The Slave Trade: beginning the end

Next Sunday, and sadly at a ludicrously early time in the evening’s schedule, Channel 4 will be showing an episode of Time Team we filmed last summer in South Wales. In the 19th Century the area around Swansea was the centre of the world’s copper industry and gained the strange-sounding name ‘Copperopolis’. (That name, together with everything about the Welsh copper industry is in a superb book by Steven Hughes, Copperopolis, Landscapes of the Early Industrial Period in Wales, Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales, 2000.)

In case you’re already looking puzzled, because you thought copper was mostly mined in north Wales and south-west England, the reason why Swansea became the industry’s focus is simple. It’s all about coal. The area produced vast amounts of the right sort of coal needed to smelt the metal out of copper ore, a process that involves frequent re-heating, which uses four times as much coal as ore – hence the location. Then, as now, it was all about costs and economics.

I don’t want to give away what we revealed in the dig, but it’s no secret that the Copperopolis works produced and sold-on trinkets (some were known as ‘manila bracelets’) that were used in the three-way ‘Atlantic triangle’ slave trade of the 18th Century. Incidentally, I discuss the effects of this trade in The Making of the British Landscape, p. 528. I say ‘three-way’, because manufactured goods were exported from England to Africa, where slaves were exchanged for them, and then the poor unfortunates were packed into ships like sardines and sent across the Atlantic to the West Indies and southern United States where they were sold to plantation owners. The ships then returned to England with cargoes of rum, sugar and of course raw cotton to feed the growing textile industries of Lancashire and the north-west. On paper, and in theory, it was a very lucrative and well thought-out chain of trade, were it not for that loathsome link in the middle.

As Archaeological Director I have to approve the final edited version of the film, known as the fine-cut. Essentially this is the finished film, but without some of the completed graphics and before Tony records the voice-over, which is read instead by the Director, who in this case was Sian Price. Sian understands archaeology thoroughly, which was as well, because technically this was a difficult film to make, and I think she did a very good job. But while we were filming I mentioned that I had a personal reason to dislike the slave trade. I can remember Sian smiling when I told her, because I don’t look even slightly African. In fact I look about as un-African as it’s possible to look.

My great-great-great-great grand-father was a Quaker banker named Samuel Hoare (1751-1825). As a footnote, he was nothing to do with the well-known 18th and 19th century Hoare’s Bank – that was another family entirely. No, Sam Hoare was a banker, but he was also a Quaker and in those days people were less inclined to trust their money to any old bank, as they do today. Instead they looked for honesty and probity in the men (and it was men, then) who ran their banks. The likes of Fred the Shred wouldn’t have made it beyond junior office boy in Georgian England. But I digress. That was the reason they trusted Quaker bankers, because Quakers had earned a lasting reputation for honesty: believe it or not, my family were one of the Quaker families who founded Barclays, a bank where I had accounts for fifty years, until, that is, their utter disregard for their ordinary customers, coupled with constant, mindless attempts to sell me unwanted insurance and then, finally, those obscene bonuses, together made me quit them. And after half a century, they didn’t even bother to ask why I’d left… Anyhow, I’m now with the Co-Op Bank and am delighted with both their service and their ethics.

The official name of the Quakers is the Society of Friends, and they maintained close links across the Atlantic, because in the 17th century many Quakers were deported to the penal colonies of Virginia, for expressing their strong non-conformist views. Indeed, the very first Francis Pryor was going to be sent there with other Quakers in the 1650s, except the captain of the ship (so the story goes) refused to set sail in case God sunk his vessel in a storm, as a penalty for deporting so many righteous people. Like other British Quakers, Sam Hoare was in regular correspondence with American Friends, who were regularly reporting on the treatment of slaves in the U.S. plantations.

We know quite a lot about Sam’s life, thanks to memoirs written by his family and edited together in a splendid, but sadly now very expensive (if, that is, you can get it) book, by yet another Francis Pryor: F.R. Pryor, Memoirs of Samuel Hoare by His Daughter Sarah and his Widow Hannah. Also Some Letters from London During the Gordon Riots (Hedley Brothers, Bishopsgate, London, 1911). Hardly a snappy title…

Partly as a result of their trans-Atlantic correspondence, Sam and five other Quakers set up the first anti-slavery committee in 1783. He was the treasurer and his first and second wives Sarah and Hannah ware Secretaries. Despite the efforts of this committee, known today as The Original Six, nothing was done by the British Establishment, where vested interests were far too powerful. Another big problem was that Quakers couldn’t become government ministers. So in 1787 the Committee re-invented itself as the National Committee with nine Quakers and three Anglicans, including Thomas Clarkson and, later, William Wilberforce. Both were known to be active in the anti-slavery movement, but more importantly, being Anglicans they could both become ministers.

Samuel Hoare, pastels, in 1816 (died 1825)

A crayon portrait of Samuel Hoare (1751-1825), the Quaker banker and co-founder of the first anti-slavery Committee (1783), by Josiah Slater (in 1816)

By great good fortune I have inherited some Sam Hoare memorabilia, including a small crayon portrait painted in 1816 by Josiah Slater. If you watch the Time Team film closely you’ll be able to spot it, as a cut-away, during one of my interviews. But if your reactions aren’t quick enough, I’ve reproduced it here.

The Bill to abolish the slave trade was passed in 1807 and in the publicity surrounding the recent Parliamentary celebrations the Quakers seemed to have played a very reduced role. It was all about MPs Clarkson and Wilberforce. The only mention I heard of the Friends was in Thought for the Day on Radio 4 and then it wasn’t a Quaker, but (I think) a C of E vicar! I don’t know who he was, as I was rubbing myself dry after a bath when I happened to catch what he said. But well done Reverend: your reward will have to be in Heaven, as I’d have sent you one of my books if only I knew your name…

Sam Hoare's House

A sketch of Samuel Hoare senior’s house in Paradise Row, Stoke Newington, 1911.

We tend to think that religions grew up in big cities and indeed, today the HQ of the Quakers is just round the corner from the Institute of Archaeology, off Gordon Square, in Bloomsbury. But Quakerism flourished out in the provinces, especially around Stroud in the south-west and of course in York and East Anglia, where my family come from. Sam Hoare’s family probably came from Ireland, but his father, Samuel Hoare senior, was a self-made man and a Quaker who lived in Paradise Row, Stoke Newington, now in London’s East End. In those days of course it was a small out-of-town hamlet. I went in search of the house, armed with a photocopy of a sketch made of it for F.R. Pryor’s book in 1911, but sadly it wasn’t there. But I was very impressed with some of the Georgian houses that had survived.

Paradise Row

Georgian Houses in Paradise Row, Stoke Newington today.

In a strange way, Paradise Row still has a tranquil, almost rural feel to it. The stream had long since been tidied away and tarmac’d over, but you could see clearly where once it had run.  Sam senior had made a lot of money and his son continued the process, as a banker. He moved closer to the City, although not that close, bearing in mind that he rode to work. He lived in a large Georgian pile known as Heath House, which still dominates Hampstead Heath and overlooks the pond at the top of Hampstead Hill.

In 1802 Sam’s second daughter Hannah married another Hampstead Quaker, Thomas Marlborough Pryor. He was my three-greats grandfather. I don’t know whether it’s anything to do with them, but there’s a block of Victorian flats nearby called The Pryors. I rarely drive past, but when I do I like to honk my horn – just to be annoying.

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