Engaging with the legacies of British slave-ownership
Submitting InstitutionUniversity College London
Unit of AssessmentHistory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Professor Catherine Hall and her team have instigated a high-profile
public debate about British slave-ownership and its long-term influence on
British society, economy, politics and culture. The team's research
results have been shared with a wide audience through an intense programme
of public engagement, including a number of exhibitions, and extensive
media coverage in the UK and abroad, as well as indirectly through an
acclaimed work of popular fiction. Above all, their research has been made
publicly available via an online Encyclopaedia of British Slave-ownership
which has encouraged non-academic users to pursue their own research and
make active contributions to the project.
Catherine Hall, Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History
at UCL since 1998, has been a prime mover in the establishment of the `New
Imperial History', which argues for the centrality of Empire in the
formation of modern Britain and for the necessity of considering metropole
and colony in a single analytical frame [a]. Within this context,
Professor Hall and her research associates, Dr Nicholas Draper and Dr
Keith McClelland, conducted the ESRC-funded project Legacies of
British Slave-ownership (1/6/2009-31/5/2012) which established a
wider empirical base for research on colonial slave-ownership and
substantiated its economic, political and cultural impact on metropolitan
Legacies of British Slave-ownership has used the records of the
£20m paid in compensation to slave-owners in 1833 for the loss of their
`property' as a starting-point for documenting the c.46,000 individual
claims and awards made to those who either owned slaves or benefitted
indirectly from ownership. The result is an online Encyclopaedia of
British Slave-ownership [b], launched in February 2013, which gives
the amounts of compensation awarded to each of the named claimants and
establishes the life-trajectories of the c. 3,000 absentee slave-owners in
Britain. The legacies of these beneficiaries and their descendants are
traced through six strands — commercial and financial continuities (e.g.
the compensation money that went into banking, insurance and railways);
cultural and institutional legacies (e.g. philanthropic endeavours and
collections of artefacts); political affiliations and associational
networks created by recipients of slave compensation; historical lineages
and memories of slavery (e.g. the national, familial and local histories
produced); imperial legacies across the wider circuits of Empire; physical
legacies in the built environment (from country houses to urban
The project's overall finding is that British colonial slave-ownership
was of far greater significance to metropolitan Britain's economy,
society, polity and culture than has previously been recognised, and that
its importance continued beyond the period of Emancipation. A
comprehensive approach and the construction of a major new dataset allowed
the team to move beyond the case-study approach to provide a systematic
account of slave-ownership which strongly supports the view that empire
was constitutive of modern Britain, a thesis which has remained highly
contested [c, d]. As part of the project, Draper has significantly
modified the `decline' thesis of the decay of the West Indian
slave-economy after the abolition of the slave-trade in 1807 by
identifying the rise of a new planter class in Britain connected with
British Guiana [e]. Among other major research contributions, the team has
traced the continuing importance of slave-owners in the development of new
sectors of the City of London, especially in the development of the
financial structures of the settler colonies and in a commercial `swing
east' by former slave-owners; they have demonstrated the role of
slave-owners and their immediate families in the rewriting of slavery
after Emancipation to re-denominate the slave-owners as the victims of
Emancipation; and they have shown the re-incorporation of the slave-owners
into the mainstream of British politics of the 1850s and 1860s, both
developments contributing to the `racial turn' in British thinking in the
third quarter of the nineteenth century [f].
References to the research
[a] Catherine Hall, Civilising subjects: metropole and colony in the
English imagination (Cambridge, 2002). Winner of the American
Historical Association's Forkosch Prize for British History and the Reece
Prize for imperial history. Available on request.
[c] Catherine Hall and Keith McClelland (eds.), Race, nation and
empire: making histories 1750 to the present (Manchester, 2010).
Published by prominent academic publisher, with contributions from many
distinguished scholars. Available on request.
[d] Nicholas Draper, The price of Emancipation: slave-ownership,
compensation and British society at the end of slavery (Cambridge,
Winner of the Whitfield Prize. Available on request.
[e] Nicholas Draper, `The rise of a new planter class? : some
countercurrents from British Guiana and Trinidad, 1807-33', Atlantic
Studies 9.1 (January 2012), 65-83.
Peer-reviewed journal. DOI: 10.1080/14788810.2012.636996.
[f] Catherine Hall, `Troubling memories: nineteenth-century histories of
the slave trade and slavery', Transactions of the Royal Historical
Society 21 (December 2011), 147-69.
Peer-reviewed journal. Submitted to REF 2.
Details of the impact
Legacies of British Slave-ownership (LBS) had an immediate and
highly visible impact on public debate. A dramatic example was the
response to its findings about the extent to which the prosperity of the
City of London, including some of its most distinguished firms, was built
on money awarded as compensation to slave-owners. From the moment the
project was launched in 2009, this discovery attracted much media
attention, including a front-page story in the Financial Times
which drew largely on research underpinning Draper's book [d]. The media
coverage elicited public statements from merchant bank N. M. Rothschild
and law-firm Freshfields acknowledging the findings of the project and
expressing regret for their past associations with slavery. Draper was
invited to meet with senior managers at Freshfields to talk about the
project's discoveries and their implications for the firm's view of its
own history and McClelland was invited to address the Black and Asian
employee group of BP. As a further result of this research, the Royal Bank
of Scotland changed their Historical Research Report, `Predecessor
Institutions Research Regarding Slavery and the Slave Trade' to include
directors of the bank and its British predecessors who were awarded slave
compensation but had previously not been identified as connected to
The project also attracted the interest of acclaimed author Andrea Levy,
whose novel The Long Song makes extensive and fully acknowledged
use of Hall's research [a]. The novel — shortlisted for the 2010 Booker
Prize, longlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction, a finalist for
the 2011 Commonwealth Writers Prize and named as a 2010 New York Times
Most Notable book — aimed `to instil pride in anyone with slave ancestors'
and has been widely lauded for its ability to evoke the plight of slaves
and their relationships with slave-owners. Levy further acknowledged the
importance of the LBS project to her work by giving a public reading and
speaking at the Neale conference organised by members of the team in March
To enhance the reach and significance of the project's impact on public
awareness and debate, members of the team have spoken to very many diverse
organisations and groups about the project and its work. Most importantly,
the team organised workshops (6 in 2010, 2 in 2012) in London, Glasgow,
Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol which ensured that members of
the public could participate in the research process, sharing ideas and
findings. Around 220 people attended, mostly local and family historians
from outside academia, librarians, school teachers, museum professionals
and community activists. These workshops outlined the findings of the LBS
project, focusing on the relevant region or city, and then gave
independent researchers the opportunity to talk about their work before
opening up the sessions to collective discussion. The feedback forms
distributed after each workshop revealed an overwhelmingly positive
response. Participants wrote that what they learned was useful to
understanding their own family history: `Good to have input that makes me
think'; `Will add a new dimension to my local history research'. School
teachers commented on the benefit to their work: `As a teacher it is
always useful to know or learn of different approaches to teaching Black
History... the topics, relevant, very enlightening'; `As a school teacher,
this information is vital — knowledge of oneself + history of surroundings
helps to promote self-value & sense of worth'. Many feedback forms
stressed the events' inclusivity and diversity (22 of 97) and their
usefulness in helping participants network and make new contacts (23 of
The LBS team created two exhibitions based on research towards the Encyclopaedia
[b]. `The Slavers of Harley Street' at the Museum of London in Docklands
in 2008-9 was widely reviewed in the local press with all commentators
noting that the exhibition enabled them to view the history of the area in
a new light: `new research reveals a sinister side to the noble street
that will send shockwaves through consulting rooms and operating theatres
across Marylebone' (West End Extra); `lifts the lid on London's
middle class investments in slavery, dispelling the myth that the
archetypal slave-owner was sitting on a porch in the Caribbean surveying
his plantations' (Ethnic Now). The Museum of London in Docklands
received nearly 159,000 visitors during this year, one-third more than
expected. A group of emerging film-makers produced a film inspired by the
exhibition: according to a Museum of London Docklands Inclusion Officer,
`it was a subject they knew very little about and their inspiration came
from the Museum and gallery space enabling them to produce a touching and
informed film'. Draper was invited to give a public lecture on the
exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands, which also led to an
invitation for him to give a talk to the Marylebone Local History Society
in April 2010; the findings presented in his lecture were described as
`quite astonishing' in their newsletter .
A second exhibition, `The Slave-owners of Bloomsbury', was created at UCL
to commemorate Black History Month in 2011. An updated version was on
display at the Archives Centre in Holborn Library in 2012; after receiving
positive feedback from members of the public, library staff transferred
the exhibition to the public lending section, ensuring a higher public
The LBS team are also active members of the Facebook groups Jamaican
Colonial Heritage Society and Coming to the Table which have
a combined membership of over 2,500 people. The project has its own blog
and produces a monthly newsletter with over 200 subscribers .
Finally, a very substantial impact in terms of both reach and
significance is achieved by the online Encyclopaedia of
Slave-ownership [b], launched on 28 February 2013. Crucial to its
success is its accessibility and usability for the general public.
Visitors to the site can search for individuals by surname, forename, age,
address, religion, occupation, by level of wealth, by size of
slave-ownership, by colony and estate name for each holding or by an open
search of the freeform notes — and therefore easily access the data
according to the users' wide variety of interests. The team organised a
major publicity drive so that a wide audience would become aware of the Encyclopaedia
and its possible relevance to them. All members gave interviews to the
press and the launch of the website was discussed in over 60 broadcasts
and publications with a reach of 20 million people, including national and
international media — e.g. the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 or
the Jamaican Voice newspaper — but also regional media focusing on
the relevance of the project for specific areas. For example, Hall gave an
interview to Radio Solent and This is Plymouth published a piece
on Devon's links to slavery .
The Encyclopaedia had 137,998 visits from 108,022 unique visitors
between the launch in February and 31 July 2013 . The news spread
quickly through online shares, likes and tweets. For example, the Independent
on Sunday article of 28/2 was shared 26,000 times and received over
1,000 comments. Bloggers reported on the broad scope of the project — for
example the British GENES blog (which first picked up a tweet about the
project from Dianne Abbott MP) — but also used our search functions to
report on specific interests — for example, a blog on the Ekklesia website
which discussed slave-owning clergymen . Between February and July
2013, the LBS project received and replied to over 500 emails from members
of the public, the great majority from descendants of slave-owners and the
enslaved. Some e-mails reported personal reactions, many contributed
additional information on individuals in the database, and many led to a
long correspondence . On numerous occasions the team was able to
provide information on ways in which people can pursue their own research
beyond the Encyclopaedia. Conversely, the Encyclopaedia
was enriched by their input: over 330 entries in the database  now
present information contributed by members of the public, and 30 to 40
links to other people's websites have been added as a way of providing
access to more detailed information.
In sum, the LBS project has not only made its research available to large
numbers of people through a wide range of media but helped thousands of
non-academics to conduct their own historical investigations. In doing so,
it has succeeded in making the legacies of slave-ownership a topic of
engaged and informed public debate.
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Impact on City firms: Financial Times 27/28 June 2009 pp. 1,
3 (and www.ft.com/slavery), and 1
July 2009, p. 4 for Freshfields and Rothschild statements. Royal Bank of
Scotland, Historical Research Report, Predecessor Institutions
Research Regarding Slavery and the Slave Trade (May 2006, updated
May 2009): http://bit.ly/1b412iL
[PDF]; Glasgow Sunday Herald, 19 December 2010, p. 13 (http://bit.ly/eqyhZl
) and p. 11 in `Opinion' supplement (http://bit.ly/hcPIMe).
Indicative list of media coverage at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/project/media.
 Acknowledgement of Catherine Hall in Andrea Levy, The Long Song
(London, 2010), p. 310; available on request.
Reviews of The Long Song: Sunday Telegraph, 20/01/2010: http://bit.ly/bKyKEZ; Guardian,
evidence of impact on the public in reviews on Amazon: http://amzn.to/17gyvm1.
Programme of the Neale colloquium including Levy's attendance available
 Details of workshops on the LBS events page: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/project/events.
Discussion of one workshop in North East Slavery & Abolition Group
ENewsletter No. 9, September 2010: http://bit.ly/19ac5aJ
[PDF]. Other talks, e.g. UCL Lunch Hour Lecture. `What does London owe to
slavery?', 26 October 2010 (http://bit.ly/GRfaSI).
Feedback dossier from workshops available on request.
 Examples of local press coverage: `"Street of Shame": Harley Street's
links to the slave trade are examined in a surprising new exhibition', Marylebone
Journal, 1 February 2009; available on request. `Slavers of Harley
Street' exhibit at Museum of London in Docklands, Ethnic Now,
November 2008: http://bit.ly/17gzdzM.
`Before doctors, Harley Street was floating on "slave money"`, Camden
New Journal, 14 November 2008, p. 5: http://bit.ly/1e4hnFU.
Museum visitor figures http://bit.ly/1e8evrx
[PDF] (p. 2). Film makers: Museum of London Docklands Inclusion Officer's
personal testimony available at http://bit.ly/1er77rz.
Draper's lecture: `Marylebone's connections to slavery', St Marylebone
Society's Newsletter, No. 329, Summer 2010; available on request.
 Corroborating statement from the Archives Officer at Holborn Library
available on request.
 Blog: http://lbsatucl.wordpress.com/.
Newsletter subscriber list available on request.
 Examples of national media coverage: Independent on Sunday,
24 February 2013, pp. 22-23, `Britain's colonial shame: slave-owners given
huge payouts after Abolition' http://ind.pn/YMtAGQ.
Today, BBC Radio 4, 27 February 2013, Catherine Hall interviewed by
James Naughty, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21598782
. The Voice, 25 February 2013, `David Cameron's ancestors received
slavery compensation', http://bit.ly/XcHVgy.
The Plymouth Herald, 28 February 2013, `How Plymouth turned its
back on slavery in 1833', http://bit.ly/Wr10yX.
 Google Analytics report available on request. British GENES, 27
February 2013, `Legacies of British Slave-ownership', http://bit.ly/1fdlItz.
Ekklesia, 27 February 2013, `New research reveals how clergy
claimed compensation for slave ownership', http://bit.ly/V8Nb6f.
 Selected e-mail correspondence available on request.
 E.g. http://bit.ly/17nmonf
(slave-owner, and former slave, Laurencine Whiteman identified by a
correspondent); another correspondent provided new information about six
of her ancestors including Susanna Fletcher Ingram (http://bit.ly/1e8SpVU)
and Benjamin Travers (http://bit.ly/16RDv7f),
and in the process corrected a mistake in the Oxford Dictionary of