the history that the schoolbooks distort and the bronze and marble seeks to obscure: to paraphrase one campaigner “Destroying Racist Statues… we should be focussed on removing Racist Statutes…” (Stafford Scott)

The direct action of the Bristol protestors has pushed the question of racist monuments forward, though. Far from erasing history, it is engaging people with history and the continuing legacy of racism and Empire; on an exciting scale.

Given how much of the UK’s wealth and power derived from the slave trade, the money it generated and the seapower it helped build (leading to Empire) – there’s a lot of symbolism about. A lot of places, streets, named for slave-owners; a lot of buildings and institutions paid for by slave deaths. Many schools, galleries, museums enabled by charitable funds – funds from selling human beings. Lots of nice stonework and statuary representing the egos of these dealers in flesh.

Streets, squares, mansions, stations, all named by and for the particularly successful vampires of humanity.

Streets can be renamed; statues can be pulled down. It would be useful to have a proper conversation about commemoration in public art – who gets put up (overwhelmingly rich, powerful, white, male) – and who doesn’t.

Structural racism, continuing power in the world based on a history of colonial conquest and plunder of which slavery was not only integral but one of the founding principles – these will take longer to dismantle, and symbolic actions will no longer be enough. Nor will lip service from the institutions of power and control, from the corporations that continue to plunder the world, and from the lying cheating ruling castes that inherit the wealth created by slavery and maintain exploitation of human life for their profits (if organised more cunningly).

A world view that looks on British history with a rosy glow and dreams of empire, that tries to ignore the shiteness of its own life by identifying with the murder of ‘foreigners’, with a false sense of superiority of whiteness, will not be sustainable.

Tipping a piece of outdated bronze into a dock helps to bring these debates into focus; apart from being a brilliant grassroots response! – to the defence of Colston’s statue by racists, tory councillors, the Merchant Venturers (chaired by a CEO of a construction firm deeply implicated in blacklisting union activists). We don’t have to wait for ‘democratic’ bodies to fail to act – we can act ourselves, today.

In London too, there are lots of statues of questionable heritage; by definition most public statuary commemorates the powerful, the wealthy, the elites, the (almost all male) owners and landlords, CEOs and conquerors, politicians and warmongers.

Even if you JUST concentrate on those statues that depict slave-owners or slave-traders, there’s a few targets in the capital. (Though this station is in rapid flux; some of these may be gone or scheduled to be removed, by the time you read this!)

“A significant proportion of the individuals commemorated by public statues in London during the long eighteenth century had important links with the slave-trade or plantation slavery and that these links need to be unearthed, contextualised and made explicit.

In London this is as true as anywhere. Londons massive part in the slave trade has often been underplayed in history.

Although Bristol and Liverpool’s connections to slavery are more well-known, London did play a huge role in the development of the slave trade, and City merchants profited hugely from trafficking in slaves and the plantations they worked.

From the earliest days city merchants invested heavily in the slave trade and in West Indies plantations, many making huge fortunes… A large proportion of London’s Lord Mayors, aldermen and sheriffs in the 17th and 18th centuries were involved, many being shareholders in the Royal African Company, which ran ships to Africa and slaves from there to the Caribbean.

City financiers also underwrote and financed much of the trade in other ports. By 1750 London merchants were handling about 75 percent of sugar imported into Europe, and much of the profits were ploughed back into plantations and slave trading. Many of today’s banks amassed huge wealth this way, including Barclays and Barings, but most of all the Bank of England. A huge and powerful West India lobby grew up in the City, forming political blocs in City government and parliament, which could pass measures favouring plantation owners economically and resisted abolition or reform of the plantation system and slave trade for decades. Profits from slavery and the sugar trade also played a substantial part in funding investment into Britain’s burgeoning industrial Revolution.
It was also the West India lobby whose pressure led to the building of East London’s West India Dock, secure, with its own police force, largely as a measure against the systematic mass theft by dockworkers and other Eastenders of sugar and other goods from ships moored in the open Thames. (A spin-off of this was the creation of the Thames River Police, who not only foreshadowed the Met, but were also involved in control and repression of the dockworkers who unloaded goods, attacking their attempts to organise for better conditions.)

“The actual buying and selling of slaves was only one of many ways to make money out of slavery. Fortunes were also reaped through shipping. Great sums grew from commission agencies supplying the growing population in the West Indies with a range of commodities from manacles to foodstuffs. Plantation owners bought their labour cheap and sold their sugar as, competitively as the market allowed. Despite fluctuations, profits were enormous. London merchants were foremost among those to profit from slavery. They were the upwardly mobile’ of the era and their lavish carriages, social gatherings, fashionable clothes and the constant attendance of their black slaves marked them out as newly rich. With titles added where possible, they became members of the landed gentry. Many bought safe seats in Parliament.”

Just some statues worth attention:

The statue of Robert Milligan – owner of 526 slaves on two Jamaica plantations – has already been removed from London’s docklands by agreement between the Canal and River Trust and Tower hamlets Council, after long local campaigning the Colston furore has already caused Milligan’s downfall.

But there’s many more. Here’s just a few statues, and other monuments:

Sir Robert Clayton (1629–1707), Merchant and banker; London Alderman and Sheriff; Knighted 1771, Lord Mayor for London (1679–80), President St. Thomas’s Hospital; depicted in the gold chain of a Chief Magistrate and dressed in magnificent robes.
This marble statue originally stood at the main gate of Old St Thomas’s; Hospital in Southwark; it’s now in a small garden south of the north wing of St Thomas’s later Lambeth Palace Rd site.
Clayton was one of London’s powerful early merchant bankers and an early governor of the Bank of England: this statue was apparently commissioned by the Governors of St Thomas’s Hospital after he gave £600 for the hospital’s rebuilding. At Christ’s Hospital a tablet still proclaims his virtues as Hospital President and Vice President of the ‘New Work House’, ‘citizen and Lord Mayor of London’, ‘a bountiful benefactor’, ‘just magistrate’ and  a ‘brave defender of the Liberty and Religion’.

Clayton had longstanding connections with slavery. In 1659 he married Martha Trott, heiress of the London merchant Perient Trott, who traded in tobacco and who was a Director of the Somers Island Company, a chartered company formed for the colonisation of Bermuda. By 1667 Clayton too was listed as a director of this company. Within five years, Clayton had also obtained a place on the Court of Assistants (the management board) of the Royal African Company, which he held till 1681. During the 1680s he became well established as a factor in Bermuda at a time when the smuggling of slaves into the colony was rife. His influence in Bermuda was reportedly greater than that of the island’s Governor and in 1689 he was made a Commissioner of Customs.

Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1707) Physician, collector and writer; Member of the Royal College of Physicians, President of the Royal Society.
The original was moved from Chelsea Physic Garden (where there is now a replica) to the British Museum in 1985. Another replica stands in the centre of Sloane Square.
Author of The Natural History of Jamaica, Sloane is now best known as the founder of the British Museum and a President of the Royal Society. Yet his rise in London society was made possible by an astute marriage, in 1695, to a West Indian heiress. The daughter of the London Alderman John Langley, Elizabeth was a wealthy widow in her own right, having been previously married to the Jamaican sugar-plantation owner Fulk Rose. ‘The marriage was an advantageous one for Sloane, since his wife inherited not only her father’s estate but also one third of the income from her former husband’s properties in Jamaica.’ Sloane owned slaves and that financial dependence on slave-labour helped to underwrite his career as a ‘disinterested’ naturalist and medical man.

“Sloane spent 15 months in Jamaica in the late 1680s, a Jamaica increasingly devoted to slavery. During Sloane’s stay in Jamaica, the island had 40,000 slaves. Sloane’s views on race were often contradictory. He stood out among natural historians of his day in that he was willing to learn from people of colour, at least a little bit. He sometimes allowed that they could be worthwhile healers, though often dismissed them as ignorant and ineffectual. But he showed little evidence of a conscience plagued by the cruelties of slavery. He accommodated intimate access to female slaves by their white male masters. Always solicitous of his white patients, even when they were self-destructive, he generally accused slaves of faking their symptoms to avoid work. He despised “cunning” slave women who tried to abort their pregnancies and save their unborn children lives of bondage. He lived comfortably in a world where European planters ate prime cuts of beef and pork while their slaves subsisted on rotten meat and worms. Some slaves became so desperate and stressed that they resorted to eating soil.

From that time forward, the slave-farmed plantation system would line Sloane’s pockets. Given how much slave-plantation infrastructure enabled his collecting — and that of the people whose collections he later acquired — it’s undeniable that his natural history expertise and his collections owed their very existence to the slave trade.”

Sloane bequeathed his collection to the nation in his will and it became the founding collection of the British Museum – itself a repository for looted wealth grabbed from many nations and colonies around the world, often by military men in the course of their imperial adventures. A number of campaigns have been launched for the Museum to return these stolen artefacts to their original cultural homes…

Sir John Cass (1660–1718). Member of Carpenters Company and Skinners Company; MP for the City and Alderman of Portsoken Ward, 1710; Sheriff of London 1711; knighted 1712, MP for City of London  1899 replica of 1751 statue by Louis François Roubiliac (1702–1762). Façade of old Cass Foundation building, London Metropolitan University (ex Guildhall Univ.), Jewry St., EC3.
John Cass was also a Tory City Alderman, Sheriff of (then Member of Parliament for) the City of London. He was heavily involved in the slave-trade, being a member of the Royal African Company’s Court of Assistants from 1705 to 1708. The Company records show him (then ‘Colonel John Cass of Hackney’) to have been on their ‘committee of correspondence’ which directly dealt with slave-agents in the African forts and in the Caribbean. We know too that Cass retained shares in the Royal African Company until his death. Cass, like Clayton, also seems to have been linked by family and friends to colonial plantation interests, in his case to Virginia. Cass is still remembered as the founder of an educational charity.
Cass is also remembered  in the name of Cassland Road in Hackney (the Cass family owned land round here), Also see Sir John Cass Hall, student halls in Well Street… He’s remembered in Cass Business School – Bunhill Row, EC1: funded by the Sir John Cass Foundation – though London Metropolitan University has been announced that the Cass name will be removed from its Art, Architecture and Design faculty, formerly the Sir John Cass School of Art (a result of the Colston toppling).

Thomas Guy (1645–1774) Member of the Stationers Company; Philanthropist  in livery robe. Brass statue 1731–4 by Thomas Scheemakers (1691–1781).
There are two memorials to Guy at Guy’s Hospital
In the centre of the main entrance forecourt, Guy’s Hospital, St Thomas Street, SE1.
and In the chapel, Guy’s; Hospital, St Thomas Street, SE1.
Guy, the founder of Guy’s Hospital, was never a member of the Royal African Company – but he owned over £45,000 worth of South Sea Company shares – an exceptionally large stake in a company whose main purpose was to sell slaves to the Spanish Colonies. (He cleverly sold the shares at inflated prices shortly before the Companys bubble famously burst (link). It was from this that Guy ‘made his vast fortune’.

The earlier is a bronze statue sculpted by Thomas Scheermakers and erected in 1734. A relief at its base shows Guy offering a helping hand to a semi-naked white man, seated, who represents London’s sick poor. This motif is repeated in the later John Bacon memorial of 1774, in the chapel at Guy’s. There the pose of the sick man is revised in a way which interestingly anticipates a non-racialized variant of the ‘standing soldier and the kneeling slave’ image used in abolitionist propaganda.

William Beckford (1709–70). MP for Shaftesbury 1747–54 and for City of London 1754–1770 1755 Sheriff of London 1761 MP for City of London Lord Mayor of London 1762, 1769 and 1770. Monument by J. F. Moore, commissioned after Beckford’s; death. Stands in the Guildhall, the City of London’s ‘town hall’, Basinghall St, London , EC2V 7HH

Beckford, twice Lord Mayor, was the free-spending son of a wealthy sugar planter and owed much of his position to his ownership of some 3,000 Africans enslaved on his numerous Jamaican plantations. This celebratory monument to him was put up in London’s Guildhall soon after his death in 1770, where he was extolled for his vigorous defence of the ‘City’s traditional liberties – it shows Beckford flanked by the allegorical figures of Britannia and Commerce and evokes the virile energy of a man who, as it happens, was notorious for his rakish lifestyle. The irony implicit in portraying a slaveholder as an upholder of civic liberty seems to have escaped the notice of his Guildhall associates, though his slave-holding was criticised in other quarters.
Beckford was known as the uncrowned king of Jamaica; the most powerful figure in a ‘West India Lobby’ that grew strong enough to guarantee it could win votes in parliament to pass laws that favoured the slave trade and plantation interests, and block attempts to legislate against aspect of the trade. He was also instrumental, in his role as a City magistrate, in the setting up of labouring gangs on the London docks that acted as scab labour, especially during the 1768 river strike. Power over the London dock workers and power in the West Indies were two halves of the same coin.

Statues of slave pioneers (and imperial heroes) Francis Drake, Robert Blake and Horatio Nelson.

  • Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540 – 1596) was a pioneer of the slave trade making at least three royally sponsored trips to West Africa to kidnap Africans and sell them. Elizabeth I awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581 which he received on the Golden Hind in Deptford.
  • Robert Blake (1598 – 1657) was an admiral who served under Oliver Cromwell throughout the English Civil War. He fought the Dutch to secure the trade triangle between the Caribbean, West Africa and England. Cromwell was responsible for trafficking the first waves of enslaved people to and from the Caribbean; installing the plantation system in Jamaica; and the massacres in Drogheda (1649).
  • Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805), was a naval flag officer whose leadership is credited with a number of decisive British victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815). Nelson spent a large part of his career in the Caribbean and developed an affinity with the slave owners there, using his influence to argue against the abolitionist movement in Britain.
  • All three statues stand at Goldsmiths University’s Deptford Town Hall building,  SE14 6AF, despite a student campaign for their removal.

Sir Henry De la Beche – name on front of Imperial College (old Royal School of Mines)
Royal School of Mines, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, , SW7 2AZ
Sir Henry De la Beche’s name is, among others, inscribed on the front of the geology dept at Imperial College. He was a slave owner who did his “seminal” geological work surveying his plantations, and was a vocal opposer of abolition. For over a year students have been trying to get a society at the college named after him to change too.

Robert Geffrye 
The Museum of the Home, Kingsland Road, E2 8EA
Robert Geffrye was an eminent East India Merchant, another Lord mayor of London. His statute is located on the Museum of the Home (until recently called The Geffrye Museum), which is housed in former Almshouses built from money left in his will
Geffrye made his fortune with the East India Company (who carried out imperial atrocities for profit in Asia for centuries) and the Royal African Company, and used this money to build the Alms Houses that became the Museum of the Home. The East India Company used military force to seize control of trading in Asia: goods like spices, silk, and tea were plundered and imported to the European market. The Company later imposed murderous regimes in India which led to genocide and mass starvation.

We could also rename Colston Road in Mortlake
Colston Road, SW14 7NX
As many people across the country now know,  Edward Colston was a slave trader who was head of the Royal African Company. During his time with the company, they transported an estimated 84,000 men, women and children. The names of these individuals are largely unknown today however, Colston’s name is memorialised throughout the UK. The statue in Bristol memorialising him was torn down yet there are other remnants of him around such as Colston Road in Mortlake.

PS” There are other racists, imperialists, eugenicists set in stone, some of which had hands in the slave trade. For example

Churchill’s statue previously decorate with a turf mohawk during the Mayday 2000 party

Winston Churchill
Parliament Square.
Where do you start? Racist, fan of eugenics, hater of Indians, native peoples everywhere, He said that he hated Chinese people, with “slit eyes and pig tails… the world will impatiently bear the existence of great barbaric nations who may at any time arm themselves and menace civilised nations. I believe in the ultimate partition of China – I mean ultimate. I hope we shall not have to do it in our day. The Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” To him, people from India were “the beastliest people in the world next to the Germans.” This may have influenced his thinking when he agreed policies that caused mass famine in Bengal in the 1940s.
Churchill was of the view that British domination, in particular through the British Empire, was a result of social Darwinism. He had a hierarchical perspective of race, believing white people were most superior and black people the lowest forms of human. Churchill advocated against black or indigenous self-rule in Africa, Australia, the Americas and the Caribbean. He admitted that he “did not really think that black people were as capable or as efficient as white people.” 

This is without even considering the large number of British people that Churchill hated – working class people, especially trade unionists, in particular. As Home Secretary he sent troops to repress South Wales striking miners, and threatened to bring machine guns into London to turn on striking train drivers. He did think that Britain needed a eugenics program to weed out the weak and inferior (including disabled and other races…) from the glorious national gene pool. His opposition to nazism was as opportunist in many ways as much of his political life: Churchill was also an avid admirer and follower of physicist Fredrick Lindemann, who regarded colonial subjects as “helots”, or slaves, whose only reason for existence was the service of racial superiors. Lindemann also supported scientific racism and mass lobotomies of Indians so that they would have “no thought of rebellion or votes, so that one would end up with a perfectly peaceable and permanent society, led by supermen and served by helots”.
We could always permanently restore the straitjacket mental health campaigners locked Winston in in 2004.

The Jan Smuts statue
Parliament square, SW1P 3JX
Jan Smuts was the instigator of segregation and apartheid in South Africa and is commemorated by a statue in Parliament Square, just across from the statue of Nelson Mandela, who devoted his life to tearing down the racist institutions Smuts built

Christopher Columbus
Belgrave Square Garden, Belgravia, London, SW1X 8PQ
Coloniser and slave trader. Abuser and exterminator of Native American indigenous communities.
Before his voyage to ‘discover’ two continents people by millions, Combus signed a contract promising the King and Queen of Spain rule over any lands he encountered and exploitation of their resources and people. In one particular note, he promised: “as much gold as they need and as many slaves as they ask.”

With an extensive arsenal of advanced weaponry/horses, Columbus and his men arrived on the islands that were later named Cuba and Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic / Haiti). Upon arrival, the sheer magnitude of gold, which was readily available, set into motion a relentless wave of murder, rape, pillaging, and slavery that would forever alter the course of human history.
A young, Catholic priest named Bartolomé de las Casas transcribed Columbus’ journals and later wrote about the violence he had witnessed. The fact that such crimes could potentially go unnoticed by future generations was deeply troubling to him. He expanded upon the extent of Columbus’s reign of terror within his multi-volume book entitled the “History of the Indies”:

“There were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over 3,000,000 people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it.”

After his second voyage, Columbus personally sent back a consignment of natives to be sold as slaves.

Several statues of Columbus in the US have bit the dust this week…

The Lendy Memorial Lion
Pantiles Court, 79 St The Walled Garden Thames, Thames St, TW16 6AB

Memorial statue to remember two colonising brothers, Captain Edward August Lendy & Captain Charles Frederick Lendy, both responsible for murdering African tribes with machine gun fire in the 1890s.

Statue of Charles James Napier
Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DX

Napier was a general who led the military occupation of the Indian province of Sindh (now in Pakistan) in 1843 on behalf of the East India Company and was its colonial governor until 1847. Napier provoked a war with local leaders in order to provide a pretext for the occupation. Approximately 10,000 Indians were killed in the conquest. Napier’s view of effective colonial rule is summed up in his comment that: “if you get hold of any chap plundering your camels try what a flogging will do; but hang the next and keep his body guarded a sufficient time to hinder his people touching it: that will make the execution more effective.” He admitted that economic gain was the only purpose of the colonial violence he perpetrated: “Our object in conquering India, the object of all our cruelties was money.”

Statue of Robert Clive, Whitehall
King Charles St, Westminster, SW1A 2AQ

Clive looted India, and even if the profits of this hadn’t lined his own pockets, what he did was grotesque. His massive statue sits by the treasury. The statue was erected well after his death, and after the behaviour of Clive’s East India Company had been criticised widely in British society – even at the time. It was apparently pushed by Lord Curzon, who also presided over famine in India.

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This is barely a beginning. These are only the most obvious memorials – London is full of buildings, streets and institutions loaded with histories of exploitation. We can’t go back and alter that – but the past can be highlighted, discussed, laid bare, and names can be changed and monuments either demolished or moved to more suitable locations.

Two good sources for locations of statues, their meaning and symbolism: 

Topple the Racists which has handy maps for all of the UK!

Set In Stone, Statues and Slavery in London

There’s also an article here on when a lot of these statues were put up in the UK and US (rarely in the era the racists commemorated lived in, often much later), suggesting some thoughts on the motives in their erection, the social context of inequality at THAT time… Shoring up white supremacy and re-inforcing current imperial colonial policies decades or centuries later by celebrating historical slavers and defenders of slavery. Public monuments were ALWAYS already reflecting the dominant ideas of the era when they went up – so it’s no surprise that whether they should stay up reflects the struggles and contested views of our own time.

There’s also lots of statues and monuments that haven’t yet been flagged up – but that a bit of digging would provide some evidence of very nasty links.

It’s not erasing history to draw attention to statues, memorials and street names that honour these wealthy men, or to point out where their wealth came from, and what that money created and contributed to.

Some investigate work has been and is being done… check out one website with some research into just one area, Croydon.

More info on UK individuals and institutions who owned slaves – not just who traded them and profited from this horror-industry – can be found at Legacies of British Slave-ownership 

Colonial Countryside is also a great project – connecting young people with the colonialist past of Britain’s ‘great country houses’.

A couple of campaigns for statues to be erected we would flag up and support: for feminist pioneer Mary Wolstonecraft
and gay playwright Joe Orton
… but how about some statues commemorating some of the Black, Asian, migrant radicals who have helped shape the capital’s history: William Cuffay, Robert Wedderburn, Claudia Jones, Jayaben Desai, Olaudah Equiano, spring to mind off the top of my head… or proper memorials to the more than 1500 people who have been killed by police, or in police/prison custody in recent decades?

We might have to build them ourselves; rather than going through the ‘proper channels’.

Tomorrow – Slavery, Wealth and Statues in London, Part 2: ‘Uncrowned Kings’ – one small area of South East London, its links to slave trade and the wealth that it brought to the merchants who controlled it.

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For Entertainment Purposes Only: 

Some Advice from an Egyptologist:

For ANYONE who might be interested in how to pull down an obelisk (which might be masquerading as a racist monument) safely, from an Egyptologist, who never ever in a million years thought this advice might come in handy

The key to pulling one down is letting gravity work for you. Chances are good the obelisk extends into the ground a bit, so you want to get CHAINS NOT ROPE (it’s 2020 AD not BC; let metal work for you) extended tightly around the top (below pointy bit) and 1/3 down forming circles;

For every 10 ft of monument, you’ll need 40+ people. So, say, a 20 ft tall monument, probably 60 people. You want strong rope attached to the chain—rope easier to hold onto versus chain. EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE WEARING GLOVES FOR SAFETY; [not to mention fingerprints. Ed]

You probably want 150+ ft of rope x 2…you’ll want to be standing 30 feet away from obelisk so it won’t topple on you (safety! first!). This gives enough slack for everyone to hold on to rope, alternating left right left right. Here’s the hard part…pulling in unison;

You have two groups, one on one side, one opposite, for the rope beneath the pointy bit and the rope 1/3 down. You will need to PULL TOGETHER BACK AND FORTH. You want to create a rocking motion back and forth to ease the obelisk from its back;

I recommend a rhythmic song. YOU WILL NEED SOMEONE WITH A LOUDSPEAKER DIRECTING. There can be only one person yelling. Everyone will be alternating on rope left right left right not everyone on the same side. No one else near the obelisk! Safety first!

Start by a few practice pulls to get into it. Think of it like a paused tug of war, pull, wait 2, 3, 4, 5 PULL wait 2, 3 4,5. PULL AS ONE, PAUSE 5 SECONDS, you’ll notice some loosening, keep up the pattern…you may need more people, get everyone to pull!

Just keep pulling till there’s good rocking, there will be more and more and more tilting, you have to wait more for the obelisk to rock back and time it to pull when it’s coming to you. Don’t worry you’re close!

WATCH THAT SUMBITCH TOPPLE GET THE %^&* OUT OF THE WAY IT WILL SMASH RUN AWAY FROM DIRECTION. Then celebrate. Because #BlackLivesMatter

and good riddance to any obelisks pretending to be ancient Egyptian obelisks when they are in fact celebrating racism and white nationalism…

Here’s a rough schematic. I note this is experimental archaeology in action! Just my professional Hot Take and you may need more people, longer rope, etc. everything depends on monument size.

thanks @indyfromspace

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Other ways of subverting the myriad of place-names in London (or anywhere) that celebrate history’s bastards: you could print out nice new street names and road signs, measured nicely to fit nicely over the existing ones, with new names… Anarchist magazine Crowbar did this in the 1980s, printing up 4000 or so street signs reading Blair Peach Street, Cherry Groce Street, Cynthia Jarrett Street, in memory of people killed or maimed by racist police…

Our own statues, plaques and memorials… It can take time to go through the proper channels to get plaques put up, statues raised; but a bit of DIY spirit goes a long way. On radical walks in the past we have erected our own plaques guerilla style; but you could also talk to owners and tenants of buildings, see what they think about giving permission to a new memorial hung on the side of their gaff…