New blue plaque to honour role of North East women in anti-slavery movement

Sunderland Quakers heritage plaque Credit: University of Sunderland

The role played by North East women in the anti-slavery movement will be highlighted when a new blue plaque is revealed in the region later this month.

The heritage plaque will be unveiled in Sunderland city centre to highlight the activism of Sunderland’s Quaker women.

After a successful bid by academics at the University of Sunderland, it will be fixed to the façade of the newly-restored buildings at 172-3 High Street West.

Professor Angela Smith, who led the bid, says women in the North East are now seen as instrumental in running the successful anti-slavery campaigns of the 19th century.

Professor Angela Smith led the campaign for the heritage plaque Credit: University of Sunderland

“We have all heard of William Wilberforce, and many of the men whose names are attached to his as anti-slavery campaigners in the 18th century are commemorated around the country.

“In Sunderland, we have a blue plaque to mark the contribution of James Field Stanfield. However, what is less well known is the way the anti-slavery movement continued in Britain after the official abolition of slavery in 1807.

“Slavery continued in the United States, for example, until 1865, but this is complicated by the American Civil War and the continued use of slave labour in the county for many years after.

“Escaped slaves toured Europe and particularly Britain to tell their stories and garner support for the anti-slavery movement. Most famously, Frederick Douglass toured the UK in 1845-7, holding audiences spellbound by his powerful oration. What is less well known is that Douglass’s freedom was purchased by British Quakers: Anna and Ellen Richardson, who lived in Newcastle.

“The Quakers in the UK had long been associated with the anti-slavery movement. In the North East of England, it is the women who are now seen to have been instrumental in running the successful anti-slavery campaigns in the 19th century."

Professor Smith says Sunderland became well known for its shop keepers - many of which were run by Quakers, like the Binns family - banning the sale of West Indian-produced sugar, in favour of what was perceived to be non-slave produced East Indian sugar.

The new plaque in Sunderland will be located on the building that housed the first Binns department store: 173 High Street West.

The virtual unveiling will take place on 30 June 2021.