The unpleasant truth of slave-owner's retirement on Devon coast

Sidmouth GV
Sidmouth was a very attractive place to former slave-owners

A Devon historian has uncovered the unpleasant truth of how slave-owners from across the country and the British Empire came to the West Country to spend their retirement in coastal resorts.

Dr Todd Gray says the period after the abolition of slavery in the 1830s effectively began the era of second-home-ownership in Devon.

Slavery connections with cities like Bristol are clear and well known, but in the early 19th century there were wealthy people all over Devon living off the proceeds of plantations in places like Jamaica.

The house formerly owned by Mrs Palmer in Sidmouth

One grand house in Sidmouth was owned by a woman with a fearsome reputation in the West Indies.

Historian Dr Todd Gray says the people who live in the 10 flats which make up this building today have little idea of its past.

Dr Todd Gray said: "The woman who lived in this house was Mrs Palmer who, in Jamaica, is remembered for a depraved lifestyle of voodoo, illicit goings-on in a basement, the murder of her three husbands, her final murder at the hands of vengeful locals.

"Or, in Devon, she is a little old lady who lived out her life in Sidmouth in retirement and led a very quiet existence and the two don't marry together - but this is part of what history is about. Sometimes it's about impressions. It's not always about the facts."

Dr Todd Gray's book - Devon's Last Slave-Owners

Dr Gray has written a new book exploring the history of the Devon families who owned enslaved people across the British Empire and the compensation they were paid when slavery was abolished in 1834, the equivalent of millions of pounds in today's money.

Seaside towns like Sidmouth were very attractive to these former slave owners, and many more of them then moved here or bought second homes.