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.
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!’