Shedding light on Bath’s links to the Slave Trade

Bath’s links to the transatlantic slave trade are detailed in a new website which has been launched following a year of detailed research by members of the Bath and Colonialism Archive Project.

Bath Abbey, Bath Record Office and Bath Preservation Trust have worked together following a grant from The National Archives to research Bath’s links to the trade over a 20-year period.  Digitised copies of the Bath Chronicle from 1760 to 1780 were searched for keywords relating to the profits and products of the transatlantic slave trade.

Over 25 volunteers were involved in the research for the website and, over a 6-month period from May 2021, uncovered many newspaper articles with the potential for wide use in research, interpretation and learning. These will be published as an online searchable database in phase two of the project.

It became apparent that guidance was needed on how best to record the often racist language and distressing content, including descriptions of violence and exploitation of black people. The partner organisations (Bath Abbey, Bath Preservation Trust and Bath Record Office) wanted to share the data with as wide an audience as possible, recognising the urgent need to communicate a more inclusive history of the Bath World Heritage Site. There was a need to create protocols for description when recording these articles, as well as training to enable staff and volunteers to discuss racist legacies with honesty. 

The project recruited the following consultants to develop the ‘Finding the Words’ guidance and bathandcolonialism.org website: cultural diversity adviser, Renée Jacobs (bib-network.org); historian and website content writer, Lisa Kennedy; web designer, Marva Jackson Lord (griotsarts.com/) and evaluation consultant Melita Armitage (melitaarmitage.com).

The project consultants have provided essential guidance and recommendations on how to communicate the research with honesty and sensitivity. In addition to diversity and inclusion training for project staff and volunteers, the consultants have also been involved in providing introductory information that sets the data collected in context for a general audience, as well as written guidance called ‘Finding the Words’, which recommends how best to describe the racist language and distressing content discovered. This guidance is now shared with the UK heritage sector to assist other organisations to do similar necessary research with confidence.

The project has discovered several thousand relevant articles, and funding is being sought for a second phase, which will use the ‘Finding the Words’ guidance to revise descriptions collected during the first phase.

To inform the second phase, public feedback is being compiled via the contact page on the bathandcolonialism.org website.

Claire Dixon, Director of Museums for Bath Preservation Trust said, “This project demonstrates the commitment of heritage partners in Bath, to confronting our local connections with the Transatlantic Slave Trade and addressing the challenges relating to historical language.  The project has created tangible outputs that, thanks to the support and involvement of specialists and experts, will be a significant resource for our sector that stretches beyond Bath.  Bath Preservation Trust is committed to the ongoing development of this work and we are proud to have contributed to what has been achieved so far.”

Robert Campbell, Head of Heritage Services.

Robert Campbell, Head of Heritage Services for Bath & North East Somerset Council said: “Bath & North East Somerset Heritage Services, via Bath Record Office, are very happy to have contributed to this important project. For too long Bath’s connection to Transatlantic enslavement has been hidden from public view and this is another good step to shed light on this period of our shared past. We look forward to exploring more of this heritage with partners across Bath and North East Somerset going forward.”

Guy Bridgewater, Rector of Bath Abbey.

Guy Bridgewater, Rector of Bath Abbey said: “God loves and delights in all people, and we are all created in His image.  The Abbey is committed to striving for justice and the practical steps taken by the Bath & Colonialism Archive project enable the Abbey, the City of Bath, and the wider Church to examine our history with honesty and care.  We are proud of the work that has been done, but we recognise that this project and other work at the Abbey must continue.  The Church of England urges us to acknowledge and address our past, so that we may truthfully and honestly work together to build the Kingdom of God here and now.“

Renée Jacobs from B in Bath said: “We are pleased to have been able to be involved in this innovative and much-needed project, supporting and advising the group of Bath heritage organisations as they look to address the local history relating to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The work completed as part of this project will have far-reaching impact, beyond Bath, and join bodies of work completed by other organisations in the country as we all work to find appropriate ways of dealing with, and talking about, the challenging aspects of our country’s history. B in Bath hope to see this work continued and widened, and are looking forward to continuing to support organisations as they start to address their own challenging histories.

And while we are on the subject of Bath’s links to the Slave Trade, regular contributor Roger Houghton writes:

 “I was looking at the database of slave owner compensation paid when Britain abolished ownership in 1833, liberating 800,000 slaves throughout the empire. 201 residents of Bath submitted claims.

One of those was, of course, Beckford, who received £12,803 2s 10d in compensation for the emancipation of his 660 slaves – equivalent to £1,135,764 today.

Beckford wasn’t Bath’s greatest slave owner, though. That would appear to have been James Heywood Markland of 1 Lansdown Crescent. He received £26,000 in compensation – equivalent to £2.3 million today.

Five of Bath’s claimants were clergymen. The Rev. Alexander Scott of 18 Great Pulteney Street received £10,569 (just short of a million today) in exchange for the 577 slaves he owned in Antigua and Barbados. 

Two residents – both female – of New King Street submitted claims. Of course, the freed slaves received not a penny.”

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/search