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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Bristol

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Immigration and Emigration
Legacies of the Slave Trade

Detail of Broad Quay, attributed to Philip Vandyke
© Bristol Museums & Art Gallery
A small number of Africans also arrived as crew on ships. In Bristol Museum there is a painting from around 1785 called Broad Quay, attributed to Philip Vandyke, which includes a black figure in a frock coat and wig at the quayside. Artist Nicholas Pocock’s Wapping shows black sailors and shipbuilders and other scenes. The limited evidence we have suggests that these new Black Bristolians were accepted into the local working class community, although other evidence suggests that there was higher than average unemployment and some racism faced by Black Britons even then.

Evidence in the Environment

Bristol’s built environment was also changed by the slave trade. The wealth that the trade generated allowed merchants to buy larger premises, upgrade or replace ships, build furnish, and entertain on a lavish scale. The Theatre Royal in Bristol, which is the second oldest working theatre in the country, was built as a result of very wealthy subscribers each pledging a sum of money for the building.

Several of these investors had made or enhanced their personal fortune from businesses directly involved in or related to the slave trade.
The Theatre Royal
Some of the original investors in the Theatre Royal were men who had benifited from the Slave Trade.
© Dean Smart
Today some of the descendents of these families still have a silver token, which has been issued to the original investors that guaranteed a seat at any performance at the theatre!

Several buildings carry decoration related to the slave trade, and streets and public houses also bear witness to the trade. With the real evidence some local myths have also arisen. Blackboy Hill, which borders Clifton and Redland not far from the BBCs Bristol Studios is often rumoured to be named in connection with the slave trade, and the Redcliffe Caves are claimed to be where slaves brought to Bristol were held until sale. Neither story is true!

Words: Dean Smart

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Your comments

1 Chris Webster from Leicestershire - 18 October 2003
"It would be interesting to put links on this site to the social legacies, in Bristol, of slavery, such as the problems of employment on the buses in the 1960s. I think prejudice lingered on for a long time, partly linked to the attitudes created by the beliefs in European superiority which allowed people to countenance the enslavement of Africans, etc."

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