Since the tragic death of George Floyd in America in May 2020, and the Black Lives Matter protests against racism, Bath Abbey has pledged to address its history, learn from it and help others to do so too.
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.
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'(NB link to the whole report?), 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 (24 May to 4 Sep 2021)
The exhibition was developed in response to the increased awareness of the colonial links of many of the monuments in the Abbey. It acknowledges 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 includes 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 focuses 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 gives extra information on five further monuments in the Abbey.
Bath Abbey’s further commitments
- Hosting a panel discussion called ‘Bath Abbey and the Legacy of Slavery’ on 25 June, introduced by Revd Canon Guy Bridgewater and chaired by Wera Hobhouse MP. Tickets are available here: link
- 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 (link to project website here NB link not available till December 21)
- 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 Polly Andrews firstname.lastname@example.org
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): www.walknowtracks.co.uk /sweet-waters.html. Walking with legacies of British slave-ownership, revealing reluctant heritage.
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:
- Hidden Presence in Bath. A collaborative research project exploring the presence of Black people in Georgian and Victorian Bath. Young people from the Black Families Education Support Group conducted research at Bath Record Office, and wrote audio pieces based on their findings which were incorporated into a film: https://hiddenpresencebath.wordpress.com/
- Black History Matters - Online Exhibition https://www.batharchives.co.uk/galleries/black-history-matters-online-exhibition
Article by Roger Holly on the Anti-Slavery movement in Bath: Vol 14 - 06. Holly - The Anti Slavery Movement in Bath.pdf (historyofbath.org)
More links to be added