Throughout time Bristol has played a key role in events, ideas and literature that have shaped people’s freedom and parliamentary reform. Previously these topics have been neglected because they don’t quite fit the national narrative. The narrative has to change for the 21st Century. By recognising this there’s a great chance Bristol can lead the way.
For a fleeting moment there’s a golden opportunity to make it happen; a vital retelling of the role Bristol has played on the world stage.
Currently lying empty, O & M Sheds are awaiting redevelopment and strategically positioned exactly where this 1000 year history happened; Wulfstan and Clarkson investigating the slave trade 700 years apart, the epicentre of the 1831 Reform Riots, the start of radical literature Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels and Treasure Island.
Local residents have come up with the superb idea of a History Hub. Due to the unique history of this area the idea has developed into a scheme to create a much needed Slave Trade memorial, museum and visitor centre. Three rooms each dedicated to its own related and inter-related topic; one large Abolition Room and two smaller rooms for Reform and, through Robert Louis Stevenson, the part played by ideas, art and literature. A spur to other related visual arts and beliefs.
The last undeveloped part of Bristol’s historic Floating Harbour, O & M Sheds are on the quayside at Welsh Back, between Queen Square and the river Avon, adjacent to Redcliff Bridge and on the Brunel Mile from Temple Meads to Millennium Square. The sheds are positioned either side of locations ‘C’ & ‘D’ of the Treasure Island Trail which takes people from historic King Street to M Shed and are in the perfect place to enhance the ‘String of Pearls’ of visitor attractions along the dockside.
Nowhere else in the world can offer this combination of history and locale.
For Abolition we can connect with London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Nantes (France), the West Coast of Africa, Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, Nevis, St Kitts and the US. This is also particularly timely and could be a great way for Bristol to acknowledge the UN declared International Decade of People of African Descent. http://www.un.org/en/events/africandescentdecade/slave-trade.shtml
For Reform Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham and Peterloo, Manchester.
Historical: just yards away, and by preaching every Sunday for months on end, St Wulfstan got the 400 year old slave trade between Bristol and Dublin banned in 1090. In the 12th Century king Henry II used resumption in this trade to seize Ireland.
From these very quaysides Bristol merchants led the way with exploration of the new world from the 15th Century and dallied with the African slave trade from as early as the 16th Century.
In the 17th Century ‘legal’ access was gained to the African trade. From the 1640’s non-conformists such as Baptists and Quakers spoke out against slavery in all of its forms, including a ‘Blackymore Maide’ named Francis who actually hailed from Welsh Back. Many were persecuted and made great sacrifices.
Early in the 18th Century Bristol pirates and privateers inspired the works of Defoe and Swift; abandonment, pro and anti colonialism respectively. Inspiring RLS to explore topics such as duality (good and bad in Silver and Dr Jekyll) and kidnapping. The creation of literatures first ever Treasure Map in King Street.
The late 18th Century saw the growth of anti-slavery sentiment through John Wesley and Thomas Clarkson, both of whom had valuable local assistance. This led directly to Abolition throughout the British Empire in 1807 and Emancipation in 1838.
Finally there was Reform, culminating in the Queen Square Reform Riots of 1831 where many hundreds of Bristolians died. Emancipation eventually happened because of three things coming together: –
- Slave Rebellions
- Anti-slavery Societies & Literature (Hannah More, Ann Yearsley, Coleridge)
- Parliamentary Reform (Pro-slavery MP’s losing their seats)
Emotional: a long overdue Slave Trade Memorial so that people can remember and reflect, contemplate and heal – on the quayside adjacent to the old Redcliff Ferry slipway in full view of King William’s statue in the centre of Queen Square. Additional sight lines from Bristol Bridge, Redcliff Bridge and across the water from the Exploration sculpture – near the Seven Stars where Clarkson was based.
Educational: Knowing where we have been can help to understand and mitigate current legacies of the Transatlantic slave trade such as institutional racism and Afriphobia. Abolition Shed will be a learning centre for children and adults, schools and universities, locals and visitors, acknowledging Bristol’s development and the actions of all its citizens; previously, currently and in the future.