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.
Breaking the Chains opened at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum to coincide with the bicentenary, and told the story of the British transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. Developed in partnership with Bristol City Council's Museums, Galleries and Archives' Service, the exhibition used artefacts, film and testimony to challenge perceptions about Britain's involvement in the slave trade and its legacy today. It featured a multimedia gallery of digital memories and feelings on the contemporary legacies of the slave trade; interactive sound stations to see and hear personal testimonies and the power of black music; and the ‘Me deya’ gallery, led by Firstborn Creatives, a collection of work from artists and communities who wished to share their creative pieces about the legacies of the slave trade. Associated events included African music for children, community dance events and public debates.
Bishop’s Stortford was the birthplace of the Victorian financier and imperialist Cecil Rhodes. To commemorate the bicentenary of the Abolition Act, Bishop's Stortford Museum and Rhodes Art Complex explored Britain’s imperial ambitions in the ‘Coveting Africa’ exhibition. The museum holds much material from Southern Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana: areas where British colonialism and imperialism in Africa was focused in the nineteenth century. Through a year-long programme of arts events, this project discussed the relationship between Britain and Africa, and explored British attitudes to African peoples. Events included workshops by the London School of Capoeira.
SCAWDI are a Birmingham based community group specialising in working with local volunteers to research the early presence of Black people in the West Midlands and learn more about their local history. Different projects sought to explore this heritage. ‘In the beginning …’ looked at enslaved Africans who came to the West Midlands to live with wealthy land owners in the area’s stately homes. ‘History Detectives’ took this work further to identify and construct biographies for the black individuals who came to the West Midlands before 1918. The project created a database of almost 200 individuals: the characters explored connect to themes of slavery, class, migration and religion. ‘A day in the life …’ created a black heritage trail detailing the locations attached to these stories.
Gentlemen Slavers was a project to explore the connections between the transatlantic slave trade and the London Borough of Sutton, particularly through the activities of one family – the Taylors of St Kitts. George Taylor, and later his brother John, lived on the Carshalton Park estate, funded by a family fortune made on slave-worked sugar plantations on the islands of St Kitts and Nevis. The project also looked in detail at the story of Samuel Mudian, a black man who worked at Carshalton Park as a butler for George Taylor, and likely a native of St Kitts. The project consisted of an exhibition, booklet, education pack and activity sheets.
The Whitworth Art Gallery was one of eight heritage bodies in the ‘Revealing Histories: Remembering Slavery’ partnership in Greater Manchester. The project set out to explore the history, impact and legacy of slavery on Britain through collections and community links in the North West.
'Trade and Empire: Remembering Slavery' explored the themes of trade and empire, commerce and collecting, and the impact of the experience of slavery and its legacy. Four invited artists and academics (SuAndi, Kevin Dalton-Johnson, Dr Emma Poulter and Dr Alan Rice) worked with Whitworth curators and learning staff to create the exhibition. It comprised of selections from the Whitworth's collections, contemporary works by Black artists, and objects on loan from Manchester Museum, John Rylands University Library Manchester, Bolton Museums and Archives Service and private collections. Areas of focus included a history of the Benin Bronzes, representations of Black people in British art, photographs of West Africa belonging to Tom Singleton Gardner, and printed textiles designed by Althea McNish. The exhibition was accompanied by a series of community engagement events.
The Revealing Histories: Remembering Slavery project sought to uncover the North West's involvement in the slave trade (and the consequent social and economic effects of this involvement) and the region's contribution to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and colonial slavery. Eight museums and galleries across Greater Manchester collaborated to commemorate the lasting legacies of the transatlantic slave trade. The participating venues were: Bolton Museum and Archive Service; Gallery Oldham; Manchester Art Gallery; The Manchester Museum; Museum of Science and Industry; People's History Museum; Touchstones Rochdale; and Whitworth Art Gallery. A collaborative website and a programme of exhibitions, trails, performances, films and events took a new look at the collections of these museums and galleries and the buildings in which they are housed, revealing hidden histories of the region's involvement in the slave trade. The project also examined slavery's contemporary legacy and relevance.
A collaborative project between Barnsley Archives and Local Studies, the Cooper Gallery and Cannon Hall exploring local connections to the slave trade. Cannon Hall is the ancestral home of the Spencer Family, who made their fortune in the local iron industry. In the mid-18th century, Benjamin Spencer became involved in the slave trade, and owned a slave ship called ‘Cannon Hall’; in contrast, Walter Spencer-Stanhope, who inherited the hall in 1775, supported the abolitionist movement. Pupils from local primary schools explored the hall’s connections to the slave trade and abolitionism, and produced artwork in response to the hidden histories, some of which were exhibited in the Cooper Gallery’s exhibition, ‘Witness’.
The ‘Hidden Stories’ project also explored the Crossley Family archive held by Barnsley Archives and Local Studies (Benjamin Crossley owned a sugar plantation in Jamaica). Barnsley Archives worked with the Barnsley Black and Ethnic Minority Initiative on a project to encourage black and minority ethnic groups in the Barnsley area to discover more about their roots. Other partners included Barnsley Out of School Study Support Network, Foulstone City Learning Centre and Just Addictive Music.
Remembering Slavery 2007 involved museums, galleries and other cultural organisations across the North East of England in a programme of exhibitions, events, performances, lectures and activities to explore the themes of slavery and abolition, and identify connections with the region.
The Remembering Slavery Archive Mapping and Research Project, led by the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle and assisted by local history groups, uncovered a large amount of archival material in the region’s institutions, exposing many hitherto unknown links between the North East and the slave trade. The participating record offices and libraries were Tyne and Wear Archives Service, the Literary and Philosophical Society Library, the Northumberland Record Office and the Robinson Library’s Special Collections at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. This reassessment of the North East’s involvement in slavery and the slave trade led to new published research, including John Charlton's 'Hidden Chains: the Slavery Business and North East of England 1600-1865'. There was also a lecture programme at the Literary and Philosophical Society, including talks by Professor James Walvin. Several of the project volunteers published essays based on their research in 'North East History 39' (North East Labour History Society, 2008). The North East Slavery and Abolition Group was established among the project volunteers, and further work on slavery and abolition was included in the Society’s North East Popular Politics project (NEPPP), 2010-13. Much of the material found in the 2007 project has been loaded onto the NEPPP database.
Bath Preservation Trust curated a series of exhibitions across five of their sites, with a focus on ‘unlocking the legacies of the slave trade'. Beckford’s Tower & Museum hosted Big Spenders: The Beckfords and Slavery; displays here and at the Holburne Museum were designed to explore the Beckford family connections to plantations in Jamaica, through objects, paintings and furniture. The Herschel Museum's Slaves to Fashion exhibition, and Number 1 Royal Crescent's Elegance and Exploitation trail looked at how involvement with the slave trade enhanced the luxury of 18th century life in Bath. At the Building of Bath Museum, Selina’s Web revealed the complex attitudes of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who sought to promote the publications of free slaves whilst also being a slave owner. A lecture series ran alongside these exhibitions.
In the Recovered Histories online resource, Anti-Slavery International digitised and made accessible for the first time a collection of over 800 pamphlets dating from the 18th and 19th centuries relating to the transatlantic slave trade. The resource captured the narratives of the enslaved, the enslavers, slave ship surgeons, abolitionists, parliamentarians, clergy, planters and rebels. An accompanying touring historical exhibition and an education pack featured testimonies and pictures from Africans subjected to slavery, those participating in the enslavement and those who fought against it. An outreach and resources programme included a series of free regional seminars in April and May 2008, which encouraged dialogue about the transatlantic slave trade and its legacies by bringing together a wide range of groups and organisations who worked on these issues. The workshops were held in Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, London and Manchester. A series of short stories were published, inspired by the Recovered Histories resource.
Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS), which brings together nine Scottish denominations, marked the bicentenary with the Scottish Ecumenical Service to commemorate abolition held in the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre in June 2007. The group also published a leaflet, ‘Slavery and Scotland’. On 25 March 2007, a commemoration walk was organised in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland. The walk started in Musselburgh and ended at the Gardens of Inveresk Lodge, once owned by James Wedderburn, who made his fortune as a slave owner in Jamaica. His son, the Jamaican-born Unitarian radical and anti-slavery advocate Robert Wedderburn, came to Musselburgh in 1795 to visit his father, but did not receive a good welcome.
ACTS also set up Freedom for All, a website project to mark the bicentenary. The website was intended to be a hub of resources and information on the impact of slavery, slave trade and abolition on Scotland.
This exhibition from Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) in collaboration with local communities uncovered Reading’s links with the slave trade, the campaign for its abolition and its aftermath. Exploring Reading’s involvement in historical slavery and the impact on the town’s development, the exhibition focused on, for example, wealthy families in the area, the role of the Royal Berkshires in Caribbean colonies, and the story of Mary Smart, the earliest known Sierra Leonean resident in Reading. The project also sought to raise awareness of modern forms of slavery and injustice. It included workshops, a conference, and a quiz.
The 'Slavery Connection' project researched Bexley’s links with the transatlantic slave trade through the London borough's residents and buildings. The exhibition, which included objects from Bexley Museum, aimed to raise the level of understanding in local communities about the history of the slave trade, by highlighting numerous local connections - such as Danson House, once home to the sugar merchant and slave trader Sir John Boyd, while archives of the East Wickham estate reveal evidence of a West African coachman called Scipio. Over a two year period, the travelling exhibition was displayed at 14 sites, including local African Caribbean groups, youth centres, libraries and churches. The launch event at the Bexley African Caribbean Community Association was accompanied by displays of African dancing, drumming and drama. An educational handling box and teachers’ pack were created for use in local schools.