London: Centre of the Slave Trade
Here we look at London’s part in the British slave trade and the impact left in our historic environment.
Guildhall, Gresham Street
The Guildhall, Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HH epitomises the involvement of London in the transatlantic slave trade. This was the meeting place between 1660 and 1690 of 15 Lord Mayors of London, 25 sheriffs and 38 aldermen of the City of London, all of whom were shareholders in the Royal Africa Company. These connections to the slave trade increased during the 18th century.
A statue to William Beckford Senior (from 1709 to 1770) stands at the east end of the south wall in Guildhall. Described as the “uncrowned king of Jamaica”, Beckford amassed a considerable fortune from over 20,000 acres of plantations on the island. He was twice Lord Mayor of London, as well as MP for the City of London. Beckford is the only Lord Mayor to have a statue in Guildhall.
In 1783 the Zong Case was heard at Guildhall.
West India Quay
Robert Milligan (about 1746 to 1809), the son of a plantation owning family in the Caribbean, was chairman of the West India Dock Company. A commemorative statue to him stands on the West India Quay, Canary Wharf, London E14 4AL.
Milligan, and other West India planters and merchants, built the dock for the safe importation of sugar, rum and coffee from Caribbean plantations. The dock opened in 1802 and was described as “the largest feat of civil engineering since the building of the pyramids”. The Museum of London Docklands is behind the Milligan statue and occupies one of only two remaining warehouses built by the West India Dock Company. The museum has a permanent exhibition; London, Sugar and Slavery to memorialise the former occupation of the quay and its impact on both a physical and human scale.
The other surviving warehouse at West India Quay is the earliest remaining multi-storey warehouse in the Port of London.
Danson House, Bexleyheath
Danson House, Danson Park, Bexleyheath, Kent DA6 8HJ was designed by leading architect Sir Robert Taylor (from 1714 to 1788). It was constructed from around 1764 to 1767 for Sir John Boyd (from 1718 to 1800), a sugar merchant and Vice-Chairman of the British East India Company.
Originally called Danson Hill, this Palladian villa stood in over 600 acres of pleasure grounds and agricultural estate. Danson House is open to the public. Two hundred acres of the original estate remain to form Danson Park, the largest public park in the London Borough of Bexley.
Manor House Library, Lee
Manor House Library, 34 Old Road, Lee, London SE13 5SY was home to several generations of London merchants involved in slave trading.
In 1676 John Thomson (also known as Thompson) (from 1648 to 1710) inherited the Manor House from his father, Maurice.
Maurice Thomson (from 1604 to 1676) founded the family fortune by transporting slaves to his plantation in St. Kitts. He also had interests in the East India Company and the Royal Africa Company. John married into the Annesley family, who also had Caribbean business interests.
By 1749 William Coleman (from 1678 to 1771) lived at the Manor House. He was an agent to the Pinney family, who were at that time the wealthiest plantation owners in St. Kitts and Nevis.
His nephew, Thomas Lucas (from about 1720 to 1784) inherited both this house and holdings in the Caribbean. After Lucas’ death, his widow Eliza carried those business interests into her marriage to the financier and plantation owner John Julius Angerstein.
In 1796 Angerstein sold the Manor House to Sir Francis Baring, founder of Baring’s Bank. The Barings had considerable financial interests in slavery.
In 1901 Sir Francis Thornhill Baring sold the property to London County Council who in the following year opened the grounds to the public. The site remains in use as a library and public space.