New name for Great Pulteney Street?

Well, what started out as a demonstration of support for the Black Lives Matter campaign veered off course when some of the protestors, who’d gathered in Bristol’s city centre, decided to use the opportunity to – you could say – settle an old score.

The statue of Edward Colston has long been considered an affront to the black community and it is somewhat amazing that it wasn’t removed years ago.

Stothert and Pitt cranes – all part of the museum collection based at M Shed just behind.

It will now be added to the already impressive Slave Trade installation at M Shed where the paint with which it has been daubed will stay as an extra layer of its history.

The actions of those people – on the day the bronze was toppled from its plinth –  has energised on-going dialogue about how Bristol-owned ships transported about half a million Africans into slavery and how we should respond to that fact today.

Here in Bath, we don’t have statues of slavers to pull down but that doesn’t mean we can smugly look at Bristol and say ‘Not in our back yard!’ Our city has fine architecture and roads associated with many men whose wealth was acquired through the profits of slavery.

Plantation owners from the Americas and West Indies came to Bath to retire on the proceeds, invest money in a Georgian building boom or simply sample the delights of the city’s spa water society. 

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Beckford’s Tower © Tom Burrows

Slavery had been abolished by the time wealthy William Beckford came to Bath to build his tower at Lansdown, but he had inherited 30 plantations from his father and would surely be using the profits AND the compensation slave owners were given once the practice was made illegal.

Those cruelly torn from their homes and transported into slavery received nothing but the removal of their shackles.

Elsewhere, here in Bath, Great Pulteney Street – the grandest avenue in the city – was commissioned from the wealth of plantation owner, Sir William Pulteney.


Even the showpieces created by John Wood and his son were part-funded by money made from slavery.

In fact, John Wood senior’s first patron, The Duke of Chandos, was heavily involved in the Royal Africa Company which ferried slaves across the Atlantic.

According to one unconfirmed online source, even Bath Abbey features more funerary monuments to slave traders, planters and West India merchants than any other final resting place in the UK.


This – of course – is a side of Bath’s history not exactly promoted, though it must be said Bath Preservation Trust – who own and run Beckford’s Tower – has produced a booklet detailing his connections with the trade, which on sale at the facility.

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It also has organised a list of teaching aids on the subject of slavery.

The Trust is also currently consulting about how this history could best be conveyed in a ‘re-interpretation’ of the tower in the future.

My request for an interview was politely declined but you will find the following statement on the website

‘A development grant awarded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund will enable us to re-examine the way in which we share the story of William Beckford’s links to slavery.

We have always sought, and continue to welcome views on this difficult subject. In doing so we believe that our presentation of the Beckford story can be continually improved and make a valuable contribution to understanding the evils of slavery and its role in British life of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

If you would like to be part of the consultation process for the ‘Our Tower’ project, do get in touch with us at – we would be delighted to hear from you.’

The leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council says that local links to an appalling history have to be confronted head-on and she will shortly be bringing people together to start a conversation about how to acknowledge this.

She reminds us that the city also has connections with people who opposed slavery – like William Wilberforce and Hannah More.


I await details of the planned webinar which will debate Bath’s response. I have already suggested Great Pulteney Street could be re-named Grand Avenue?

We are already a city full of plaques and noticeboards but maybe there IS a way of erecting something to acknowledge what helped pay for the architectural heritage we have profited from for so long.

What do you think?


  1. Where will this all end? No, no , no to changing Pulteney; there are too many and I live in one! I also disagree with taking down all statues relating to slave trade. I accept the trade was abominable but then do we demolish all the houses owned by slavers and those who employed them as domestic servants?

  2. May I suggest that Bath’s MP and council resist the temptation to jump on Woke bandwagons about toppling statues and changing street names and instead focus exclusively on the town’s future instead of a past that cannot be re-written in order to expunge the guilt white Westerners are told we must feel. Would changing street names be sufficient? Why not tear down the entire 18th and 19th Conservation Area?

    I look forward to seeing the town’s virtue-signallers, when they do have time, drawing attention to the curse of modern slavery which, according to the Global Slavery Index published by Anti-Slavery International (ASI), is most prevalent in Africa, Asia and the Pacific region.

    ASI estimates that more than 40 million people are working in slave-like conditions, and lists these countries as top ten slave states: North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Mauritania, South Sudan, Pakistan, Cambodia and Iran.

  3. Richard

    I can see no reason to rename Great Pulteney Street – for the simple reason that it was not named after Sir William Pulteney. Here’s what really happened:

    The person who gave his name to the Bathwick Estate on which Pulteney Street was built was William Pulteney, the 1st Earl of Bath (22 March 1684 -7 July 1764), who bought the estate in 1726. As far as I can see his wealth was inherited, from his grandfather who bought gravel and sand deposits in Soho and contracted to sell bricks to the Crown. So, a prosperous businessman and a London property speculator. He left his wealth in trust to William Pulteney, and Pulteney later also inherited a substantial estate from his guardian trustee, Henry Guy. Guy too seems to have made his money from property – acquiring a farm in Yorkshire that paid him £20,750 a year. Pulteney himself became worth at least £50,000 a year.
    When he died, his estate passed to his cousin, Daniel Pulteney, and then, when he died, it was entailed to Daniel’s grand-daughter, Henrietta Laura Pulteney. Daniel’s daughter, Francis, was Laura Pulteney’s mother – and it was Francis who married William Johnstone. Under the terms of Daniel’s Will, Francis was entitled to the income from the estate during her lifetime, and when she inherited the rest of Pulteney’s wealth, Johnstone adopted the name Pulteney – and became Sir William (Johnstone) Pulteney. Johnstone married Francis in 1760; Laura was born to them in 1776, and Francis died in 1782.

    So Sir William Pulteney never owned the Pulteney estate. He developed it on behalf of his daughter. He only adopted the Pulteney name and the estate was not named after him.

    Johnstone invested his own money during his lifetime in ventures recommended by his brothers. He invested in the East India Company when his brother John worked for it. His main investment was in America, initially in West Florida when his brother George was governor. With the money he inherited from Francis when she died (wealth other than the Bathwick estate), he ended up buying 1.2 million acres in the current eastern states, including New York state.

    Sir William Johnstone Pulteney did have some investments in the West Indies. He invested in a plantation in Dominica shortly after Britain seized it in 1763, but had sold it by 1773. In 1794, he inherited Tobago plantations from his brother (Sir James) in 1794. The Pulteney estate was developed between the mid-1780’s and 1793. Pulteney Bridge was built between 1769 and 1774.

  4. In Mansfield Park Jane Austen records a conversation on slavery being shut down in a ‘dead silence’. That silence seems to have been momentarily broken, but it is interesting to hear the tone of the voices speaking in the space this blog entry has created. There is a resonance here of what others have described as white fragility when their interests and privilege are challenged. This is a time for a deep and critical reflection on the roots of racism and the lasting effects of structural racism. The slave trade, the slave economy and the legacies of slave-ownership, as this entry records, are inscribed in the fabric of the city of Bath. There is much that is obscured and willfully forgotten. Bath, perhaps uniquely, sits at a key node of the trade in captured and enslaved people. Goods (eg brass goods, cloth, gunpowder) were made in the city and along the river to be traded for humans in West Africa, those captured people who survived the crossing were sold and put to work on the plantations that people like Beckford and Pulteney, and other Bath residents owned, and the wealth they produced at every stage found its way back to the city. The ideas and values that legitimised all this, the othering of black people by white people, the normalised inequalities this produced, are deeply embedded. Old street names declare a layered history, but perhaps those who uncritically perpetuate those names at new locations need to consider the shame and insult carried…Beckford Drive, Beckfords Gate, Beckford House, Holburne Park. I write as a white resident of Bath deeply ashamed of the legacies of slaveownership from I which I draw much privilege. This is a time for all of us and most especially white people to look into the mirror, to consider responsibilities and debts, this is a time for truth and reconciliation. As a UNESCO World Heritage city Bath has a unique opportunity to address this reluctant heritage, to embrace and learn from it. Austen’s silence is lifted for a moment, a conversation could open on apology, redress and acts of repair. This is far deeper than arguing over old place names.

  5. pauljackson8 you are mixing up two different people, Sir William Pulteney, 5th Baronet inherited money from William Pulteney, the 1st Earl of Bath, he used that inheritance to invest in slave plantations, the vast profits from which were used to build Great Pulteney Street and several other streets in Bath which he named after his children.
    It is probably impractical to rename everything in the Pulteney estate (Pulteney bridge etc) but I don’t think that makes it OK to do nothing, the prefix ‘Great’ in front of a slave traders name does seem particularly repugnant.
    My vote would be to make it Great Wilberforce Street, or perhaps Great William Street which is slightly less of a mouthful and easier to spell.

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