On my recent visit to Helmsley I spotted this on the church wall. Apart from enriching a few local land owners, the African slave trade had little visible impact on our area. I thought about the sign and how it celebrated the wiping out of the slave trade in Africa. We know that this is only partially true, unfortunately, slavery and the traffic in human lives is still very much a problem in our world.

Modern slavery can be found in every corner of our globalised world. In 2017, the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery estimated that 40.3 million individuals were living in modern slavery; with individuals being exploited for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced marriage, domestic servitude, and forced criminality.

Slave ownership and compensation


Recent events have prompted me to think more about the history of slavery in our islands. I recently came across the Legacies of British Slave Ownership Database. It’s uncomfortable but necessary reading if we are to understand what role slavery played in the prosperity of many institutions that still exist today e.g. The Bank of England, Barclays, Baring Brothers, Lloyds of London, Royal Bank of Scotland, P&O Navigation Co and many others.

It is easy to think that our region was not part of this vile trade in human lives and that it was all taking place in Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow, but this isn’t correct, many institutions such as regional manufacturing works and transport companies had investments in the slave trade, the whole of Britain and Ireland prospered on the profits derived from enslaving our fellow human beings.

On the abolition of slavery, British taxpayers paid out £20 million in compensation to the slave owners, in modern terms this equates to £16.5 billion, needless to say, the slaves themselves received nothing.

As well as institutional investments, individuals from our region were slave owners and received compensation from the taxpayer when slavery was finally abolished. Here are a few examples from the database.

Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 13.01.33Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 13.02.27Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 13.04.12Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 13.05.29Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 13.06.22Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 13.06.39

Image Title: [Negro portraits, 16 small drawings with notations]. Creator(s): Berryman, William, artist. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. USA

Written in solidarity with the protesters who removed the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston from the streets of Bristol.