Lasting Legacies: Reminders of Slavery around the UK

Learn about the legacy of slavery in Liverpool and Bath
Published on 28 October 2022


Kirsty Parsons, Exhibitions Manager

The Bank of England’s head office has always been in London, but from the 1800s it began opening regional branches across the UK which provided banking and financial services for individuals and organisations outside of London. This was especially important for manufacturing and commercial centres such as Liverpool and Birmingham. 

Like London, other places across the UK are linked to the transatlantic slave trade.

‘Liverpool, South West Prospect’ by Samuel Buck, 1728. Bank of England Museum: 822

‘Liverpool – view of the port’ by Richard Reeve, about 1836. Bank of England Museum: 1993/337

Although London and Bristol were initially Britain’s key slave trading ports, by 1740 Liverpool began to dominate in this area. These prints are from 1728 and 1836 and show the development of Liverpool’s docks. Between 1695 and 1807 there were 5,300 voyages from Liverpool to Africa. This compares to 3,100 from London and 2,200 from Bristol in the same period.

But it wasn’t just the docks that saw investment from the wealth generated from these voyages. Involvement in slavery and the slave trade gave those involved wealth and status in society, and this wealth was often invested into their local area. These people, often merchants, could be customers of the Bank of England, as it was a private company before 1946, which gave them access to bank accounts and to credit services.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway is an example of such investment. Its creation sped up the process of getting cotton from the docks in Liverpool to the mills in Manchester and then getting the finished textiles back to Liverpool to be shipped all over the world.

These industrial links sometimes involved people very close to the Bank of England. Take for example Samuel Hibbert. Hibbert was Director of the Bank of England five times between 1820 and 1833. He was also Director and Chair of the West India Dock Company, and oversaw the expansion of the docklands in London that supported Britain’s involvement in international trade and increased capacity for slave-produced goods to be imported into London.

Historically, the Hibbert family manufactured cotton goods in Manchester, shipping them to West Africa as part of the triangular trade. In Jamaica, the Hibberts bought enslaved people from arriving ships and sold them on to plantations. They also owned and ran plantations themselves.

The cotton used by the Hibbert family would most likely have arrived at the docks of Liverpool, having been shipped from plantations in the Caribbean and America.

Bath halfpenny local token, 1794. Bank of England Museum: C637/056

It’s not just port cities that were built on the wealth generated by the slave trade. Bristol’s connections to the transatlantic slave trade are well known, but its land-locked neighbour Bath also benefitted from the money and products of enslaved labour.

Plantation owners and those involved in the slave trade poured their money into the local economy; particularly adding to its famous architectural landscape. This local token is from 1794 and links to Bath’s status as a spa town and to the wide availability of luxury plantation-grown goods, like tea and sugar. Bath became a popular leisure destination.

Bath residents also benefitted from this influx of money and their own wealth generated through slavery and the slave trade. For example, William Beckford (1760-1844) inherited the wealth of three generations of his ancestors, who were sugar planters in Jamaica owning 13 plantations and over 1,000 enslaved people. Beckford built the Gothic ‘abbey’ at Fonthill and Beckford’s Tower. At 120 feet high, Beckford’s Tower has uninterrupted views over Bath and was used by Beckford as a study retreat and as a place to store his vast collection of art, rare books and other precious items.

Eventually, Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, but slavery as an institution was not abolished until 1833. These examples show the lasting legacy of slavery on a city. How might this be reflected in your own home town? How might it have been shaped by Britain’s involvement in transatlantic slavery?

Want to learn more about the legacy of transatlantic slavery in Britain? Visit our exhibition, Slavery & the Bank.