London's Monuments

Tim Kidd’s ten minutes for slavery slide show on 17th October 2021.


To mark Black History Month in 2021, during Elizabeth’s sermon on  13th October, Tim Kidd gave an illustrated talk on some of the memorials in the City of London, which remind us of our exploitation of people for financial gain.  His fascinating talk reminded us how hard it is for us to make sense of the past and how differently our ancestors understood concepts of individual freedom and slavery.

Guilt of Cain

Guilt of Cain 2

Gilt of Cain – pictures one and two.  This artwork was unveiled, in Fen Court, near Lloyd’s of London, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008 to mark the centenary of the ending of the British transatlantic slave trade in 1807.  It’s a collaboration between poet Lemn Sissay and sculptor Michael Visocchi, was also suggesting a double meaning.

The poet used words with the same sounds but vastly different meanings. In London’s financial markets, for example, when our government borrows money, it issues ‘gilt-edged’ stock, commonly known as ‘gilts’. Sissay challenges us to consider the link between government borrowing and the ‘guilt’ we should feel when we consider how our comfortable way of life often involves the exploitation of others. When slavery was abolished, our government borrowed money to compensate the slave owners for having lost their ‘property’.  Our government was paying interest to anyone owning slave-trade gilts until very recently, when the loan was finally repaid. The sculptor, Michael Visocchi, was also suggesting a double meaning. The stone pulpit could be what the slave auctioneer used, in which case the stone posts are slaves.  Alternatively, it could be a church pulpit and the posts, members of the congregation.  This memorial stands in the parish of St Mary Woolnoth. 

St Mary Woolnoth church - picture three. 

Pic 3

St Mary Woolnoth is in King William Street, close to the Bank of England and the MansioHouse. Amongst the congregation at St Mary Woolnoth, was the anti-slavery reformer, William Wilberforce (1759-1853).  He and his fellow reformers were drawn to St Mary’s to hear the sermons of the Rector, John Newton, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace, which is still very popularSpurred on by Newton’s exhortations, they began the movement which resulted in the abolition of the slave trade in the British West Indies in 1807.and, a month after Wilberforce died, the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act.

Pic 4Memorial to John Newton, inside St Mary Woolnoth – picture four.  

Newton was press ganged when he was a young man, which meant he was kidnapped and forced to serve in the Royal Navy.  He may have received a small wage but he was owned by the Royal Navy – in effect, a slave.  Having been trained as a seafarer, he earnt his living as the captain of a slave transporter. Suddenly, he gave up the sea and slave trading to train for the ministry.  It was while he was a Curate at Olney, near what is now Milton Keynes, that he wrote his famous hymn.  From 1780 to 1807, he was Recto of St Marys.

Pic 5

Detail of Newton’s memorial – picture five

John Newton

Newton wrote these brutally honest words for his own memorial and portrayed himself as, initially, an infidel and libertine. He also wrote that he had been the servant of slaves in Africa, what is now Sierra Leon.  He was probably referring to the time when he was enslaved by one Amos Clowe, a slave trader and given to his wife, Princess Peye, of the Sherbro people.  Neither his experience in the Royal Navy, nor his time as a slave himself, deterred him from the slave trade however, which he followed for many more years before turning to God and becoming a minister.  

Pic 6

Roman Emperor Trajan and part of the Roman Wall around Londinium – picture six.

Tubby Clayton, Rector of All Hallows by the Tower, bought this statue from a scrap metal merchant because his church had so many artefacts in the crypt dating from the Roman occupation of London.  After Clayton’s death, in 1972, Trajan’s statue was erected here to commemorate London’s beginnings as an important city in the Roman Empire.  Trajan would have owned many slaves and the wall behind him would have been built by slaves but that’s not mentioned on the statue’s inscription. Should it be?

Pic 7

Statue of Queen Elizabeth I – picture seven.  She lent Royal Naval ships to Sir John Hawkins for his slave trading voyages.  She would, of course, have received a proportion of the profits.  Fortunately for her reputation, she also inspired her captains to repel the Spanish armada’s attempted invasion in 1588.   When we admire portraits of Queen Elizabeth, with her dress liberally covered with precious  stones, maybe we should be more aware of the working conditions of those who mined the jewels.  In some countries, working conditions for miners of precious minerals today are much the same as they were in the 16th century. 

pic 8The Jamaica Winehouse – picture eight
Britain ‘acquired’ Jamaica because, during the Civil War, the Royal Naval sailors had not been paid.  Oliver Cromwell sent the navy to Jamaica to capture it from the Spanish, who occupied it.  The island, and its inhabitants became the property of Britain.  After a period as a republic, controlled by the Parliamentarians, we became a monarchy again, with the Merry Monarch, Charles II in charge.  He granted a charter to the Royal African Company, statue which shipped more African slaves to the Americas than any other company.  A statue of him – “gilded and glorious” - is at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.      

pic 9Blue plaque: first London coffee house in 1652picture nine.  
When coffee, tea and chocolate were first served to Londoners, they found the tas
te too bitter.  However, all three became palatable after sugar was added.  This sugar was both plentiful and cheap because the English plantation owners in Jamaica used slaves to grow and harvest the crop.  It is therefore fitting that the first coffee in London was sold in the garden of the Jamaica Winehouse. One family who made a fortune from sugar was the Tate family, the philanthropists who gave London the Tate Gallery.  

pic 10Black Sheep coffee signpicture 10.  When we ‘grab a cup of coffee’, it is often impossible to know the conditions in which the coffee growers work.  Some of them are virtually slaves, although organisations like Fairtrade try to ensure that their suppliers are properly rewarded.  Black Sheep claim to “support human and environmentally sensitive practices” but how often do we settle for convenience or price, without a thought for the coffee farmers.  

Would we ever forgo the coffee and send a donation to one of the charities dedicated to combatting modern slavery and human trafficking?  

Conclusion: The Mayor of London recommends retaining controversial memorials but attaching an explanation to them, which records the full story.  His ‘Retain and Explain’ policy has been criticised by a group called One Voice for Freedom because it appears to amount to no more than attaching a QR code. 

pic 11Host Café in St Mary Aldermary, which sells Mission Coffee.

Host Café in St Mary Aldermary, picture 11.  This café, tucked inside the church just opposite one of the exits from Mansion House underground station, sells Mission Coffee, whose website says they use a Direct Trade model to buy their beans, so they trade directly with the farmers to ensure workers are fairly treated. Mission also use bicycles to deliver their coffee in London, whenever possible, which reduces their carbon footprint.  This coffee shop is inside the only parish church in England with fan vaulting in the nave and side aisles.  Another of Christopher Wren’s triumphs. 

Pic 12Blank wall of a primary school, which used to have a massive red  feather painted on it.
Blank wall of The Aldgate School, picture 12.   This wall used to have a giant red feather painted on it.  The feather was to remind the pupils, and their parents, that the school had been built by Sir John Cass in 1710.  On his deathbed, he signed his will, which left funds to pay for the school and the quill pen he used was died scarlet by the blood coughed up by him. When it became more widely known that Sir John’s philanthropy was made possible by his profitable links with the slave trade, the red feather was airbrushed out.  

aldgate schoolSchool renamed The Aldgate School, having previously been the Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School.  Sir John Cass made his money from slavery.

The Aldgate School, picture 13.  Not only was the red feather removed but the name of the school was changed from The Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School to its current, inoffensive, name.  In nearby Jewry Street, though, you can still find the Sir John Cass Foundation David Game College and, indeed, if you look at the maps on the Aldgate Square local information boards you will still see the primary school marked as The Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School.  There was even a statue of Cass by Roubiliac in the Guilhall complex but maybe it has been “retired”. 

The college nearby has retained the association with Sir John Cass.

DocwraBlue plaque to William Dockwra, which has been removed from the Lloyd’s of London building.  He invested in the slave trade.
Blue plaque to William Dockwra, picture 14.  Until its recent removal, this plaque was by the entrance to Lloyd’s of London.  Dockwra (c 1635-1716) established the first postal system in London to use ‘postmen’ rather than domestic servants or office messengers to deliver letters.  He lost money in the slave trade by contravening the Royal Africa Company’s monopoly, so his plaque has been removed “for the foreseeable future”.  Lloyd’s was established in a City coffee house, in the 17th century, to insure ships.  Some of these ships, presumably, were used to transport slaves across the Atlantic

The Bayes Business School. Sign of the Bayes Business School (it was previously the Cass Business School).

always curious

“Always Curious” text on business school window. Always curious, picture 15.
This is an attribute associated with students at the City University’s Business School, as proclaimed on this poster on their campus in Bunhill Row.  If they are sufficiently curious, the students will discover that the Business School was renamed the Cass Business School in 2002 after receiving a large donation from the Sir John Cass Foundation, which enabled them to move to this new building.  Apart from the money, Cass must have appealed as a role model for business school students as he had been a City Alderman and MP for the City of London


The Bayes Business School, picture 16.  

In July 2020, the Business School was renamed because, as their website says, “we regretfully did not look at the man who was the source of the Foundation’s wealth” Appropriately, Thomas Bayes is buried just up the road from the Business School in Bunhill Fields Cemetery.  He was the Presbyterian minister of the Mount Sion Chapel in Tunbridge Wells, whose method of calculating the probability of an event occurring has been given a new lease of life with the invention of computers that can do an enormous number of calculations very quickly

St Paul

Statue of St Paul on top of St Paul’s Crosswhat do his letters say  about slavery.

Statue of St Paul, picture 17  This statue of the patron saint of the City’s Cathedral is in the churchyard, to the north of the Cathedral.  Those of us who participated in the Living in Love & Faith course were encouraged to look to the Bible for help in considering today’s conundrums.  From reading Paul’s letters, it would seem, to me, that he accepted rather than condemned slavery.  However, this is something better left to our Clergy to expand on rather than consigning this vexed topic to a brief website comment.  Yes, I’m ducking the issue

West front of St Paul’s Cathedral Whole of the Chinese bank in King William Street.pic

A bank in King William Street, picture 18.

The City is crammed with wonderful architecture, whose presence relies heavily on funding provided by financial services firms.  In some cases, they have preserved old buildings to use as office space, whilst in others they have commissioned the world’s leading architects to create something new.  They also make possible the preservation of the City’s churches, Livery Company halls and public buildings.  For example, the post-war cleaning of St Paul’s Cathedral and the preservation of the St Bride’s Church spire were both made possible by initial donations from financial service companies. 


Sign: ICBC – Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. 
London is a 
vast money market and we have no idea how much of the money flowing into London was earnt by exploiting the weakness of others.

The bank in the previous picture is ICBC, picture 19. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is one of some 250 foreign banks in London.  They are drawn here, along with insurance companies and fund managers etc because the financial markets are enormous.  We may approve of some who operate in these markets whilst despising others.  However, they will all lend or borrow funds from one another, so it is impossible for us to ensure our money is not rubbing shoulders with money derived from slave trading, drug dealing or any other repugnant activities that yield a profit.