Streets in Gloucester along with Baker’s Quay could soon have their names changed due to historic links to the transatlantic slave trade.
Archeologists have given an update on how work is going to address the city’s links to the slave trade.
Gloucester City Council leaders agreed in 2020 to undertake a review of all monuments, statues and plaques in the city which had a connection with slavery and plantation ownership.
A report was completed and a series of recommendations were approved by civic chiefs last year.
The general recommendations included proposals such as pursuing education or interpretation projects at a city-wide level to improve public understanding about the topic.
They also seek imaginative options to address Gloucester’s contested history in a way that both challenges and educates.
The report also includes a series of specific recommendations such as exploring the possibility of changing the names of the streets linked to George Whitefield – one of the city’s most famous and controversial sons.
He was one of the founders of Methodism, was born in the Bell Inn on Southgate Street in the 18th century before going to the King’s School in 1726.
He eventually moved to Georgia, in the United States of America, where he became a plantation owner, slaveholder and campaigner to make slavery lawful.
In Gloucester, his memory is honoured with buildings named after him, including the George Whitefield Centre, home of Gloucester Foodbank, in Great Western Road.
Culture and leisure cabinet member Cllr Andy Lewis said: “What we did is we went out to independent scrutiny to find out which streets, roads and monuments were named after or had links to plantation or slave owners, people like George Whitefield.
“But, do we just erase that history or do we learn from it? If people want to change names on things, that’s perfectly acceptable and no problem at all.
“A lot of this land is in private ownership. We can suggest things to them but then everyone in that street has to agree about it. We can inform and help but we can’t force anyone to do anything.
“Through the museum we’re trying to educate people so that they learn from history. If you don’t learn from history you are bound to repeat it. And that is a problem. Pushing it to the side is not the answer.”
Council’s specific recommendations:
Baker’s Quay: The council should engage with the owners of Baker’s Quay to discuss options for the ‘repurposing’ of that public space in a way that educates, commemorates and acknowledges Gloucester’s historic links to the transatlantic slave trade.
The council’s head of culture has been in contact with the site owners to find out their preferred approach regarding this. The owner of Baker’s Quay says they will be slowly removing the name from their development.
Baker’s Quay is not being used in the address for the phase one development (Provender and Premier Inn) and it is not intended to be used in the second phase development when that comes forward. The city council says it may be that a different site can be found on which to acknowledge Gloucester’s historic links to the transatlantic slave trade.
Phillpotts Warehouse: The council sought to contextualise the history of Phillpotts warehouse using interpretation. Some draft text for an interpretation panel or plaque has been produced in consultation between the council archaeologist, volunteers and partners.
The text suggested is: “Phillpott’s Warehouse was built by Abraham Hodgson Phillpotts in 1846. Abraham was the son of Thomas Philpott’s a ‘West India Merchant’ and slave-owner. In 1834, with the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, Phillpott’s senior received a sizeable compensation payment, which he reinvested in Gloucester and throughout Britain.
“Abraham went into business with his father and almost certainly benefited from his father’s compensation payment. Phillpott’s Warehouse was one of many new projects throughout Britain at the time funded by, or linked to, abolition compensation. The enslaved people Thomas Phillpott’s had ‘owned’ in Jamaica received nothing.”
However, there are no plans currently to produce a physical graphic panel on this site, however the text could be used as part of the city-wide educational resources produced, the report reads.
United Reformed Church: The council sought to consult with the owners and/or users of this building to consider realistic options for interpretation and contextualisation of the George Whitefield memorial.
Gloucester City Council says its archaeologist, Andrew Armstrong, has made a number of attempts to contact the current owners of this building but so far has received no response. He intends to approach ward councillors and community groups for advice and suggestions with regard to how to proceed.
Blue Plaque on St Mary De Crypt School Room: The council should encourage the Civic Trust to contextualise this plaque to reflect George Whitefield’s connections with the transatlantic slavery economy. New wording has been agreed in consultation with Discover DeCrypt, the Civic Trust and GREAG, as follows:
“George Whitefield The famous evangelist was born at the Bell Inn on Southgate Street in 1714. He was a pupil at Crypt School and preached his first sermon at St Mary de Crypt Church in 1736.
“Crossing the Atlantic thirteen times, he was parish priest in Savannah Georgia, where he established the Bethesda Orphanage. Despite his charitable works, Whitefield’s views on slavery tarnish his legacy.
“He campaigned successfully for the legalisation of slavery in Georgia, and his orphanage was supported by income from plantations worked with enslaved labour. He died in 1770 and is buried at Newburyport, Massachusetts.”
The intention is to install the new plaque early in the first quarter of 2023. This will be slightly larger than the previous one but will otherwise be a like-for-like replacement, the report reads.
Memorial in St Mary De Crypt: The council should engage with Discover DeCrypt to produce educational resources and on-site displays that provide a full context to George Whitefield’s life and works.
Once the blue plaque has been replaced the council’s archaeologist plans to work with Discover DeCrypt on this matter. DeCrypt are aware and in general agreement, according to the report.
Whitefield Street names: The council has agreed to consult with residents on the renaming of the two identified Whitefield Street names.
The council archaeologist is in the process of drafting a brief for a public consultation on this matter. He intends to approach potential providers for costs based on this brief and it is hoped that the consultation can be undertaken in 2024.
Should the residents of either of the two streets involved wish to change the name, actual implementation is likely to take another year. The council would only change the name of the streets, if the majority of residents wish to do so.
Whitefield House: The council should approach the owners to discuss renaming this building. The council’s archaeologist has been unable to contact the owners of this building but will redouble efforts to do so in 2023.
Credit: Local Democracy Reporter Service/Carmelo Garcia