Reflections on Slavery & the Bank

Hear what visitors have to say about our exhibition Slavery & the Bank
Published on 27 October 2023


Kirsty Parsons, Exhibition Manager

This Black History Month marks 18 months since we opened our exhibition Slavery & the Bank, making this a timely moment to reflect on visitor responses to the exhibition so far.

This exhibition has elicited a strong and varied reaction from our visitors, who are interested to know how the Bank of England is dealing with this part of its, and Britain’s, past. As one of the first City institutions to publicly talk about its links to transatlantic slavery and the slave trade, the research that went into the exhibition received a lot of attention.

The exhibition aimed to present what we knew so far about the Bank’s links to transatlantic slavery and the slave trade. We created it to open a conversation about how the financial sector and economy was historically connected to Britain’s role in transatlantic slavery.

What we’ve learned from you

We’ve had meaningful and insightful conversations with visitors throughout the run of the exhibition – on social media, at events and through conversations in the gallery. One of the main ways we’ve heard from you was in the Museum itself through visitor response cards. There are five different prompts to choose from and below are some examples of the comments we’ve had for each:

I came to the exhibition to…

‘…see how true to real history this exhibition was.’

 ‘…learn about the bank and discovered about the involvement of slavery!! I never thought about how slavery could be a part of the financial system as well!’

I was curious about…

  ‘…the economic climate and culture in African countries before the slave trade (because we don't hear that side), compared with now after slavery.’

‘…the recognition of the impact of slavery on human lives. Recognising and accepting the part played is only the start of putting things right!!!’

I never knew…

 ‘…how deep the slave trade went into society. How many developments and innovations of the era were funded at least in part by slave money.’

 ‘…compensation was promised to slave owners and was given - yet no money went to those who were enslaved.’

The exhibition made me feel…

 ‘…relieved that finally the role of the Bank of England & its governors in financing & benefitting from the slave trade is being acknowledged. Long overdue! This must be shared by all Britons.’ 

‘…both anger and humility standing and reading the names of possible ancestors!’

What next?

 ‘…we keep talking and breaking down racism.’

 ‘…financial institutions becoming more inclusive and working in partnership with countries who were impacted by the slave trade.’

‘The exhibition made me feel…’ and ‘What next?’ have been the most used response cards. Visitors have been using these prompts to tell us about the exhibition and the Bank’s and Britain’s role in transatlantic slavery made them feel, as well as share their personal family history. When responding to the ‘What next?’ card, visitors reveal their hopes for the future of society in Britain and the future of the countries affected by transatlantic slavery and the slave trade.

We have had many visitors say they came to see how honest we would be in telling this history. For another large section of our visitors, this was the first time they have explored the financial impact of slavery. For everyone we’ve heard from though, one thing is clear – raising awareness is important, but exhibitions like this are only the starting point. We really appreciate the sincerity of these responses. 

So… what next?

One of the big questions from visitors is whether the exhibition will be made permanent. Especially as, until now, this part of the Bank’s history hadn’t been addressed anywhere in the Museum displays.

While it’s a temporary exhibition, and so will come down to make way for the next one, we’re committed to incorporating the information from the exhibition into the Museum’s permanent displays. We’re also going to keep the exhibition’s online resources available on our website after the exhibition comes down. Feedback we’ve received from visitors about the exhibition will affect how we cover this topic in the permanent displays, so watch this space.

And of course, where abolition is not the end of the story when it comes to the history of transatlantic slavery, this exhibition is not the end of the story when it comes to the Museum’s work on this topic. We’re continuing research into the collection and are improving the cataloguing to better identify objects with links to colonialism and transatlantic slavery. We’ve also concentrated on enhancing the information about portraits of former Governors and Directors of the Bank of England with connections to transatlantic slavery. This information is available on each portrait’s Art UK listing, so it’s accessible to the public.

From the entire museum team to each of our visitors, thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, wishes, and knowledge with us. We value your contributions and look forward to hearing more in the final months of the exhibition.