About Clarkson Memorial
Standing roughly 68 feet high, the Clarkson Memorial in Wisbech is a monument commemorating the notable and influential abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.
Clarkson Memorial history
Construction began on Clarkson Memorial in 1880, and was funded almost entirely by the Peckovers, a family of local Quaker philanthropists. The town of Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, where the monument stands today, was the birthplace of the abolitionist in 1760.
Although not a Quaker himself, 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, where many of the other members were Quakers.
Whatever their background or faith, all members were committed to ending the trafficking of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic in return for desirable commodities such as sugar and tobacco – a trade they all considered to be morally reprehensible and a dark stain on Britain’s global, enlightened image.
Clarkson became a central figure in the campaign against the slave trade from the moment he wrote his award-winning essay, On the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, in 1785 (later published in 1786) whilst he was a student at the University of Cambridge.
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.
Clarkson also rode 35,000 miles across Britain to visit some of its principal slave port cities such as Bristol, Liverpool and London in order to amass vast quantities of numerical data that confirmed the brutality of the ‘Middle Passage’, the stage in which millions of Africans were transported in slave ships across the Atlantic to the Americas.
Using the information he had received from interviews with over 20,000 sailors, Clarkson was also able to accurately calculate the mortality rate aboard slave vessels by the time they had reached the other side of the Atlantic.
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 Memorial today
The memorial that stands today, made of limestone and red sandstone, has six steps leading up to a buttressed pedestal with four sides, on each side a red sandstone panel. The first of these is carved with the words “Clarkson / Born at Wisbech / 1760”, within a moulded frame.
The remaining three panels are relief sculptures, with inscriptions beneath. Two show the distinguished abolitionists, Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce, who are both seated. The fourth panel displays Josiah Wedgewood‘s iconic 1787 logo of a knelt and shackled slave.
Beneath this panel, the words “Remember them that are in bonds.” Around the top of the pedestal, a cornice of hop leaves; brewing was an important industry in Wisbech.
On a secondary pedestal is a statue of Thomas Clarkson in white Ancaster stone. Clarkson stands a little over life size, with a scroll in one hand and the broken fetters of a slave in the other. The height of the monument is about 68 feet high.
Getting to the Clarkson Memorial
The Clarkson Memorial stands at the centre of Wisbech, close to the market and the Town Hall. It is by the river just off the high street on the old A47.
There are two car parks close by; Somers Road car park and St Peters car park – both of which are within close walking distance of the monument.
Discover crucial histories of slavery at these sites around the UK, from the International Slavery Museum at Royal Albert Dock in Liverpool to the Buxton Memorial Fountain outside the Palace of Westminster.