Lancasters Not So Forgotten Past

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The recent wave of protests in America following the killing of George Floyd has prompted a new wave of outrage that has spread over the entirety of America and across the world. In the UK, the Black Lives Matter movement has had a profound impact on daily discourse and sparked conversations which the nation has long ignored. Issues from changing curriculums to include more about Britain’s colonial past to the tearing down of statues has gripped the nation. Lancaster hasn’t escaped scrutiny. Lancaster was the fourth largest slave port behind Liverpool, Bristol and London. The wealth of the entire district spread from the trade with the West Indies and North America. This trade involved the forced shipment of Black African men, women and children from 1736 until the Slave Trade Act in 1807. 

In Lancaster itself, there needs to be an honest look at the past. There have been several protests in Dalton Square and the Rawlinson family memorial was graffitied recently with the words ‘Slave Trader’. To give some background to the graffiti, the Rawlinson family were enormously wealthy due to their involvement in the slave trade. Many of the landmarks in Lancaster have been named after slave traders such as ‘Lindlow Square’ which is named after William Lindlow. Lindlow earned himself a very large sum in compensation when slavery was outlawed- it took taxpayers 182 years to pay off the debt from paying all slaveholders compensation.

There does need to be more discussion with the Lancaster City Council over the potential renaming of these streets and squares. One way in which this awareness will be able to grow is with the Lancaster Slave Trade, Abolition and Fair Trade Trail that is being updated to have a fresh route in summer. On this trail, you will be able to walk around Lancaster and understand the city’s past through historic landmarks related to the abolition of slavery.

Professor Imogen Tyler of Lancaster University has been particularly vocal about Lancasters past. In a series of tweets, she explained how the first cotton mills in Lancaster was built by Thomas Hodgson in 1783 off the back of 30 years of slave trading. He and his brother John are reported to have been involved with the capture and sale of 14,000 people before setting up the first cotton mills. These dark aspects of our national history need to be examined and understood. The protests surrounding institutional racism within our culture- need to continue, this is not just an issue in America, it is an issue for us here in the UK and for people across the world too. As the momentum gathered by the wave of protests slows, which it will like the discussion around the climate strikes, there needs to be a concerted effort to not forget the core part of this issue- institutionalised and systematic racism still exists. This movement was not founded on censoring TV shows like ‘Fawlty Towers’ or even on tearing down the statues of slave owners. It started because in the US, police brutality is common and just one branch of the systematic racism in our society. If you wish to learn more about the history of slavery in Lancaster I highly recommend looking at Professor Imogen Tyler’s article ‘Decolonising Lancaster: a Preliminary Resource’ it links far more articles to understand the issue further.

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