Our commitment to racial justice

A prayer to end Racism

Good and Gracious God, who loves and delights in all people, we stand in awe before You,

knowing that the spark of life within each person on earth is the spark of Your divine life.

Differences among cultures and races are multicoloured manifestations of Your Light.

May our hearts and minds be open to celebrate similarities and differences among our sisters and brothers.

We place our hopes for racial harmony in our committed action and in Your Presence in our Neighbour.

May all peoples live in Peace.

Amen

Hands in prayer with candles in the background

From Lament to Action

In April 2021, the Church of England’s anti-racism taskforce, set up by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, published its final report. Titled 'From Lament to Action', it included a number of actions including one urging the C of E to take decisive steps to address the legacy of its involvement in the slave trade. It said: “We do not want to unconditionally celebrate or commemorate people who contributed to or benefited from the tragedy that was the slave trade.” The Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has also called for a review of the Church of England’s built heritage following the Black Lives Matter protests and the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Here at Bath Abbey, our commitment to this process involves seeking ongoing guidance from an Oversight group. It includes stakeholders from Bath’s Black community, Bath Abbey clergy, staff and the Bath & Wells UKME/GMH (UK Minority Ethnic/ Global Majority Heritage) Diocesan Advisor.

Monuments, Empire & Slavery exhibition

In 2021 (24 May-4Sep) we held an exhibition in response to the increased awareness of the colonial links of many of the monuments in the Abbey. It acknowledged the need to communicate the Abbey’s connections with the British Empire, including its involvement with the transatlantic slave trade in the 1700s and 1800s, openly and honestly.

It was written in collaboration with members of Bath’s Black community and included an invitation to visitors from Revd Canon Guy Bridgewater, Rector of Bath Abbey, to reflect on the issues it raises with the goal of learning from the past, and also working for a more equal and fair future for all.

The exhibition focused on the colonial links of three monuments as well as looking at the presence of Black people and the Abolitionist movement in Georgian Bath. A leaflet giving extra information on the exhibition focusing on five monuments in the Abbey continues to be made available to members of the public.

Collage of Bath Abbey wall memorials
Mark De Lisser

Dark Shadows
By Mark De’Lisser

As part of our exhibition, Bath-based poet, Mark De’Lisser, has written a poem, ‘Dark Shadows’, in response to the memorials in Bath Abbey and their links to colonialism and slavery. You can watch a video of Mark performing his poem or read it here:

Beneath our feet they sleep their peaceful sleep the ones who reaped the benefits
Like the truth buried deep we’d thought we’d seen the end of it
But this history casts a dark shadow
As the voices of the victim’s echo
Through time
Reminding us never to forget or let go
To never wipe from our minds
Their pain
There is no shame in admitting that it makes you feel uncomfortable
But the atrocities committed for the expansion of the empire were incomprehensible
We swell with pride when we think about how we conquered the world
How we tamed the savage
How we took and we ravaged
Rarely taking the time to acknowledge
The cost
The ones who lost their freedoms
Their lives
Husbands and wives
Daughters and sons
All for profit and funds
All so some
could live well.
So, we are here today
Standing in the dark shadow’s casts by the monuments of those who benefited from slavery
And It would be so easy to once again turn our heads and walk away
But instead we’ve chosen to stay
To interrogate our history with complete transparency.
Their names may not be carved in stone
but from this day on we promise to honour those who fell victim to white supremacy
a legacy that has chased us through our history
so, if we really believe in equality
then we must examine our past unflinchingly
victims, benefiters, you and me
Monuments, Empire, and Slavery
All of this is our responsibility
All of this is our shared history

Bath Abbey’s further commitments

  • Working closely with members of Bath’s Black community, including BEMSCA (Bath Ethnic Minority Senior Citizens Association), to develop more information for visitors on this important element of the Abbey’s history.
  • Developing a workshop for primary and secondary schools called ‘Bath Abbey and the transatlantic slave trade’
  • Partnering with other heritage organisations in Bath to make the city’s history in this area more transparent, including through the new Bath & Colonialism Archive project, funded by The National Archive Testbed Fund. This project with Bath Preservation Trust and Bath Record Office is working with our archive volunteers to research colonial references in the Bath Chronicle between 1760 and 1780. Staff and volunteers are undertaking cultural diversity training in order to record and communicate their discoveries in a sensitive way. A new website for the public to access this information will be established in early 2022 and a link will be provided from this page.
  • Uncovering more stories of the Abbey’s connections with Empire through the work of its Archivist and volunteer team. We welcome new volunteers, especially those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, as their voices are under-represented in our organisation. To find out more contact Anna Riggs, Bath Abbey Archivist: ariggs@bathabbey.org
Archive Library

Useful external resources and research

A Bath Spa University project, Engaging with Bath’s Uncomfortable Past through walking and creativity - Co-Creation Network (co-creation-network.org) has created a walking tour map called Bath’s Uncomfortable History   https://www.co-creation-network.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Updated-Bath-Abolition-Movement-Map-25th-March.pdf

The National Trust’s ‘Colonial Dyrham’ exhibition at Dyrham Park, near Bath: Exhibitions at Dyrham Park | National Trust

Richard White (Artist and Lecturer, Bath Spa University):

Beckford’s Tower (owned by Bath Preservation Trust): Information on William Beckford’s connection with the slave trade https://beckfordstower.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Beckfords-and-Slavery-leaflet-2007.pdf

Bath Record Office:

Article by Roger Holly on the Anti-Slavery movement in Bath: Vol 14 - 06. Holly - The Anti Slavery Movement in Bath.pdf (historyofbath.org)