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 3St 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 NewtonNewton 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 6Roman 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 7Statue 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 1652 – picture nine.  When coffee, tea and chocolate were first served to Londoners, they found the taste 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 sign – picture 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.

Pic 12Blank wall of a primary school, which used to have a massive red  feather painted on it.

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 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.

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.


St Paul

Statue of St Paul on top of St Paul’s Cross – what do his letters say  about slavery.

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


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.