Parliament Week Curator's Choice: Anti-Slave Trade petition at the Parliamentary Archives

David Prior interviewed by Ben Miller | 20 October 2011
A photo of a woman looking after a large ancient petition laid out on a table in an archive room
The campaign for the abolition of the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries made use of petitions to Parliament on a scale not seen before
Curator's Choice: In his own words... David Prior, of the Parliamentary Archives, on a petition from the people of Manchester in support of the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill, of May 14 1806.

"The Manchester Slave Trade Petition from 1806 is my favourite item from the Archives.

The reason I feel attached to that is because it inspired us way back in 2007 to interpret it and finding out more about the people who had signed it.

A photo of an enormous ancient paper and ink petition stretching across a table
The five-and-a-half-metre long petition covers a table in an archive room in Westminster
It opened our eyes to the power of archival material and the ways you can engage with people.

It's five and a half metres long and has got 2,500 names on it. On the anniversary of the Slave Trade Abolition Act, we asked the Manchester Family History Society if they would like to transcribe the petition.

They did, but they brought more to it than that – through the use of trade directories and some basic family history resources, they were actually able to start identifying the people whose names are on that petition.

That was really interesting. It meant that the moment we stuck it on the web and asked people to look at it, we got people who had done family history research finding their ancestors on it.

You really felt people were making a connection and being genuinely, emotionally moved by this document – and they really were. That's why it means quite a lot to us."

Watch: A closer look at Manchester Slave Trade Petition of 1806

  • This is one in a series of stories and features developed for Parliament Week 2011. Running from October 31 until November 6 2011, the campaign explores how democracy affects citizens and how they can participate in it.
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