The City of London & The Slave Trade Part 1

When discussing English slave trading the Royal Africa Company and the East India Company are key reference points and both have deep roots in the City of London. Many of the individuals implicated in the black holocaust through their involvement in these two slave trading entities also played key roles in local government in the City of London including as lord mayors, sheriffs and members of livery companies. Here we will focus on the Royal Africa Company.

In covering the slave trade, Historic England focuses on the Guildhall, the City of London council’s headquarters, as as perhaps the most important physical embodiment of such money making barbarism in the country:

The Guildhall, Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HH epitomises the involvement of London in the transatlantic slave trade. This was the meeting place between 1660 and 1690 of 15 Lord Mayors of London, 25 sheriffs and 38 aldermen of the City of London, all of whom were shareholders in the Royal Africa Company. These connections to the slave trade increased during the 18th century.

A statue to William Beckford Senior (from 1709 to 1770) stands at the east end of the south wall in Guildhall. Described as the “uncrowned king of Jamaica”, Beckford amassed a considerable fortune from over 20,000 acres of plantations on the island. He was twice Lord Mayor of London, as well as MP for the City of London. Beckford is the only Lord Mayor to have a statue in Guildhall.

In 1783 the Zong Case was heard at Guildhall.

London: Centre of the Slave Trade by Historic England: https://web.archive.org/web/20171003013314/https://historicengland.org.uk/research/inclusive-heritage/the-slave-trade-and-abolition/sites-of-memory/slave-traders-and-plantation-wealth/london-centre-of-the-slave-trade/

For more on the massacre of slaves onboard the Zong ship see the note on the header below. As is obvious from the Historic England citation above, during a thirty year period towards the end of the seventeenth-century, half the Lord Mayor’s of London – who hold the office for a year – were shareholders in the slave trading Royal Africa Company. Some of these will have profited from the slave trade through other investments and exchanges as well, just as some Lord Mayors and councillors – and in particular higher ranking councillors or aldermen – in this period will have accrued financial benefit from such inhuman traffic elsewhere. Since the volume of slave trading increased in the eighteenth century, as did such connections to it, alongside British royalty no one seems to have benefitted more from this inhuman trafficking in people than members of the City of London council and in particular the court of aldermen and the livery companies to which they belonged and to whom many left ‘charitable’ bequests. The court of aldermen and the livery companies still exist today and we would like to see them closed down. There is also a court of common council in the City’s machinery of municipal government which is still operative. Here we’ll look at a handful of the individual City ‘grandees’ who were involved in the Royal Africa Company. This is just a sketch utilising archival research done by others.

The most notorious executive in the Royal Africa Company is currently Edward Colston (1636–1721), whose statue in Bristol was recently torn down by protestors. Colston was a member of the premier livery company in the City of London, The Mercers, and to this day members of this guild play a role in the governance of the municipality as part of its third chamber common hall. Colston’s involvement in the governing machinery of the City was very minor compared to many others who were on Court of Assistants (i.e. Board of Directors) of the Royal Africa Company.

Sir Robert Clayton (1629–1707) was an executive at the Royal African Company between 1672 and 1681 and Lord Mayor of London in 1679, having been a sheriff in 1671. Sheriff is the post below lord mayor in the City’s hierarchy, candidates to be lord mayor need to have been sheriffs. Clayton was an an alderman of Cheap ward between 1670 and 1683. He was also a member of parliament for the City of London. Clayton acted as Commissioner of the Customs between 1689 and 1697, and as a director of the Bank of England between 1702 and 1707. He was president of the St Thomas’ Hospital when it was located in The Borough, on the other side of The Thames from the City of London. A bust of Clayton has just been removed from St Thomas’ Hospital current site at Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7EH, due to his involvement with the slave trade. Aside from his work with the Royal Africa Company, Clayton married the daughter of Bermuda merchant and was factor in Bermuda. It has been claimed that Clayton was the head of the earliest known lodge of speculative freemasons in London. That is to say the lodge – if it existed – was entirely made-up of non-operative masons and its members had no involvement in the building trade. Like much of the early history of freemasonry, the claims and counter-claims about Clayton’s lodge are hotly contested – and especially inferences that radicals such as John Toland and John Wildman may have been members. Nonetheless to this day speculative freemasonry has a strong grip on the City of London council and plays a role in impeding diversity in top jobs in this municipality. See our earlier posts such as Freemasonry & Diversity At The City of London Council.

Sir Samuel Dashwood (c.1643 – 1705) was was Lord Mayor of London in 1702. He’d been elected Sheriff of London, and was also knighted, in 1683, and was a City of London Member of Parliament in 1685 and 1690. Dashwood served as an executive of the Royal Africa Company on its Court of Assistants. Abigail L. Swingen in her book Competing Visions of Empire: Labor, Slavery, and the Origins of the British Atlantic Empire (Yale University Press, 2015, page 28) suggests it is possible Samuel Dashwood didn’t want to promote the servant trade in the West Indies – including trade in servants who came as convicts – because this could have potentially limited the demand for African slaves. She also notes on the same page that: “By the 1680s, the Africa Company was almost exclusively a Tory commercial bastion.” Like the City of London, the Conservative Party appears to have attained its position of power in both Britain and the world in large part from slave trade money.

Sir John Moore (11 June 1620 – 2 June 1702) was the Member of Parliament for the City of London between 1685 and 1687 and Lord Mayor of London in 1681. He was a Master of the Grocer’s Company. Madge Dresser in her 2007 History Workshop Journal (Volume 64, Issue 1) essay Set in Stone? Statues and Slavery in London has this to say about John Moore and his statue housed at the independent school Christ’s Hospital:

Moore’s life-sized marble statue, showing him bewigged and dressed in ‘official robes’, stood in the façade of Christ’s Hospital School, London until 1906 when it was relocated with the school to Horsham in Sussex. Moore became, by 1689, the second largest investor in the East India Company and this connection alone implicates him in the slave-trade as the EIC had the monopoly in the trade in Madagascar, from where slaves were exported to the Americas during the 1690s. More pertinently, he was already involved in the management of the Royal African Company, which until 1698 had the monopoly of the British slave-trade between Africa and the Americas. He sat as a member of its board of directors, known as ‘the Court of Assistants’, for a total of four years. A London Alderman when most Aldermen had an estate of at least £10,000, he was knighted in 1672, a year after Clayton; he succeeded Clayton as Lord Mayor in 1681, going on to become a City MP in 1685, the very year he financed the rebuilding of the Grocers’ Hall. Both he and Clayton were involved in the endowment of Christ’s Hospital. Both had their statues sculpted by Grinling Gibbons. See: https://web.archive.org/web/20200609151718/https://academic.oup.com/hwj/article/64/1/162/600955

Despite moving out of London, the Christ’s Hospital school maintains a close connection with the City of London and doing this is included in its mission statement, with an annual parade through the City of London on St. Matthew’s Day (21 September or Autumn Equinox) and a regular place in the Lord Mayor’s Show. As part of this connection with the City of London, certain individuals and corporate bodies exercise rights of presentation, proposing suitable candidates for admission as pupils at this sought after school. A number of livery companies have rights of presentation, including the Ironmongers’ Company, the Cooks’ Company, the Drapers’ Company, the Grocers’ Company, the Fishmongers’ Company, the Skinners’ Company, the Mercers’ Company, the Master Mariners’ Company, and others. The Guild of Freemen of the City of London also have rights of presentation. The governing structure of the school is partially controlled by the City of London:

Members of the Board of Directors, known from 1 September 2017 as ‘The Council of Christ’s Hospital’ (Council) are listed on page 16. There are fifteen members of Council. The Court of Governors (see below) may nominate up to four members, the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London may nominate up to four members and up to nine members may be co-opted by Council… The Court of Governors (the Court) is an historic body composed of the President and Vice President, thirty-six nominated representatives of the City of London, a maximum of ten Special Vote Governors and an unlimited number of Donation Governors…  See: https://web.archive.org/web/20200615142559/https://www.christs-hospital.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Annual-Report-and-Financial-Statements-2018.pdf

The Vice President in this report is listed as the Lord Mayor of London, so the City has an influence both through the Christ’s Hospital council and offices above it. Listed on the school council for this particular year (2018) there are the aldermen Jeffrey Evans (a former Lord Mayor) and Michael Mainelli (currently a sheriff), as well as Marianne Fredericks (common council member for Tower ward), Nick Bensted-Smith (common council member for the ward of Cheap), and quite a number of prominent figures from the financial and legal professions within the square mile. This is simply one instance of an institution financed with slave traders’ money hundreds of years ago still allowing those in the civic offices formerly held by those slave traders a substantial degree of control over it. As well as at Christ’s Hospital, there is also a statue of Sir John Moore at Sir John Moore Church of England Primary School, Appleby Magna, Leicestershire. Both these statues should be removed.

According to Matthew Parker in The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies (Walker & Co, New York, 2011, p. 126) Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) was a substantial investor in the Royal Africa Company. He also had a deep involvement with Christ’s Hospital. Pepys was appointed a governor of the school in 1675 and devoted himself to its affairs, it is said he was rewarded by being made a Freeman of the City of London. However there may have been other reasons besides this service for the ‘honour’. Pepys also served as Master of the Clothworkers’ Company in 1677. A bust of Pepys was installed at the front of the Guildhall Art Gallery in 1999, alongside similar larger-than-life likenesses of Oliver Cromwell, William Shakespeare and Christopher Wren, all carved from Portland stone by Tim Crawley. Pepys is not the only investor who made money from the slave trading Royal Africa Company in this line-up, Wren was one of a number of Royal Society members who were stockholders in this operation and he ‘took an active role in the operation of the company’ according to Preben Mortensen in the book Art in the Social Order: The Making of the Modern Conception of Art (State University of New York Press, 1997, page 76). As president of the Royal Society in 1680-82, Wren sold land on this institution’s behalf and the money raised was ultimately invested in the slave trading East India Company. While the investment decision was a collective one on the part of the Royal Society, Wren as president was presumably best positioned to push forward or block this outcome. For details about the matter see A History of the Royal Society, with Memoirs of the Presidents, Volume 1 by Charles Richard Weld (John W. Park, London 1848, page 279).

Not only did the City chose to install the busts of two men who invested in the slave trade outside the Guildhall Art Gallery just two decades ago, it additionally opted to have one of Cromwell who oversaw colonial massacres in Ireland. All three of these busts should be removed. Their sculptor Tim Crawley clearly has close connections to the City in part through its livery companies and most specifically via the Worshipful Company of Masons. The news page on his website details some of these links and records him winning Project Craftsman of the Year in the Duke of Gloucester Awards organised by the Worshipful Company of Masons; the Duke of Gloucester also being the president of Christ’s Hospital, one position up from the Lord Mayor of London in overseeing the school. For Crawley’s news page see: https://web.archive.org/web/20191023092821/http://www.timcrawley.co.uk/category/news

With regard to Wren, his connections to the City of London go way beyond his being the architect accorded responsibility for rebuilding 52 ecclesiastical buildings – including St Paul’s Cathedral – in the municipality after the Great Fire in 1666. Wren’s involvement with the Royal Society provides another obvious connection. With regard to this it should not be forgotten that the Royal Society emerged from Gresham College, and pursued its activities within the Gresham College premises at Bishopsgate in the early years of its existence. In his will the Royal Exchange founder Sir Thomas Gresham left a bequest for the establishment of this college. This estate is jointly managed by the City of London Corporation and to the Mercers’ Company, which today support the college through the Joint Grand Gresham Committee headed by the Lord Mayor of London. Since 1991, Gresham College has been based at Barnard’s Inn Hall in the City of London’s Farringdon Without ward.

Christopher Wren’s cousin Matthew Wren (1629–1672) was also a prominent member of the Royal Society and is among a list of those from Charles II’s inner circle who were early investors in the Royal Africa Company provided by William A. Pettigrew in Freedom’s Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752 (University of North Carolina Press, 2013, page 25). Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) is another president of the Royal Society (and through the bequest of his collection effectively the founder of the British Museum) who lived the good life on the back of the slave trade. In this instance not via profits from the Royal Africa Company, rather Sloane married the daughter of Alderman Langley of the City of London, who was by the time of their union also the widow of a wealthy West Indian planter. Information her about Sloane comes from Madge Dresser, citation and link above. Sir Joseph Williamson (1633–1701) was yet another president of the Royal Society who – according to the online version of a 2011 Queen’s College, Oxford, exhibition – ‘took on a key administrative role in the Royal African Company which held the monopoly of the English slave trade from Africa to the West Indies.’  Williamson belonged to a City livery and served as Master of The Clothworkers’ Company in 1676. He was also an MP. For more on Williamson see Sir Joseph Williamson 1633-1701: the loyal Queensman and great benefactor (sic): https://web.archive.org/web/20180113120024/https://www.queens.ox.ac.uk/joseph-williamson

Sir Robert Vyner AKA Viner, (1631–1688) was a particularly wealthy Lord Mayor of London (it is still the case today that only the wealthy get to be aldermen, sheriffs and lord mayor) and banker. Kenneth Gordon Davies in his book The Royal Africa Company (Routledge, 1999, page 64 – originally published in 1957 by Longman’s, Green and Co.) records Vyner as investing in the slave trade. Vyner’s name can also be found as a signatory to The Several Declarations of The Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa published in 1667 by the Royal Africa Company. It seems he both actively supported and funded England’s slave trade. Vyner was a sheriff in 1666 and Lord Mayor of London in 1674. Today Vyner is largely remembered due to a horrific entry in the Diaries of Samuel Pepys for 7 September 1665, which shows that the inhuman treatment inflicted on Africans by slave traders could extend beyond their death. Pepys went to visit Vyner at his country property Swakeleys House in Ickenham (on the western edge of London) to borrow money on behalf of the King. There he was shown the house and ‘entertained’:

The window-cases, door-cases, and chimnys of all the house are marble. He showed me a black boy that he had, that died of a consumption, and being dead, he caused him to be dried in an oven, and lies there entire in a box. By and by to dinner, where his lady I find yet handsome, but hath been a very handsome woman; now is old, hath brought him near 100,000l. and now he lives, no man in England in greater plenty… The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 7 September 1665.

There is a Vyners School named after this lord mayor in Warren Rd, Ickenham, Uxbridge. Surely the name should be changed.

Sir William Prichard (c. 1632-1705) became Lord Mayor of London in an 1682 election that looks like it was rigged in a rather different manner to the contemporary sham ‘democratic’ procedure. The recorder declared Prichard third on the list, but a ‘scrutiny’ of the poll gave him the first place and he was declared elected by the court of aldermen. Prichard was a Merchant Taylor and alderman for Broad Street ward. He became a sheriff in 1672 and after being lord mayor was an MP for the City of London. Prichard was an active tory both before and after the ‘Glorious Revolution’. Kenneth Gordon Davies in his book The Royal Africa Company (page 68) suggests the presence of Prichard alongside the likes of Moore, Dashwood and Clayton (dealt with above) ‘gave the (Royal Africa) company a more solid backing…. (t)he presence in stock, and especially in the management, of notable mercantile figures such as these was calculated to inspire confidence in others and helped the company appear a better prospect than in fact it was.’

Sir William Turner (1615 –1693) is another Lord Mayor of London invoked by Kenneth Gordon Davies on page 68 of his Royal Africa Company book. Turner was a woollen-draper and Master of the Merchant Taylors’ Company. He first served as an alderman of the City of London in 1660. He was elected a Sheriff of London in 1662 and lord mayor in 1668. He was also a director of the East India Company at various times. He became a City of London MP in 1690. Sir John Fleet (1648–1712) is once again a Lord Mayor of London listed as a director of the Royal Africa Company by William A. Pettigrew in Freedom’s Debt (page 46). The son of a publican, Fleet entered the cooping trade in London prior to becoming a sugar merchant. He was elected Sheriff of London in 1688, Master of the Coopers’ company in 1689, Lord Mayor of London in 1692 and Master of the Grocers’ company in 1693. He first became an MP for the City of London in 1693.

Sir William Withers (c. 1654–1720) is yet another Lord Mayor of London William A. Pettigrew in Freedom’s Debt (page 46) mentions as a director of the Royal Africa Company. In 1680 he became a freeman of the Fishmongers’ Company. He became Prime Warden of the Fishmonger’s Company in 1700. He first became an MP for the City of London in 1701. He also became Sheriff of London in 1701. in 1706 Withers landed a life time position as Governor of the Irish Society.. The Irish Society AKA The Honourable Irish Society AKA the Society of the Governor and Assistants, London, of the New Plantation in Ulster, within the Realm of Ireland, is a consortium of livery companies of the City of London set up in 1613 to colonise County Derry during the Plantation of Ulster. For a brief account of Irish Society’s fixing of election results in Coleraine in Withers time as governor see The Making of the Irish Protestant Ascendancy: The Life of William Conolly 1662-1729 by Patrick Walsh pages (The Boydell Press, Woodbridge 2010, pages 116-118). Given the amount of election rigging that went on and still goes on in the civic machinery of the City of London, it is hardly surprising that its representatives did similar things in County Derry. Withers was a director of the United East India Company from 1709 to 1710.

The Honourable Irish Society exists to this day – now supposedly as a charitable (AKA charitywashing) organisation – and many members of the current City of London council belong to it. Like the Royal Africa Society, it was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries an instrument of English/British colonial policy and financial extraction run as a commercial enterprise, and in this instance more or less solely rather than just largely by the City of London Corporation (council) and its livery companies. Those who were not directly involved in the civic machinery of the City of London but had a stake in operations such the Royal Africa Society would be drawn into the orbit of the former by being awarded the ‘honour’ of Freedom of the City. George Villiers (1628-1687) is listed as an aristocratic supporter of the Royal Africa Company by William A. Pettigrew in Freedom’s Debt (page 23) and an early investor (page 25). Now more usually remembered as a ‘statesman’ and poet, he was also a rake and a freeman of the City of London. Moving on from Villiers, it is likely that many of the City of London ‘grandees’ who were slave traders were also members – and even governors – of the Irish Society. The instance of Withers serves here to illustrate the overlap. Likewise it should not be forgotten that it was the Irish who were the first recipients of many racial slurs – such as being depicted as apes – that were later shifted onto Africans and those of African descent. The City of London, and especially the area around Grub Street, was a particularly important production point for much of this colonial-cum-racist propaganda.

Sir Robert Geffrye (1613–1703) is a former Lord Mayor of London who has become a focus of Black Lives Matter protests in the past couple of weeks, with thousands calling for the removal of his statue in the London Borough of Hackney at the Museum of the Home. In recent days the local and UK national press has widely reported him as making his fortune with the East India Company and the Royal African Company. The statue of Geffrye outside the Museum of the Home is by John Nost AKA John or Jan Van Ost, who is also responsible for the racist statue currently sited in Inner Temple Gardens in the City of London. Both statues should be removed. Geffrye was also Master of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, appointed Sheriff of London in 1674 and elected lord mayor in 1685. In his will he left a bequest for almshouses in Shoreditch, which now house a museum. There are also calls for name changes to the Geffrye Almshouses (in which the Museum of the Home is hosted), Geffrye Street, the Geffrye Estate (owned by Hackney Housing), Geffrye Court (a block on the Geffrye Estate) and Geffrye Court (also a street name).

Sir John Cass (1660–1718) is another City ‘grandee’ who has become a focus of Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks. He attained the second highest post in the City’s political machinery, that of Sheriff of London in 1711. He was a member of both the Carpenters and Skinners livery companies, an MP for the City of London and alderman of Portsoken ward. Madge Dresser in her Set In Stone? (see above for citation and link) essay says:

John Cass was also a City Alderman, but in the Tory interest. Though never Lord Mayor, Cass served as Sheriff then as Member of Parliament for the City of London and became a Knight of the Realm. He too was 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 […] also seems to have been linked by family and friends to colonial plantation interests, in his case to Virginia.

Various John Cass names and memorials have been removed in recent days. For details see, for example, Local charity praised for ‘good leadership’ after removing sign featuring name of Sir John Cass (this piece covers both Cass and Robert Geffrye in relation to the current struggles to decolonise public space) in the Hackney Citizen: https://www.hackneycitizen.co.uk/2020/06/12/local-charity-praised-good-leadership-removing-sign-sir-john-cass/

The Hackney History blog also provides borough wide coverage of the anti-slave trader memorialisation struggles that have heated up in the wake of recent Black Lives Matter protests: https://hackneyhistory.wordpress.com/2020/06/14/slavery-and-hackney-campaign-and-resources/

Meanwhile in the City of London, following a call from Andrien Meyers (a common councillor for Aldgate) it was announced at an 11 June meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee that a new Tackling Racism Working Party will be tasked with addressing equality issues and responding to demands for historical landmarks dedicated to colonialists to be removed or renamed. Given the amount of work this will entail and the City’s history of glossing itself with lies, we suspect this may end up amounting to little more than a cover-up and/or exercise in self-justification. Nonetheless, John Cass is a good place for the City to start looking at its colonial legacy issues, although we trust it will also move on to its memorialisation of Cromwell given his horrendous colonial crimes in Ireland, and other matters such as the need to abolish still active colonial instruments such as the Honourable Irish Society.

There are also changes that need to be made over which the City council does not exercise direct control but where it could still put pressure on other institutions to do something bring them about. We would particularly stress here that despite the absurd claims on the John Cass Business School website that it is ‘based in the heart of the City of London, the global centre for finance…‘, this is a bare-faced lie designed as a lure for gullible students from outside London. The college is to be found in Bunhill Row in the Bunhill Ward of Islington, close to the current border with the City of London but well outside the original City wall and nowhere near the heart of the City. On the other hand, Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School in Aldgate is in the City of London and we’d not only like to see the council getting properly stuck into the process of changing its name, but also ensuring the racist paintings that were installed in it are removed if they are still to be found there:

A case in point is a series of painted panels commissioned in 1696 which allude to enslavement but avoid its actual significance…. these panels are worth discussing briefly as they were created when Cass, Clayton and Moore were in their prime and help us understand the mental world which they inhabited. Now installed in the premises of Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School in Aldgate, the panels were originally at a private merchant’s house in St Botolph’s Lane. Executed by the much sought-after City painter Robert Robinson, they portray a fantastical and ethnically blurred idyll of happy natives and other tropical exotica. One entitled ‘The Cultivation of Tobacco’ shows an African-looking labourer bending over tobacco plants in front of a western-style shack. The botanically accurate depiction of the tobacco plants and the western style of the shack implicitly indicate a plantation. Though the identity of the owner of ‘the painted room’ has not been definitively established, it seems likely to have been a well-known tobacco merchant, possibly the tobacco magnate Sir Jeffrey Jeffries, a neighbour and friend of Sir John Cass.

In this same period, London tobacconist shops featured full-sized wooden carvings of African/Amerindians in tobacco-leaf skirts. The person thus represented had become the product of his labour. ‘The Blackamoor’, by John Van Ost (fl. 1686–1729), offers a later sculptural example of the same sanitizing and dehumanizing process. An active purveyor of garden sculpture in early Georgian London, Van Ost flourished in the new consumer culture engendered by the Atlantic and East India trades as did his contemporary Henry Cheere, who also produced these popular figures. Van Ost’s ‘The Blackamoor’, purchased in 1731 for Clement’s Inn, ended up in the gardens of the Inner Temple. The figure is conflated with the sundial he carries. Like the slaves he implicitly represents, the ‘Blackamoor’s’ humanity is subsumed by his utilitarian function.

Madge Dresser in her Set In Stone? essay (see above for citation and link)

We made clear we’d like to see the Van Ost sculpture removed from Inner Temple Gardens on a blog we posted a week ago. While the City of London council does not have direct control over the Inner Temple, it is intertwined with it and can exert much pressure here, especially as the racist piece is within its municipal boundaries. Topple The Racists reports a similar sculpture in the north of England being recently removed.

ALTRINCHAM
REMOVED: Kneeling African (slave) sundial at Dunham Massey

National Trust – Dunham Massey, Cheshire , WA14 4SJ
In front of the main entrance to Dunham Massey (Cheshire) – one of the most popular visitor attractions in the Greater Manchester area – there’s a lifesize lead statue of a kneeling African holding a sundial above his head. I believe that statue has been in place since the mid 1700s. I have read some mealy-mouthed revisionist accounts of the statue not being racist or offensive, with historical context and a flexible reading of its significance – but, this is a rendering of a black African, kneeling before a grand country house, the erstwhile property of a landed aristocrat and undoubtedly represents subjugation and ownership.

https://www.toppletheracists.org (it is necessary to click on the correct red icon to get the information above, it’s close to Manchester on the map).

In our previous post we dealt with a few statues that should be removed – emphasising the racist Van Ost in Inner Temple Gardens – and names we want to see changed in the City of London.  Some of these came from a Wikipedia list of slave trade related statues; in the days following that post another royal who has a City of London statue – Elizabeth I – was correctly added to the list, before all the royals on it were deleted in an edit war. The entire page is now being considered for deletion but this doesn’t much matter to us, it still proved a useful – even if it turns out to be brief – reference point for our continuing explorations of the many things that are wrong with the City of London. With it’s initial London focus, this Wikipedia page served to draw attention to how from its early days right up to contemporary artwashing projects like Culture Mile, the City of London lie machine has set out to erase a complex history and replace the entirety of it with a very partial truth in the form of memorials and other propaganda.

Memorials tend to erase the complexities of history through simple celebration, which is why their removal from public spaces generally enhances historical understanding. That said, the undemocratic and still in many ways feudal local government machinery of the City of London is also in its contemporary form a product of the slave trade and it is more important that this is dismantled than that statues are removed and streets get renamed. It would, however, be ideal if both the governance of the City was democratically reformed and its problematic memorials removed.

The header shows The Slave Ship (1840) by J. M. W. Turner, a depiction of the mass killing of slaves, inspired by the Zong killings. The Zong massacre was the mass killing of more than 130 Africans, who were kidnapped or sold for slavery by the crew of the British slave ship Zong on and in the days following 29 November 1781. The slave traders had taken out insurance on the slaves as cargo. After the insurers refused to pay out, the resulting court cases (Gregson v Gilbert (1783) 3 Doug. KB 232) held that in some circumstances, the deliberate killing of slaves was legal and that insurers could be required to pay for the slaves’ deaths. The first of the Zong cases was tried at the administrative seat of the City of London council, the Guildhall, on 6 March 1783.

6 thoughts on “The City of London & The Slave Trade Part 1

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