The facts of the matter ….

Never let it be said that this blog doesn’t give its contributors the right of reply.
Elsewhere on this page, you will see a response from Dr Bryn Jones – who lectures in sociology at the University of Bath – to the suggestion that Great Pulteney Street should be renamed because of Pulteney ‘connections’ with the slave trade.
It followed published comments from Paul Jackson who now asks to respond.
May l just say that Bryn Jones did ask me to correct some factual errors in his notes – including getting your name wrong Paul!
First here’s Paul’s initial point of view which was published but in the ‘comments section under the story.

‘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.

“Yesterday you sent an email that mentioned my comments explaining how Great Pulteney Street got its name.  You condensed this into:
‘ 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 then published a response in full (and taking up substantial space) from Dr Bryn Jones, whom you say is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Bath.  It was riddled with factual inaccuracies.  I’ve listed those below.
I have no problem with Bath Newseum presenting different views and opinions – for me, that’s one of its attractions.  (That and your photographs, by the way – some of them are superb!)  But the distortion of historical facts to fit preconceived points of view inevitably misleads people.
 As a Mayor’s Guide, I know that historical accuracy is something that you hold dear.  (And just to be clear, if anyone thinks the facts I sent in are wrong, I’m happy to be corrected.  I use various sources, but a good start is “Bath: A social history 1680-1850” by R.S Neale.  The subtitle is “A Valley of Pleasure, yet a Sink of Iniquity” hints at what lies within warts and all.)
Since many of your followers only read the emails, rather than the comments on the website, might I ask you to give the same amount of space as for Dr Jones to correct the factual historical background to how the Pulteney estate was developed?  I suggest you print my initial historical summary.
Which l have now done!
Paul continues:
‘The list of factual errors by Dr Bryn Jones:
1. he calls me Peter 
2. he refers to William Pulteney (nee Johnstone) – he means Sir William Pulteney.  William Pulteney became the Earl of Bath.
3. he calls him a substantial owner of slave plantations.  His ownership was never substantial.
4. he says Henrietta came into her inheritance in 1792.  The correct date was 1763.
5. he says that before she came into her inheritance it was legally owned by Frances.  Frances never owned the Bathwick estate (although she was entitled to the interest from it).
6.  He then asks “Didn’t marriage laws give him equal ownership?” – I pointed out in my second set of comments that this is untrue – if the inheritance was entailed, he would have had no right to it; if the inheritance was not entailed, it would have belonged to him.  Under neither scenario, would he have had equal rights?  The moral point here is that the legal standing of married women at that time would be considered as a form of slavery today.  (With the caveat that they weren’t normally traded, although Thomas Hardy’s example of that happening in the Mayor of Casterbridge was based on fact.)  
7. he says that Sir William Johnstone Pulteney must have financed the development from his own resources.  This is supposition – and Stephen Bird then pointed out that he mortgaged the estate to build the bridge.  I’m not sure that Dr Jones understands what a trust is, nor the role of trustees.
8. he repeats my observation that he inherited the Tobago estate in 1794, and then asks if that was a coincidence that this just preceded the completion of the bridge in 1774.  Is he suggesting that there was time travel in the eighteenth century?
9.  he says “given his status as an MP and leading politician”.  He was an MP between 1768 and 1805 – but he was never a leading politician.  Again, he’s confusing him with William Pulteney (who briefly was the Prime Minister).
9.  based on this, plus “his wealth and prestige”, he then says “there can’t be much doubt that the bridge is named after William”.  That again is supposition.  If he means William Pulteney, that might be true, since he bought the estate.  if he means Sir William, it’s not true – he never had much prestige: contemporaries described him as compulsively thrifty and a man of almost shabby appearance.  Dr Jones’s supposition (itself based on a false assumption) is at the very least, contentious.
10. he then calls William (meaning Sir William) a “dealer in plantations and colonial lands”.  That’s a distortion – it implies that he made a habit of buying and selling plantations.  True, he bought and sold the Dominican plantation relatively quickly.  He could be criticised for not selling his Tobago plantation after he inherited it – ie for not dealing in it.  But his purchase of the 1.2 million acres in America was a long term investment – and not colonial.  He bought the land after the USA had become independent from Britain.  It was a massive financial gamble.
11.  he then mentions Grenada and says that he secured compensation to plantation owners after a revolt there.  That’s not true either.  Britain was at war with France.  He supported Pitt and supported his party’s line on a number of parliamentary votes, including how Pitt was conducting the war.  He voted in favour of the West India merchants’ petition for relief, but to say he secured the compensation as if he was solely responsible, is a misrepresentation.  
12.  he says that Sir William had a family interest in the Grenada plantations.  I don’t know how true this is – it is possible that one of his brothers owned an estate there, but I have not checked that. 
13.  he says that there’s not a single edifice in Bath to commemorate William Wilberforce – an untrue statement, as your photograph of the plaque in Pulteney Street, so amply illustrated! 
Screenshot 2020-06-17 at 10.50.48
14.  I think there is an implied statement in Bath about Sir William Johnstone Pulteney.  There is a street named after him: Johnstone Street.  It’s a stub of a street, cut off and half-built.  Some might consider that somewhat apt.     
My comments were as objective as I could make them and intended to give some context – and also to point out that slavery was integral in the eighteenth century way of life – in most parts of the world.  That included Africa, by the way, where slavery was rife between the tribes – and more slaves have been traded from the east coast (many via Zanzibar) than from the west.  
About four-fifths of the slaves delivered to each country by the transatlantic trade (by ships from various nations) went to plantations owned by countries other than Britain.
 If we are going to condemn the eighteenth-century British for their part in a practice carried out by many countries, we ought at least to acknowledge that in the nineteenth century, Britain became the leading nation trying to stamp slavery out.’


  1. Well said Sir. We are drenched in guilt and guilty we are . History is full of history and thanks to
    those who can give a glint on the facts !

  2. This is an excellent response from Paul and I have certainly learnt a lot more true facts from this article than the previous article by Dr. Bryn Jones.

  3. Much work has gone into these comments, which is appreciated, but I suspect the forensic information as to who owned which bit of an 18th century family inheritance and what they did or didn’t do with it is of little if any interest to the statue-topplers, rioters, arsonists and history re-writers who have hi-jacked justified anger about a homicide in Minneapolis to promote a violent revolt against democracy and Western culture in the States and Europe.

    To see public bodies and institutions issuing sanctimonious, virtue-signalling statements of “solidarity” – as Bath Council with others did earlier today [BUILDING A MORE EQUAL FUTURE – BLACK LIVES MATTER] – with groupings being used to wage what appears to be cultural revolution is deeply saddening and alarming. What on earth has attacking the police, daubing the Cenotaph and the statue of a man who inspired Britain in its war against fascist Germany got to do with building a more equal future?

    Bath As Spar and Bath As Slum: The Social History of a Victorian City by Dr. Graham Davis (The Edwin Mellen Press) is also a good warts-an’-all account of the town’s history.

  4. Whether or not a particular street is named after a slave owner or not misses the bigger point that all of Georgian Bath is one way or another built from the profits of the slave trade. Where do you think the capital came from for property development, investment in the canal system and the budding industrial revolution? Mainly slavery in the form of vast profits from sugar, cotton and tobacco from the Americas, plus of course the plundering of India by the East India Company.

    Unless and until it is acknowledged that our current prosperity as one the world’s most ‘developed’ and richest nations rests on the exploitation on a vast industrial scale of black and brown peoples’ bodies, lands, resources we have no chance of building a truly multicultural and just society.

    As for the claim that the Britain was some kind of shining light of moral rectitude when it came to the abolition of slavery is ‘laughable nonsense’. Read here about the pro slavery campaign carried on in the 1820s and 1830s; even Wilberforce opposed emancipation declaring that “before [slaves] could be fit to receive freedom, it would be madness to attempt to give it to them”.

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