How about William (Wilberforce) Street instead of Pulteney?

Well, l am pleased to say l got you talking about Bath’s connections with the slave trade when l suggested maybe we should consider changing the name of Great Pulteney Street.

I said the city’s grandest Georgian avenue was commissioned from the wealth of plantation owner, Sir William Pulteney.

Amongst the comments this attracted was one from Paul Jackson who at some length explained that wasn’t the case and – at some length – explained that…

‘ 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.’

You can read his comments in full under the article entitled ‘New name for Great Pulteney Street.’

Now, this has brought a response from Dr Bryn Jones who is a senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Bath.

I print his point of view in full:

‘Paul Jackson’s information on the Pulteneys is useful but doesn’t shed much light on the central issue: should distinctive Bath landmarks be designated by the names of slave owners? This question is, of course, a moral one. However, if it is to be decided on factual grounds, as Peter implies, then there is no doubt that William Pulteney (nee Johnstone) was: 1) the instigator of the Bathwick estate and Bridge developments; and 2) a substantial owner of slave plantations.

Paul seems to suggest that it is not Pulteney’s name that is commemorated in Great Pulteney Street and Pulteney Bridge but that of his daughter Henrietta Laura. Because he ‘developed it on behalf of his daughter.’ Don’t all children ultimately benefit from their parents successful endeavours?

Before Henrietta came into the inheritance (in 1792) it was legally owned by his wife Frances. (Didn’t marriage laws give him equal ownership?). But if it is the case that Johnstone-Pulteney did not have access to his wife and daughter’s handsome wealth for his architectural schemes then he must have financed them from his own resources. As Paul says, these included slave-plantations first in Domenica till 1773 and then in Tobago from 1794. Is it a coincidence that Johnston-Pulteney’s sale of the Tobago plantations just preceded the completion of the Bridge (1774) and, presumably, the need to pay the contractors who built it?

Given his status (MP and leading politician), wealth (reputedly the richest man in England) and prestige, there can’t be much doubt that the Bridge at least, is named after William. He must also, surely, be the inspiration for naming Great Pulteney Street completed in 1789. As his daughter got her place in the sun in the naming of Laura Place.

Turning to the moral aspect we should also recognise that William was not only a dealer in plantations and colonial lands. As a politician and commissioner in the Exchequer Loan Office he was also involved in securing compensation paid to slave-plantation owners after the 1795 Grenada revolt to establish a black republic like Haiti. 400 insurgents were executed after the revolt was put down. William had a family interest in the Grenada plantations affected and may have had links to the then Governor of the island.

You may believe that all of this is irrelevant to the names on these streets. That the immoral past of the figures named should not even be considered today. On the other hand, it does seem an extremely one-sided view of our history that these names are to be perpetuated and their dubious practices ignored.

Screenshot 2020-06-17 at 10.50.48

Even more so when there is not a single edifice in Bath to commemorate Bath residents such as William Wilberforce and Hannah More, who campaigned against the rights of the likes of Pulteney to own and exploit slaves. Both Wilberforce and More lived on Great Pulteney Street!’


  1. Thanks Richard

    Pulteney funded the bridge et al not from plantation income but by mortgaging his Bathwick estates to release the necessary capital.


  2. Why stop at Great Pulteney Street? Eight other streets in Bath also carry his name. And the Bridge is world famous. Slavery was and is evil but renaming things won’t eliminate it from our history. Some allowance has to be made for views prevailing at the time. People as upright and intelligent as Jefferson and Washington had slaves even as they wrote ‘All men are created equal..’
    BPT are showing the way, by putting Beckford in context at his tower. Explain, educate, not erase.

  3. If the town’s Woke Liberals have suddenly become so distressed and embarrassed by Bath’s slave-trade legacy – have they only just got around to reading the history? – would re-naming Gt. Pulteney Street be sufficient to assuage the sense of guilt with which, thanks to the Cultural Marxism bandwagon now rolling across the States and Western Europe, they now feel burdened. Surely, nothing short of pulling down the entire Conservation Area would suffice, since there’s scarcely a stone or an iron railing that wasn’t in one way or another funded by the trade in sugar, cotton and rum from the West Indies and the American colonies governed by the slave-owning Founding Fathers.

    It would be interesting to see what B&NES proposed to put in its place.

  4. I am leaving this on behalf of Sally Helvey who emailed me to say: Wilberforce Street would be an excellent new name.

    There could be a statue made of him in the little area behind the stone balustrade in Sunderland Street (which leads down to Henrietta Park) with an information board explaining the change of name and all the good he did.

    A local sculptor could make a bronze. What a great project this would be!

  5. When will the Roman Baths be renamed – they were certainly great slave exploiters. From the 15th – 19th century’s the majority of the great wealth in this country came from the Colonies and slave labour. It was wrong. but facts are fact – the great industrial revolution was based on cotton and sugar imports to name but two. What history should be telling us is that it must not happen again – and it is – with the sweatshop labour providing us with cheap good to buy. Let’s put our efforts into stopping the present.

  6. Perhaps this might offer an opportunity to deal with the Laura Place fountain? Installing a properly designed fountain, suitably monumental, as a memorial to the victims of colonialism and the slave trade as a permanent reminder, in an area that was built on the labour of slaves, seems a much better response. The changing of a street name without any further explanation is tokenistic and a proper memorial could act as a focus for an annual remembrance as well as raising the awareness of Bath’s visitors, schools and residents.

  7. The tourist information does a good job at whitewashing the stories of Bath, the only mention of slavery on their website is “St Swithin’s Church, where slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce was married” They talk of Remarkable Bath and choose to talk of Spas and Jane Austin. Perhaps this is the time to reveal more of our history

  8. Adding this on behalf of Sue Whitaker:

    Last night I came across a programme on iPlayer called ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners’ by David Olusoga, first broadcast in 2015, which should be compulsory viewing for every one of secondary school age and above! I understand this programme is going to be re-broadcast sometime next week as is a programme by Miles Chambers in the Civilisations series focusing specifically on the legacy of slave ownership in the south-west.

    Below is a link to the UCL ‘Legacies of British Slave-Ownership’ database listing some of the slave-owners from Bath who claimed compensation when slavery ended in 1833:

    It is likely that Sir William Pulteney and others will have had indentured black servants living with them in Bath. If we can discover their names then it is they who should be recognised on our streets and buildings to acknowledge that the prosperity of Georgian Bath was built on theIr labours and exploitation. This doesn’t expunge Pulteney and others from the history books rather puts them in their rightful place as profiteers from human misery. Think Pero’s Bridge in Bristol by way of an example.

Comments are closed.