In response to the tragic murder of George Floyd, Bath Abbey had conducted in-depth research into their monuments, to further understand their colonial past. They have opened their ‘Monuments, Empire and Slavery’ exhibition to shed light on their findings.
Until the 4th September 2021, the exhibition will reveal the links between some of the people commemorated on the Abbey’s ledgerstones and wall tablets. Bath Abbey’s spokesperson, Polly, said that the Bath Abbey team wanted to find out what ‘lies behind’ the grandeur of many of their monuments.
They have found over 200 connections to colonies including 72 mentions of the Carribean, and 37 of India and Bengal from the 1700s and 1800s. In some cases, the name of the colonial association is even documented on the memorial itself.
The exhibition is ‘open and honest’ in its telling of the stories of three different men who have been commemorated at Bath Abbey: a merchant, a gold hunter, and a plantation owner. They are brought to life through powerful imagery and storytelling, with the aim of showing how Bath Abbey and the city as a whole was connected to the transatlantic slave trade. Bath Abbey’s investigations have made it clear just how man inhabitants of Bath benefitted from slavery and the spoils of colonisation.
For example, there is evidence of an individual who enslaved 300 people on a plantation, and who then claimed enormous damages from the government when slavery was abolished and they lost their workforce. They went on to live a grandiose life in the city with these funds.
There is also information on the abolitionists that were active in Bath.
The exhibition has been made in collaboration with the BAME community in Bath including The Black in Bath Network, and the Bath Ethnic Minority Senior Citizens Association (BEMSCA) at Fairfield House.
There is an upcoming panel discussion with experts in this field, including people from the BAME community in Bath, on the 25.06.2021 over Zoom. The discussion is titled ‘Bath Abbey and the Legacy of Slavery’ and will be chaired by Wera Hobhouse. Tickets will be available on Eventbrite.
Bath Abbey encourages people to come to the exhibition and hope it will not only be educational, but also offer an opportunity for reflection on this ‘challenging but important’ subject.
Words by Jonathan R Parsonage