Enslaved by History; in the Last in Our Series on Liverpool's International Slavery Museum, Historian and ECHO Columnist Laurence Westgaph Looks at the Legacy of Slavery in Liverpool

Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England), August 17, 2007 | Go to article overview

Enslaved by History; in the Last in Our Series on Liverpool's International Slavery Museum, Historian and ECHO Columnist Laurence Westgaph Looks at the Legacy of Slavery in Liverpool


Byline: Laurence Westgaph

THERE has been some controversy about the new International Slavery Museum, with some individuals and local groups actually opposing the opening of the new attraction.

I've found this quite hard to understand considering how important slavery was to the growth of Liverpool for more than 150 years.

Even though Liverpool was late into the slave trade, we benefited from slavery from the day the first ship docked in the port laden with tobacco and sugar. And Liverpool continued to benefit long into the 19th century, with the importation of cotton from the southern states of America.

There has been much disagreement about the profits accrued from the slave trade but, undoubtedly, slavery was the catalyst that changed Lancashire from a rural backwater to the first industrial region in the world, and made Liverpool the second city of the British Empire.

So what did slavery do for Liverpool?

Slavery helped build and maintain the very fabric of our great city, including the Town Hall, Reynolds Park, Sprinqwood, Otterspool Park and Walton Hall, to mention just a few. One of our remaining Georgian churches, St Mary's, Edge Hill, was built by Edward Mason, the son of a wealthy Liverpool slave trader, who used his inherited wealth to build and endow the church in 1812.

The Royal Institution building, which still stands today on Colquitt Street was the home of Thomas Parr, a Liverpool slaver. The Royal Institution was built for " The promotion of Literature, Science and the Arts" and is considered by some, as the forerunner of Liverpool University.

Many of the men who helped establish the Institution had links to slavery, either as former slave traders or owners of West Indian plantations that used slave labour.

In 1790, John Blackburne Junior, built his country house that, in 1844, would become the first high school for girls Blackburne House.

And it wasn't only our buildings: many of Liverpool's philanthropic institutions, some of which still survive to this day, were founded or supported by merchants who had made fortunes in the slave trade.

Liverpool's most outspoken abolitionist, Edward Rushton, established the School for the Blind, yet many of the benefactors of the institution were slave traders.

Men who grew fat from the proceeds of slavery also helped found the Liverpool Dispensary for the Sick, responsible for providing medicine to the poor.

Bryan Blundell, a trader in slave-produced tobacco and an owner of slave ships, founded the Blue Coat, Liverpool's oldest and most prestigious school. At least three generations of his family were involved in the trade. Even the great philanthropist, Joseph Williamson, builder of the tunnels at Edge Hill made his fortune in slave-produced tobacco.

The burgeoning industries of Liverpool benefited greatly from slavery. Ten prominent local slave merchants helped to found 10 of the 14 important Liverpool banks listed after 1750 and many other local bankers owned plantations in the West Indies.

By the 1780s, two out of every five British slave ships were built in Liverpool dockyards.

John Ashton and John Blackburne, the main shareholders in the Sankey Canal were salt merchants and slave traders. The canal revolutionised the transportation of coal from the collieries of St Helens to Liverpool; many of the coalmines were also owned by slavers.

The Liverpool to Manchester Railway was founded in part by Caribbean plantation owners like the Gladstones, Moss' and Earles. …

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Enslaved by History; in the Last in Our Series on Liverpool's International Slavery Museum, Historian and ECHO Columnist Laurence Westgaph Looks at the Legacy of Slavery in Liverpool
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