Between 1500 and 1866, roughly 13 million Africans were enslaved and transported across the Atlantic to the New World where a brutal, profit-driven and systematic plantation system awaited them. At least 1 in 10 of those transported did not even survive the notorious ‘Middle Passage’ across to the Americas.
Britain claimed a significant stake in this traffic and profited immensely from it. Not only were huge individual fortunes generated by plantation owners, but the commerce generated from the triangular system of trade funded the expansion of the British state and benefitted the everyday consumer of commodities such as sugar and tobacco.
Despite its heavy involvement in the slave trade, Britain was one of the first nations with an empire to abolish its slave trade in 1807 and emancipate all enslaved people in its colonies in 1833. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, the Royal Navy was committed to policing West African waters to prevent the illegal continuation of the slave trade.
Here are 8 historic sites associated with slavery in the UK.
The International Slavery Museum is a museum located by Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock that is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of Britain’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. The museum serves not only as a commemorative institution to those in Britain who worked tirelessly to see the trade abolished in 1807, but also as a stark reminder of the prominent role Britain played in the trafficking of Africans across the Atlantic.
The International Slavery Museum’s collections cover the several centuries of the slave trade. It’s divided into sections relating to the transatlantic slave trade, starting from the origins of slavery in Africa, to Britain’s involvement in the slave trade and its eventual abolition in 1807.
Based in West India Quay, next to Canary Wharf, the Museum of London Docklands exhibits the history of the Port of London, the River Thames and the dock’s historical association with the transatlantic slave trade. The warehouses themselves are demonstrative of the port’s pivotal role in the slave trade.
The museum features 12 galleries, featuring such exhibits as “Docklands at War”, “Warehouse of the World” and “London Sugar & Slavery”. It also includes a series of life-sized, walkthrough replicas of how the docks used to look, feel and smell.
The Georgian House Museum is an 18th-century, 6-storey townhouse in Bristol city centre. It was built for John Pinney, a wealthy sugar merchant who also owned plantations on the island of Nevis in the West Indies. It is believed to be the house where the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge first met, and was also home to Pinney’s slave, Pero. Pero served John Pinney for 32 years. Pero’s Bridge, the footbridge across Bristol’s Floating Harbour, was named in commemoration of Pero, the slave who lived and died in the city.
The Georgian House Museum is displayed as it might have looked in the 18th century and provides an insight into life above and below stairs.
Located in Kingston upon Hull, Wilberforce House is the birthplace of William Wilberforce, the British politician, social reformer and remarkable abolitionist.
After a two-year redevelopment, Wilberforce House re-opened on 25 March 2007, just in time for the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. As the MP for Kingston upon Hull and subsequently Yorkshire in the late-18th and early-19th century, Wilberforce became hugely influential in the process of ensuring an abolition bill was brought to and passed in parliament.
Today Wilberforce House museum tells the story of the transatlantic slave trade and the crucial role Wilberforce played in its eventual abolition.
Standing roughly 68 feet high, the Clarkson Memorial in Wisbech is a monument commemorating the notable and influential abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. Thomas Clarkson was a central figure in the campaign against the slave trade in the British Empire and instrumental in forming the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
Aside from this, Clarkson’s biggest contribution to the anti-slavery cause was his accumulation of physical evidence in the form of slave chains, leg-shackles, thumbscrews, branding irons and whips – all items that could be used when lobbying for abolition in Parliament. All of the evidence he had amassed was used by William Wilberforce in his speech to the House of Commons in 1789 and helped prove beyond any reasonable doubt the immorality of the traffic to those in Parliament.
The Buxton Memorial Fountain is a memorial and drinking fountain in Westminster commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in British Dominions in 1834, and specifically, the role of British members of parliament in the abolition campaign.
The fountain was designed and commissioned by Charles Buxton, the son of Thomas Fowell Buxton, a prominent abolitionist and member of parliament in the early-19th century.
Charles dedicated the memorial fountain not only to his father, but to other notable philanthropists and anti-slavery campaigners such as William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Henry Brougham. All these men had worked tirelessly to see not only Britain’s slave trade abolished in 1807, but also the termination of the institution of slavery itself in British Dominions in 1833.
Royal Albert Dock is the most iconic harbour on Liverpool’s Waterfront, boasting a rich history and multiple attractions for visitors. Liverpool’s docks dominated global trade by the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During much of the 18th century, Liverpool was Britain’s main slaving port. Between 1700 and 1807, ships from Liverpool carried about 1.5 million Africans across the Atlantic in conditions of great cruelty.
The sugar, rum and tobacco that was produced in the Americas was transported and stored in the large warehouses located on Liverpool’s Waterfront such as those that can be seen all around Albert Dock to this day.
The National Maritime Museum is a maritime museum based in Greenwich, London. It forms part of “Royal Museums Greenwich”, a series of museums all situated within the vicinity of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.
Today, the Museum has the most important holdings in the world on the history of Britain at sea. Its holdings include iconic and priceless paintings relating to Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson and the voyages of Captain James Cook.
The museum also has a renowned exhibition on Britain’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, containing key artifacts relating to the trade and abolition such as first edition portraits of abolitionist such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho, or a real York Election ticket of 1807, used to vote for William Wilberforce, inscribed with the words, ‘HUMANITY IS THE CAUSE OF THE PEOPLE’.