The Bicentenary Of The Abolition Of The Slave Trade

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 23 March 2007
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sculpture of an African figure

The Oba of Benin - an exhibit at Manchester Museum. Courtesy Manchester Museum

200 years ago, Parliament made the slave trade illegal under British law. Institutions up and down the country are marking the occasion with events that reveal a somewhat hidden and unpleasant history.

The culmination of English Heritage’s first project to research and highlight the houses, docks, graves, plaques and memorials that are the last tangible link to this history is being launched this weekend. There’s a new web micro-site on and an accompanying leaflet available from March 25.

The free leaflet, Sites of Memory, details more than 60 sites linked to the slave trade and its abolition and can be picked up from English Heritage sites and tourist information offices.

“This is a history that has often been overlooked in the past,” said Rachel Hasted, head of Social Inclusion for English Heritage, “but it is fascinating to see how many links remain in the buildings and memorials around us.”

Sites in the new guide include the grave of an unknown slave in Lancaster where flowers are still left on the memorial and Britain’s oldest anti-slavery memorial, a grand arch in Paganhill, Stroud.

photo of part of a stone archway with engraved words

The arch in Stroud commemorating slavery in the British colonies. © English Heritage

The weekend of March 24-25 will also see a range of events from walks, talks and workshops to exhibition openings. A selection are outlined below, but check individual museum listings on the 24 Hour Museum or Abolition200 for more events.

Hull’s Wilberforce House, the first museum in Britain to tackle the subject of slavery and home to MP campaigner William Wilberforce for most of his life, reopens following a £1.6million refurbishment and the creation of a brand new exhibition, on March 25 at 2.30pm. The prime minister of Barbados, the Right Hon Owen Arthur, will be doing the honours.

Greater Manchester Galleries and Museums is launching a year of bicentenary activities with several events over the weekend. The Manchester Museum is holding free workshops and performances on both days, where children and adults can learn the African Mami Dance and follow a promenade performance exploring slavery as the foundation of prosperity and Empire.

A key question raised will be if cotton was the life-blood of Manchester, does it matter how it got there? ‘This Accursed Thing’ performances suitable for families are at 12pm and 1.30pm and a specifically adult performances are at 3pm. Book free places on 0161 275 2634.

Gallery Oldham, Touchstones Rochdale, the People’s History Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, Bolton Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester are all holding slave trade-related events over the weekend. See the museums’ individual listings or go to to find out more.

photo of a man in African dress

This Accursed Thing at Manchester Museum. Courtesy Manchester Museum

David Lammy MP will stop in Liverpool on a tour of the country to see what bicentenary events are taking place. During the visit on March 24 he will hear about plans for the forthcoming International Slavery Museum and see how local schools have been addressing the legacy of the slave trade through involvement in two projects: ‘Make the Link, Break the Chain’ and ‘Tackling Racism’.

The Tackling Racism project led to year nine pupils from New Heyes School creating a film about racism and identity to be displayed on the International Slavery Museum’s Freedom Wall. The Museum is due to open in August 2007.

Sheffield Archives and Sheffield Hallam University are holding a workshop and discussion from 1pm to 4pm exploring the city’s connections with abolition. Topics will include the support for abolition by working men in the metal trades, testimonies of slaves and ex-slaves and the emergence of the Sheffield Anti-Slavery Society and the Sheffield Ladies Anti-Slavery Society in 1824. The event is free and will be held in Room 942, Owen Building, Sheffield Hallam University. Simply turn up.

Shows a photo of the exterior of a large red-brick building with a neo-classical portico on the front. The words Transatlantic Slavery Centre have been superimposed onto it.

The former Dock Traffic Office on Liverpool's historic waterfront will be transformed into the new museum. © Austin Smith-Lord

The Beacon in Whitehaven, Cumbria, is opening a new exhibition on March 24 of works by artist from South Africa and the UK. The works all deal with the impact and legacy of slavery and enforced migration, exploring cross-cultural identities and contemporary issues around migration and asylum-seekers.

Glasgow Story – a snapshot of African Caribbean life in Glasgow today is open at St Mungo Museum, featuring photography by Roddy Mackay. The display, running until July 29, is part of Glasgow Museums’ Towards Understanding Slavery initiative.

Back down in the South, the Historic Dockyard Chatham will open a new exhibition on March 25 entitled Freedom 1807 – The Chatham Dockyard Story. It will take a different look at the history of Chatham in the context of the slave trade, from dockyard ‘founder’ John Hawkins - the leader of the first English expedition to transport West African people to the Americas, to the work of Chatham-built ships in policing the slave trade post-abolition, and the hidden history of people from ethnic minorities who served with the Royal Navy or worked in the dockyard.

oil painting of a man with grey hair holding a quill and scroll

William Wilberforce. Courtesy Wilberforce House

The British Library, London, is opening a small display of books and documents on March 24, entitled Enslavement & the Struggle for Liberation, including the 1789 first edition of ‘The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African’. This is the autobiography of an enslaved African who bought his own freedom and settled in England. The display runs until July 1 in the John Ritblat Gallery.

On March 24 and 25, join local historian and writer Steve Martin for a walk on the theme of Lambeth and the Abolition. The Lambeth Archives walk will visit the sites of houses that belonged to plantation and slave owning families, and look at the abolitionists the Clapham Sect and the story of the African Academy, home to schoolboys from Sierra Leone and Jamaica from 1802. Meet outside Holy Trinity Church, Clapham Common, 4pm.

photo of a large artwork made of plastic petrol cans on the floor and one at the front made to look like it has a crown

Romauld Hazoume, La Bouche du Roi (Mouth of the King). Courtesy the British Museum

The British Museum has just unveiled its new acquisition, La Bouche du Roi, by artist Romauld Hazoumé from the Republic of Benin, West Africa. The multimedia artwork is based on famous late 18th-century print of the Liverpool slave ship the Brookes and comprises plastic petrol cans with concealed speakers that allows the piece to speak to the audience, not just about the slave trade more than 200 years before but about economic slavery in the 21st century.

The Museum will also be hosting an event on March 25 entitled Resistance and Remembrance, from 2pm-6.30pm.

“On 25 March, we will remember – through testimony, poetry and spoken word; through music, film, movement, a gathering of youth and above all, in silent, private meditation – all those who lost their lives and all those who struggled to live,” explained Trustee Bonnie Greer.

“Resistance and Remembrance is a day to remember the past, to live in the present, and to look to the future. A day for the entire family – the human family.”

The day will culminate in a ceremony of remembrance (5.30pm) featuring a telecast of a special message from Nelson Mandela.

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