Bath Abbey To Host Panel Discussion To Learn From Legacy Of Slavery To Shape The Future

Bath Abbey is hosting a panel discussion to explore the Abbey’s historical connections with slavery and empire, and how we can all learn from the past to shape the future.

The event will be held on 25 June, 7.00-8.30pm via Zoom in front of a live virtual audience. It will bring together a group of experts who will be sharing differing perspectives on the Abbey’s memorials and re-evaluating them in the context of the historical injustices of slavery. They will also be making a connection with campaigns against slavery and inequality today and how this legacy of racism be used to help enable a just and equal future.

Tickets are free and will be available online from Eventbrite:

The Revd Canon Guy Bridgewater, Rector of Bath Abbey, will give a welcome and the panel will include Dr Shawn Sobers, Associate Professor, Cultural Interdisciplinary practice, UWE; Renee Jacobs, Black in Bath network; The Rt Revd Dr Alastair Redfern, founder of The Clewer Initiative, a Church of England project dedicated to mobilising the Church to combat modern slavery; Revd Narinder Tegally, Lead Chaplain at the RUH, Bath and the UKME/GMH Advisor for the Bath & Wells Diocese; and Irvin Campbell, Chairman of Stand Against Racism and Inequality (SARI).

The discussion will be chaired by Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, who said: “The event marks a powerful conversation in our ongoing dialogue on how to achieve greater equality. It is reassuring to see Bath Abbey confront its history in an effort to shape a better future and I look forward to chairing such an important event. Please join me in listening and learning by signing up for your free ticket.”

The Revd Canon Guy Bridgewater, Rector of Bath Abbey, said: “The transatlantic slave trade is one of the gravest crimes against humanity that the world has ever seen. We can neither hide nor erase the past of our society; and we must face that we are still living with a shameful legacy of racism and inequality. At Bath Abbey we recognise the need to look closely at our own local heritage and history, including memorials in the Abbey that commemorate those who were slave owners. I am most grateful to the Abbey team who is leading this important work, and to our partners from UWE, Black in Bath and SARI who are helping us learn from a significant range of contemporary perspectives and multi-racial voices – with the goal of both learning from the past, and working for a more just future for all.”

Bath Abbey has one of the largest collection of memorial stones of any church in the country, many of which were paid for by the families or supporters of the individuals being commemorated. Between 1572–1845, 891 ledgerstones (gravestones) and 635 wall tablets were erected in Bath Abbe, commemorating 1,455 (20.7%) of the approximately 7,000 people buried in the church. In the same period, Britain established an empire by creating colonies (seizing control of lands and peoples across the world). Those with a monument in the Abbey are therefore often connected to that exploitation.

The Abbey is still carrying out research, which will be made publicly available as it develops, but examples of people commemorated include Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica, Captain Bartholomew Stibbs who worked for the Royal African Company, and plantation owners including the Alleyne family on Barbados.

This panel discussion follows on from the ‘Monuments, Empire and Slavery’ Exhibition which is currently on display in the Abbey until 4 September 2021 – about a number of the Abbey’s monuments that reveal the relationships between the Abbey, Bath, the British Empire, and the slave trade in the 1700 and 1800s. It also explores the presence of the Abolitionist movement in Bath. The exhibition’s aims are to reveal the truth of the lives of some colonialists, focus on the impact they had on indigenous people around the world and encourage visitors to reflect on past injustices and also future opportunities for equality. Learning resources about this exhibition are available to help support the history curriculum. Lists of the memorials on the walls and floor of the Abbey are available from the Abbey stewards, or from the Abbey Archives.