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Black history in rural Wiltshire

A man whose ancestors are buried in his local village wanted to restore the graveyard, but he also had an interest in the history of slavery, and knew that the founders of his church had strong commitments to ending slavery in the Caribbean.

 

Graham Douglas

 

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Nigel Pocock

From this happy accident the East Tytherton Heritage Project was born, and its discoveries about how black people lived in rural England will be the subject of a one day conference on September 14th  2013.

Nigel Pocock graduated with an M.Phil in Psychology of Religion from Lampeter University, his published work on slavery includes many journal articles, twenty monographs and two books in preparation.

The East Tytherton Heritage Project (ETHP) began in 2007, and has made original discoveries about slaves who were brought to England from Antigua, and are buried in the village churchyard.

Nigel Pocock Black history (16)Nigel enthuses to The Prisma about the project’s work in uncovering the unsuspected stories of black people in rural England after the end of slavery. A small part of a big mosaic of black history.

 

Why do you consider this event important?

The gravestone of Antiguan slave Leonora Casey Carr is the only one known of an ex-slave in Wiltshire. It is therefore nationally important. There is also the associated history of four other girls, all from Antigua at the same time as Leonora, Ann, Sarah, Eliza and Alicia Briggs. Only Alicia was not a slave.

They are not buried in East Tytherton, where we are holding the conference, but were in the Moravian School, where they all studied, and probably became part of what was known as the ‘Single Sisters’ Choir-house’ – a community of Moravian women, who were largely self-supporting through needle-work and related crafts.

 

Nigel Pocock Black history (7)
Corinne Pocock

The event is important for social and psychological reasons: the bigger picture of the history of Black people in the county.

The experience of many slaves must have been like you or I suddenly finding that while we were away, our homes had been burned down, and everything about us destroyed – our passports, all our work, our computer hard drives and backups, family and personal photos – everything.

I am now without an identity. All is gone. It is here that the hard work and search to reconstruct that identity becomes an urgent new task, which might take years, and indeed, never be completed. Our conference is like this. A small part in the jig-saw of Black identity and history, for the two cannot be separated. Towards this end, we will be looking at recent research on Black people in Wiltshire from about 1500 onwards, their impact on the military (Wiltshire being a county important for its military bases and airfields) and other matters.

 

Nigel Pocock Black history (1)Who will it appeal to?

A wide range of people, including academics (although it is not primarily aimed at them – new findings will be presented), activists, and ‘ordinary people’ interested in local history and family history. There is material here for both Black and White communities, and the event is addressed to both.

 

Who were the Moravians?

Moravia was a part of the former Czechoslovakia, and the Moravian church linked up with John Wesley in the campaign against the slave trade.

Nigel Pocock Black history (2)Although not wishing to take part in the parliamentary campaign they worked alongside slaves on plantations in the Caribbean, and became one of the most influential churches there. They believed in the importance of education and one of their teachers, the Irish Bishop George Henry Hanna (1834-1901) is also buried in East Tytherton.

 

Were black people in Wiltshire because of the slave trade in Bristol?

I doubt if any research has been done that can answer this question with precision. But, since Bristol is the nearest trading port with the Caribbean, and it was one of the largest cities in England in the eighteenth century, it would be unsurprising if Black people found their way from Bristol.

Given the all-pervasive tentacles of the slave trade, it is all too likely that many of the Black people in Wiltshire at the time found themselves in England against their will. Statistically, the majority of slaves came from the region near to Angola, followed by the area now known as Ghana and Nigeria. While slaves came from ports in these regions, very likely they had been marched hundreds of miles from the interior, and were not necessarily from the coast.

 

Nigel Pocock Black history (20)Why are you holding the event now, when Black History Month in the UK is in October?

Simply because September is when people are back from their summer holidays; the weather is still nice enough for people to be outdoors (part of our event involves a guided tour); and, finally, there is space outside for children.

 

Do British people understand the role of slavery in the industrial revolution?

This is the classic view of Eric Williams, (historian and former Prime Minister of Trinidad). The answer is no, they do not. And amongst academics this is controversial.  Most of the planters did not invest in factories and the like in England (and actually resisted modernising technology in say, Antigua), but rather in grand houses. Fonthill, near Salisbury, is the classic folly of this kind, associated with the nouveau riches – the Beckfords.

Nigel Pocock Black history (6)What is beyond doubt is that the wealth generated by the West Indies and associated trades was crucial to the British economy, banking (many of the major banks are built on slaving and sugar, through smaller banks that they bought up) and related industries like insurance (e.g., Lloyds).

Tobacco, cotton, rice, indigo, rubber, and other products were all slave-produced, sometimes almost entirely so.

 

What kind of experience would black people have had in Wiltshire in the 19th century, compared to the cities in the UK?

Most Black people in England lived in the cities and London in particular. In Wiltshire most were probably working in the big houses and stately homes of the aristocracy and nouveau riches. They were often kept as ‘novelties’, and can be seen in the background of many paintings, including Hogarth’s work.

Nigel Pocock Black history (4)Terry Bracher, who comes from Trinidad, and works at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, is compiling a database of various black people in Wiltshire, and this is still in its early stages. In the great houses of England such Africans would have had a gracious life compared with the chronically poor begging on the streets of London, of whom there were many. Inevitably, it is the history of educated and successful people we hear about; the uneducated poor sink without trace, except for an occasional newspaper report or death record.

A new project, Wiltshire Hidden Presence, is exploring the lives of black people in rural areas of England.

 

Nigel Pocock Black history (14)A book is being launched at the meeting

It has been delayed until next year. It is the story of Leonora Casey Carr, and the four Briggs sisters, all of whom were at the Moravian Girls School in East Tytherton.

Leonora died there, at the age of 28 years, and this is the only known gravestone of someone who had been slave so far discovered in the county. All of these girls were from Antigua, and only the youngest of the Briggs sisters escaped being a slave.

This story is part of the history, and therefore the identity, of African Caribbean people in England.

 

Nigel Pocock Black history (17)When were these people freed from slavery?

Leonora and her fellow student were ‘manumitted’, that is, freed, in 1817.

 

The gravestone shows that one of them died aged 28, what was the cause of her death?

We don’t know the cause of Leonora’s death, at age 28, or that of Eliza Briggs, aged 19 years. The probability favours tuberculosis, as this was by far the main cause of death in this age group and gender, although it could obviously have been some other cause.

 

NOTE: For more information and booking:  pococks@rockuk.net  – Telephone 0208 778 4407.

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2 Comments

  1. Maria Estrela

    So interesting. I really enjoyed reading it. It’s only fair that these people are remembered. Nice piece of work.

  2. Malcolm Wade

    I agree with Maria — very interesting.

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