Posts Tagged ‘Dover’

Two Books Showing Bristol Has Not Kept Secret Its Involvement in the Slave Trade

June 6, 2019

The week before last, Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns was in Bristol, examining its history in the Georgian period. The show’s presented by Dr. Alice Roberts, who I believe is the Professor for the Public Engagement with Science at Birmingham University. She’s had a long career in television presenting programmes on archaeology, history and human evolution, beginning in the 1980s with Time Team. She’s a medical doctor, who I believe also taught anatomy at Bristol University. She regularly appeared on Time Team to give her opinion on any human remains that were recovered during their escavations.

Channel 4’s ‘Britain’s Most Historic Towns’

Time Team was finally cancelled after a very successful run several years ago, but like its presenter Tony Robinson, Roberts has continued fronting history and archaeology programmes. Each week the show visits a different British town and explores a specific period of its history. Roberts tours the town, talking to experts on its history and architecture during the period, and very often tries on the ladies’ costume at the time. Last year among the various towns the series covered was Cheltenham during its heyday as a regency spa. This year’s series started off with Dover, concentrating on it history during World War II. Last week it was looking at Cardiff in the early part of the 20th century, when the city became the major centre of the global coal industry. And the week before that they were in Bristol, telling its history during the Georgian period. Roberts has a personal connection to the city, as it’s her home town and she went to school here. She also had a personal connection to Cardiff, as it was at its university that she studied medicine.

Georgian Bristol

During the Georgian period – the age of the four Georges, from the early 18th century to the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 – Bristol was one of the leading cities in Britain. It’s a port, whose location on the Bristol Channel gave it an excellent position for trading with Africa and America. The programme covered other aspects of Bristol’s history during the period, like the emergence of gin, the 1827 massacre by the army in Queen’s Square in Redcliffe of a mob demanding electoral reform, and the development of the Clifton and Hotwells suburbs as genteel residential areas for the city’s new mercantile elite. But Bristol’s wealth at the time was largely produced from the immense profits from the slave trade. Ships from Bristol took trade goods down to west Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. These were then taken to the West Indies to be sold, and the ships returned to Bristol with West Indian goods like sugar and rum in what has become known as the triangular trade. And it was on this aspect of Bristol’s Georgian history that the programme concentrated.

The show is well done and the research is very thorough. Among those Roberts talked to was Dr. Steve Poole, a lecturer at the University of the West of England; a member of Bristol’s Radical History Group, who talked about the Queen’s Square Massacre; and a couple of distillers, who showed her how 18th century gin was made. She also talked to Dr. Edson Burnett about the slave trade, going through some of the ledgers left by the slavers itemising their ships’ human cargo in the city archives. Some of these are really shocking. They simply give the number of slaves shipped aboard, and the deaths during the voyage. Those taken were simply items of merchandise, with no names. The ledgers give brief descriptions of those who died and how the body was disposed of. They were simply thrown over the side. One of the most horrendous incidents was the scandal surrounding the Zong, a slave ship, which threw its entire cargo of slaves overboard during a storm, and then tried to sue the insurance company for compensation for them as lost cargo. It’s a horrific atrocity and injustice. She also mentioned how a number of plays were written during the 18th century attacking the slave trade, many of which were set in Bristol. She then spoke to the writer and artistic director of a modern play about the trade being staged by Bristol’s historic Old Vic theatre.

Bristol and the Slave Trade

The programme’s coverage of Bristol’s history during the period was fair, although there was much obviously left out because of the constraints of the programme’s length. It’s an hour long, and it could easily take that long to discuss the city’s involvement with the slave trade and some of the architecture that was built for the merchants involved in the trade. As it was, the programme showed only one of them, the house of George Pinney, a 19th century West India planter and merchant. This is now a museum, the Georgian House, open to the public in one of the streets just off Park Street. However, Roberts opened the discussion of the city’s complicity in the slave trade with a statement that was simply wrong. She said that it was a terrible secret.

Exhibitions

Well, if Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade is a secret, then it’s a very badly kept one! Bristol’s M Shed museum, which takes visitors through the city’s history and some of its industries, including aircraft and motor vehicles built here, has a display on the slave trade. This shows not only slave manacles and the manillas, bracelet-like items used for barter, but also maps of homes and other properties owned and occupied by the slave merchants and plantation owners. This follows an earlier exhibit at the City Museum in Queen Street, ‘A Respectable Trade’, which was timed to coincide with the TV series of that name on BBC 1, based on the book by historical novelist Philippa Gregory. The book and TV series were about the slave trade, and much of it was set in the Bristol of the time. The exhibition was staged by local council and showed the historical reality on which the fiction was based. Gregory also appeared in a TV programme at the time, exploring the city’s connection to the slave trade, in which she spoke to several Black anti-racist activists.

Books and Pamphlets

Since then there have been a number of books published on Bristol and the slave trade. The city library has published a catalogue of books and other materials it holds on the subject.  There has also been a book published on the City in 1807, the year in which the slave trade was officially prohibited throughout the British Empire. Dr. Madge Dresser, a historian at the University of the West of England, has also published a book, Slavery Obscured, on the persistence of the slave trade after its formal abolition, in which merchants from Bristol were involved. And back in the 1990s the local branch of the Historical Association published a booklet on Bristol’s Black population in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Society of Merchant Venturers, the mercantile organisation that dominated Bristol’s trade in that period, has also published a catalogue of its holdings, which included it’s members’ plantations in the West Indies.

Origin of Belief Bristol Keeping Slave Trade Connection Secret

I’ve been told by members of the city’s Black cultural and anti-racist organisations that the idea that the city council is somehow covering up the city’s involvement in the slave trade dates from the 1970s. A member of the community rang the council up to inquire about what they knew about Bristol and the slave trade, only to be told that the city wasn’t involved in it. Which is wrong. I wonder if the person, who answered the call genuinely didn’t know about Bristol’s history of slaving. But whatever the reality, this planted the idea that the city council was deliberating hiding the truth. I think it was partly to dispel this idea that the City Museum staged the 1995 exhibition.

Two Books on Bristol from the 1950s and 1970s

But even before then, the city’s involvement in the slave trade was known and discussed. For example, the book Bristol and Its Adjoining Counties, edited by C.M. MacInnes and W.F. Whittard, and published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955, has several pages on the slave trade in the chapter by MacInnes, ‘Bristol and Overseas Expansion’, pp. 219-230.

The 1975 textbook, Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey, published by Georges, also covers the slave trade in its chapter on city’s 18th century trade, pp. 31-2. All the chapters are a page or so in length, with another page suggesting projects or containing questions for students on that period of the city’s history. The paragraph on the slave trade runs

Unfortunately, Bristol was better known at this time for its links with the slave trade. The “Blackbirds” sailed to Africa with various goods, exchanged them for slaves which were then shipped to the West Indies or North America. The ships then returned home iwth sugar and tobacco, the whole “Triangular Trade” bringing enormous profits to many Bristol merchants. Before 1760, Bristol carried about one-third of all the slaves, but this number died away by the end of the century as the anti-slavery movement made progress. (p. 31).

Few Obvious Monuments to Slave Trade in City

I also think that part of this misconception may come from the fact that there are few monuments from the time that obviously have direct connections to the slave trade. When I was studying archaeology at Bristol, one of the foreign students on the archaeology course complained to one of the lecturers that her housemate believed Bristol was racist, because there were no monuments for the slaves. The housemate was another foreign student, from Guiana, where I believe the buildings for landing and sale of slaves still exist. I think the student expected similar buildings to exist in Bristol. But they don’t, as the bulk of the city’s slave trade was with the West Indies. There were slaves in Bristol, but these were brought to the city as personal servants, rather than imported en masse as they were in the Caribbean.

Historic Buildings and Later Monuments Connected to Slaves and Slave Trade

However, there are architectural hints at the city’s connection to the slave trade all around. The city’s merchants decorated the exterior of their homes with carvings symbolising their connection to Africa or the Caribbean, such as pineapples. There are also coloured statues, representing the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas in St. Nicholas Market, one of which is a Black African. And several of the city’s pubs also claim a direct connection to the trade. The Ostrich, one of the pubs on the harbourside, had a cellar, in which, it was claimed, slaves were held ready for sale. When I used to drink there in the 1990s there was a poster up about it, along with reproductions of the advertisements of the time for runaway slaves. However, it may be the reality here was more prosaic. The 1995 exhibition said that many the connection of many of parts of Bristol to the slave trade may just be urban folklore. Blackboy Hill, for example, is probably not named after a slave boy, but possibly a racehorse owned by Charles II. The city has also made other gestures to commemorating the victims of the slave trade. There’s a slave walk along Bristol’s docks, and a plaque put up to those enslaved by city on one of the former warehouses by M Shed. A remarkable bridge built across the docks in the 1990s, which features two horn-like constructions, has been called ‘Pero’s Bridge’, after one of the slaves imported into Bristol. And there is a gravestone for Scipio, an African slave brought to the city by his master in one of the city’s churchyards.

Bristol has a very rich and fascinating history, of which the slave trade is one part. It’s a history that definitely needs to be told. And it has only been within the last quarter century or so that the slave trade has been memorialised in local museums, not just in Bristol, but also elsewhere. Bristol has joined Liverpool and Nantes in France in creating exhibitions and galleries on its involvement in the trade. Before then it’s fair to say that City Museum did not display anything on the slave trade. It was a period of the city’s history that most Bristolians probably would have preferred not to commemorate, but it was never forgotten nor kept hidden.

 

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RT: McDonnell States Labour Will Take Back Rail, Water, Energy and Royal Mail

September 25, 2017

I’m giving this clip from RT’s coverage of the Labour party conference a massive thumbs-up. It’s a short clip of McDonnell stating that they intend to back rail, water, energy and the Royal Mail to give them to the people, who actually use and work in them. They aim to save the country and industry from the Tories’ mixture of belligerence and incompetence. And their commitment to a fairer society does not end at Dover. Just as they want a Britain for the many, and not the few, so they want a Europe for the many and not the few. This means, while respecting the results of the Brexit referendum, they will be working with our European partners during the transition period. And they will stop the Tories’ brutal treatment of immigrants.

Now we’re going to hear the screams and angry wailing from the neoliberals – the Tories, the Lib Dems and the Blairites. They’ll all start ranting now about how this is just discredited ‘Trotskyism’, that will wreck the wonderful, strong economy nearly four decades of Thatcherism has created. And, of course, the Tories, whose cabinet is stuffed with toffs and millionaires, will immediately start claiming that it will make working people poorer.

It’s none of these things. It’s good, solid, traditional Labour policy. The type of policies that gave this country decades of economic growth and higher standards for working people after the war. This was a Labour party that ensured that there was a real welfare state to look after the poor, that unions did represent the working man and woman against exploitation by their employer, and that an increasing number of young people could go on to uni without worrying about acquiring tens of thousands of pounds of debt at the end of it.

And if Labour does, as I fervently hope, renationalize those industries, I would very much like a form of workers’ control implemented in them. One reason why the Tories were able to privatize these industries was because, when Labour nationalized them after the Second World War, the party was too timid in the form nationalization took. The state took over the ownership of these industries, but otherwise left the existing management structures intact. This disappointed many trade unionists and socialists, who hoped that nationalization would mean that the people, who actually worked in these industries would also play a part in their management.

I’ve no doubt that if such plans were drawn up, all you’d hear from the Tories and the other parties would be yells about surrendering to the union barons, along with Thatcherite ravings about the Winter of Discontent and all the other trite bilge. But as May herself promised that she would put workers in the boardroom – a policy, which she had absolutely no intention of honouring – the Tories can’t complain without being hypocritical.

As for the power of the trade unions, as Russell Brand points out in his piece attacking Rees-Mogg, most of the people now relying on food banks are the working poor, whose wages aren’t enough to stave off starvation. And one of the reasons why this is so is that the Tories and then the Blairites have done everything they can to break and destroy the unions, so that the owners of industry can pay the workers a pittance and sack them at will.

And the Tories are treating immigrants brutally. We’ve send them send the vans around and put up posters telling immigrants to hand themselves in. And there have been outbreak of violence at the detention centres for asylum seekers again and again because of racist violence and bullying by the outsourcing companies running, like Serco, or G4S or whoever. And this is quite apart from the sheer racist venom spouted by the Tory press – the Heil, Scum, Express and so on.

This is a fine speech with excellent policies. Policies that hopefully put an end to four decades of Thatcherite misery, poverty and exploitation.

Hope Not Hate: National Front in Terminal Decline

September 13, 2016

The National Front and various other parties on the far right always have been prone to factionalism and infighting over their long and inglorious career. This time, according to Matthew Collins in the anti-racism, anti-religious extremism organisation, Hope Not Hate, it’s become so intense and bitter that several of those in the NF itself are saying that it’s time the ‘party’ folded. If it does, it won’t be before time, for those Jews, Blacks, Asians, Leftists, trade unionists, gays, or simply anyone wanting to live in a decent country where people aren’t subjected to abuse and vilification because of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.

Collins describes how the NF always was synonymous with racism, emulation of the Nazis and violence, but under its new leadership also added to this toxic brew sexual abuse, drug-dealing and wife-beating. The feuding with other Nazis became worse after it allied itself with the North West Infidels, notorious for drug dealing, and the teenage Nazis of National Action. He states that a split in the party has been growing since they tried to stage a unity demonstration in Dover earlier this year. This was only successful in landing quite a few of the stormtroopers in jail. They had hoped their new leader, Dave MacDonald, would sort the party out. He hasn’t, and its membership of about 300 have been turning on each other in a series of feuds that have also taken in just about every other group on the Fascist fringe.

The group of squadristi, who meet in a chip shop in Halifax, have recommended that the NF merge with a group that split off from another group that split off from the EDL. The call for the party finally to wind itself up has been led by Mark Freeman. Freeman tried to organise a ‘White Lives Matter’ demonstration, but was told that the NF would not back it. He was then told he the head of a ‘renegade faction’. A Far Right conference held this weekend (10th-11th September 2016) to discuss Fascist leadership, has decided that any new group that should arise in the near future should be led by Mark Collett.

Collins concludes that ‘Of course, the NF will never die- not when there are still people wanting to buy tat or drugs. But even if it did, it’s hard to see even Collett recruiting from this cesspool.’

See: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/blog/insider/national-front-looks-terminal-5008

Tory Anti-Immigrant Cartoon from 1906

April 2, 2016

I was finally able to track down a history textbook containing a Tory anti-immigration cartoon aimed at the working class for the 1906 election. It’s reproduced in Martin Pugh, The Making of Modern British Politics 1867-1939 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1982) p. 84. Here it is:

Tory anti-Immigrant Cartoon

As you can see, it’s set in a factory, Schmidt & Co, Clothing & Boot Manufacturers, and shows a stout, upright British workman being shown the door by his fat foreign employer, while coming in the back way is a dishevelled foreigner, whose bags are marked ‘To England’, and ‘Steerage to England’.

The caption reads:

THE ALIEN EMPLOYER (to British workman): You can go now: Mine friend, who has just arrived, will do your work for half your wages.

The caption also notes that it came from the 1906 Tory protectionist pamphlet, Topical Tips for Typical Tykes.

I’ve discussed this cartoon before, when one of the commenters on this blog, Jess Owen, supplied a bit more information on it to me.

Apart from being generally anti-immigrant, there are also distinct anti-Semitic overtones. The term ‘alien’ on its own just means ‘foreigner’, but it was also used extensively in this period to mean specifically Jews. The exploitative employer is clearly meant to be one of the Ashkenazi Jews, speaking either Yiddish or German, who began to arrive in Britain en masse from the 1880s onwards fleeing persecution in the Russian Empire.

Unfortunately, the fears that manufacturers would sack British workers in favour of employing much cheaper immigrant labour weren’t always unjustified. The mass riots that broke out in 1909 across England against Chinese immigrant workers had their origins in the sacking by one of the northern businesses of its White workers in favour of Chinese. This episode cast a very long shadow over British politics. The deaths of the Chinese cocklers at Morecambe Bay and a group of 30 Chinese illegal immigrants, who were found dead in the back of a lorry at Dover, prompted the Independent columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Browne, to write a piece claiming that these two horrific incidents were part of a continuous British racist hatred of the Chinese dating back to the 1909 riots.

There have been similar strikes and protests about the introduction of cheap immigrant labour since, though the reality may often be very different from the simple racism attributed to them by the press. Owen Jones in his book, Chavs, discusses one such strike, which was presented in the press as racist British proles versus immigrant labourers. But the unions leading the strike were also very much concerned that the immigrants weren’t being paid the same wages that they should have been paid, if they were workers. They strike was also partly a struggle to give these workers equal treatment with the existing British staff.

Unfortunately, the Tories have been trying to stir up the same fears since they weren’t elected in 2010. Remember how they tried to compete with UKIP for the anti-immigrant vote by promising to strengthen anti-immigration legislation, and put up posters everywhere asking people to inform on illegal immigrants? And let’s not forget the posters they also pasted up, offering to repatriate illegal immigrants for free, if they wanted to hand themselves in.

So far, though, they haven’t tried to play on anti-immigrant sentiment in the Brexit debate. Or at least, not the same hysterical extent. They’re probably too worried about the fall-out they had from the last such attempts, as well as real fears that the beneficiaries of any attempt to work up xenophobia will be the hard Right, like the various goose-stepping Storm Troopers currently fouling the rest of Europe. The Far Right in this country has collapsed back to miniscule, squabbling grouplets and splinter organisations after looking like the might become a serious mass party. Nobody really wants that eventuality, so there seems to be a consensus at the moment not to hand them a weapon by starting a debate about the EU and immigration. But I do wonder how long it will last. And certainly, there is a lot of fear out there about mass immigration from Europe. So I’m left wondering how long it will be before the Tories feel secure enough to go back to using images and tactics like the above cartoon again.