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28 October 2014

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Seven Stars sign and blue plaque
Clarkson gathered evidence in Bristol

In the footsteps of Bristol's abolitionists

Along with Liverpool and London, Bristol was one of the main British ports involved in the slave trade.

However, despite the fact that much of Bristol's wealth relied on this and other trades, the voice against enslaving Africans was loud, persistent and often highly eloquent.

The city was also pivotal in helping to finally abolish the trade - through protests like petitions and boycotts and as a place where evidence about the terrible conditions on slave ships was gathered.

Take a walk around Bristol to find out more about historic figures and places which contributed to the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.

1. Begin at College Green, looking up Park Street

View up Park Street, Bristol
The More sisters' school was on Park Street


43, Park Street is the site of the now demolished school for young ladies set up by Hannah More's elder sisters in 1758 and where Hannah also taught. (It was initially founded in Trinity Street, adjacent to College Green.)

More (1745-1833) was born in Stapleton, Bristol and became an anti-slavery campaigner, playwright and religious writer.

A friend of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, she spoke out openly against the slave trade and joined the boycott of slave-produced West Indian sugar in 1778.

More also denounced Christians involved in the slave trade, stating that "they are not Christians who infest Africa's shores, but are rather white savages ruled by lust gold or lust of conquest".

She was the most influential female member of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave Trade, whose other members included Wilberforce and Clarkson.

She was educated at Bristol and began to publish her writing in the 1760s, while still a teenager. Her first play, The Inflexible Captive, was staged at Bath in 1775.

In 1780 she was given a copy of the former slave captain Rev John Newton's published letters, which had a profound impact on her life.

Slavery, a Poem, which dramatically depicted the predicament of the female slave, was published in 1788.

Excerpt from Slavery, A Poem by Hannah More

Towards the end of her life, Hannah More returned to Bristol and spent her final years in Clifton. She was buried next to her sisters in the churchyard at All Saints, Wrington, North Somerset, in 1833.

You can see a portrait of Hannah More in the Georgian House Museum on Great George Street (off Park Street). Ironically, the house was home to John Pinney, a merchant involved in the West Indies sugar trade, against which More campaigned.

[The house is open Saturday to Wednesday from 10am-5pm. Entry is free. Access is restricted, there is no lift and access to all floors is via stairs.]


A protégé of Hannah More, Ann Yearsley (1753-1806), also wrote verse against slavery.

The wife of a poor yeoman farmer, Yearsley began her life as a milk-seller in Bristol but became a successful writer and a supporter of the abolition movement.

Hannah More rescued Yearsley from near destitution and then took her under her wing and helped to nurture her talent.

More also set up a trust fund to support Yearsley's writing career. However, the two disagreed how the money was to be used and fell out.

In 1788 she contributed her Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade to the abolition cause. The piece characterises the trade as Bristol's great shame.

Yearsley Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade

Because of her job, Yearsley was also known as Lactilla or the Poetical Milkwoman of Bristol. Her writing and a circulating library business she owned made her financially comfortable and she retired to Melksham, Wilts, in 1803.

She died there in 1806, so never saw the act to abolish the slave trade passed in her lifetime.

Also on Park Street lived Dr JB Estlin - the radical minister of Lewins Mead congregation - and his daughter Mary. Their experiences travelling in the West Indies led them to campaign for the abolition of the slave trade.


Memorials to several people pertinent to the abolition cause can be found in Bristol Cathedral, including a bust of Robert Southey.

Like many of the Romantic poets, Southey spoke out against the slave trade in his work.

In a poem called Sonnet III he described sugared tea as "the blood-sweeten'd beverage". Sugar was was the main product made by slaves and was boycotted by many people.

He also penned "The Sailor, Who Had Served in the Slave Trade" in 1798.

Southey: The Sailor.... Slave Trade poem excerpt

It is the story of an "anguished, miserable man" who, when asked by a priest why he is so full of despair, recounts his experiences on board a ship with a cargo of enslaved Africans.

Southey: The Sailor.... Slave Trade poem excerpt

During the voyage, he is ordered to flog a woman who refused to eat. After the beating he hears her cries of pain through the night until she dies the following day.

>> Directions: Head for the waterfront, cross Pero's Bridge and Narrow Quay. Walk through Queen Square, cross Redcliffe Bridge. Turn right at the roundabout. Opposite St Mary Redcliffe is the former Quaker burial ground.


Although some Quakers were involved in the slave trade, in 1760, the Society of Friends became the first faith to oppose the trade and ban their members from trading in slaves.

A plaque at the entrance to the site, which is now a park, tells how the area was used for Quaker burials from 1665 until as recently as 1923.

Inside a cave carved into the rocks at the back of the park you can see a collection of head stones.

St Mary Redcliffe Church
Did the bells ring or is it an ancient urban myth?


Opposite is St Mary Redcliffe Church.

When William Wilberforce's first bill to abolish the trade was defeated in 1791, the bells of the church were said to have rung out across the city in celebration.

Church records from the time show no evidence of paying bell ringers on this date, but it is possible the bells were rung by members of the merchant congregation themselves.

There is also a memorial to Thomas Chatterton in the churchyard. Bristol's 'boy poet' was critical of the slave trade in his work.

>> Directions: Cross the road at the roundabout and walk up Redcliffe Street. Look out for Thomas Lane on the right and turn into this narrow street.


The Seven Stars pub is perhaps the most significant landmark to abolition in Bristol.

It was here in 1787 that Thomas Clarkson stayed in order to gather evidence of the slave trade for his friend William Wilberforce.

A blue plaque above the pub's entrance marks this and there is more information about his visit inside.

Clarkson (1760-1846) came to the city to collect evidence on the cruelty of the trade in humans.

He was helped by the landlord of the Seven Stars, a man named Thompson, to gather eyewitness evidence from sailors.

It is reported the publican refused to associate with the slavers recruiting seamen and showed Clarkson other pubs that helped find sailors for the trade.

By speaking with sailors, Clarkson uncovered the awful conditions they endured, as well as the horrendous suffering of the slaves themselves.

Later, in his memoirs, Clarkson mentions the landlord's contribution to his quest for evidence.

Excerpt from the memoirs of Thomas Clarkson

>> Directions: Continue up Thomas lane and turn left into St Thomas Street and left again onto Victoria Street. Cross the river via Bristol bridge and then head left into Castle Green en route to Broadmead shopping centre. Go up Merchant Street and turn left into Broadmead. Tucked away on the right, immediately before The Arcade you will find John Wesley's New Room - the oldest Methodist chapel in the world.


John Wesley opposed the trade in humans and in 1774 published his Thoughts upon Slavery. A sermon at the New Room against slavery was disturbed by explosion.

Wesley was a spiritual advisor to William Wilberforce and the Wesley brothers also influenced Wilberforce's political activities.

The last letter John Wesley ever wrote was to Wilberforce, urging him to carry on with his quest to end the slave trade...

Part of letter from John Wesley to Wilberforce

[The New Room is open from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Saturday. Entry is free.]

>> Directions: From Broadmead, head for Union Street. Cross it and follow Nelson Street until you reach Broad Street.


The first open meeting in Bristol on the abolition of the slave trade occurred in 1788, in the medieval Guild Hall (now demolished), Broad Street.

A petition was drawn up there, which some 800 people signed.

Signatories included Alderman John Harris, George Daubeny, Josiah Tucker (by then the Dean of Gloucester), the Dean of Bristol, the Baptist minister Caleb Evans and John Estlin.

>> Directions: Continue up Broad Street and turn right into Corn Street, the commercial heart of 18th Century Bristol, where merchants met to trade and socialise. Turn right down St Stephen's Street and head for the church (If you are a wheelchair or buggy user, use St Stephen's Avenue to avoid a flight of stairs).

St Stephen's Church
St Stephen's is tucked away in the city centre


Economist and political writer Josiah Tucker (1713-1799), was curate and rector of St Stephen's Church from 1737 until he became Dean of Gloucester in 1758.

Best known for his writings advocating a free market and religious tolerance, while Dean of Gloucester he helped the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson with his early investigations into the slave trade.

He was a member of Bristol's first abolition committee in 1788 and and friend of Rev John Newton, the former slave captain who wrote 'Amazing Grace'.

>> Directions: From the church, head up St Stephen's Avenue, cross Baldwin Street and head up Marsh Street. Turn left on to King Street.

Here you will find the Theatre Royal and the former Merchant Venturers' Hall.


On the corner of King Street and Marsh Street is the site of the old Merchants' Hall, destroyed in the Blitz and now replaced by a modern office block, Venturers' House.

The Merchant Venturers were a powerful group, who in the 18th Century lobbied to ensure Bristol had its share of the African trade.

In the 18th Century the hall was a working building, used among other things as a school for sailors' sons.

Abolitionist Thomas Clarkson gained access to the merchants' muster rolls at the hall and found they contained information about high mortality rates among the crews of slave ships.

This evidence outraged the Bristol public and added weight to the abolitionists' cause.

The 1696 Merchants almshouses, which were adjacent to the hall, survive.

Victims of illness and brutality on board the slave ships, it is likely that crewmen were housed in these almshouses after returning from sea.

The present Merchants' Hall is now in Clifton.

Bristol Old Vic theatre
The Old Vic staged anti-slavery plays


Bristol Old Vic is England's oldest working theatre, opened in 1766. The original  patrons, many of whom were Merchant Venturers, each invested £50 in the building.

These patrons included the Farr family (later the owners of Blaise Castle Estate), Henry Bright and Michael Miller, who all lived in Queen Square and were participants in the African trade.

Another patron, George Daubeny (Bristol's mayor in 1786), was a sugar refiner and glass manufacturer, who lobbied for abolition (and signed a petition against it in 1788), then changed his mind and joined the city's anti-abolition committee in 1789.

Several plays adopted by the abolitionists were performed at the Old Vic, including 'Oroonoko', the story of an enslaved African and 'The Padlock' which was praised by Clarkson for its importance to the abolition cause.

video Ade Adepitan reports on Bristol/Bath and abolition >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer

This walk was compiled by BBC Bristol from existing slavery/abolition walks and further research into Bristol's associations with the abolition movement.

BBC Bristol also received invaluable help and expertise from local historian, researcher and photographer Barb Drummond.

Barb Drummond's other publications include: Eyebrows on Fire: Bristol and Abolition, The Bristol Slavery and Abolition Trail, 13 Fascinating Walks in Central Bristol and Death and the Bridge, the Georgian Rebuilding of Bristol Bridge.

Her work also features in the Aboltition 200 Magazine, published to commemorate the bicentenary and she has done research for the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol.

last updated: 21/03/07
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Abolition - 1807

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