Church of England and Bank of England apologise for historic slavery links

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The Bank of England vowed to block any images of its notorious former leaders from being displayed there – Toby Melville/Reuters The Church of England and the Bank of England apologised on Thursday night for their historic links to slavery through vicars, bishops and Bank governors who benefited from the […]

The Bank of England vowed to block any images of its notorious former leaders from being displayed there - Toby Melville/Reuters
The Bank of England vowed to block any images of its notorious former leaders from being displayed there – Toby Melville/Reuters

The Church of England and the Bank of England apologised on Thursday night for their historic links to slavery through vicars, bishops and Bank governors who benefited from the trade in the 19th century.

The Church said its links to slavery were “a source of shame” as it emerged that scores of churches, clergymen and even a bishop could have been funded by compensation paid to plantation owners.

Fresh analysis of a database held by University College London (UCL) found that nearly 100 clergymen, including a bishop, who benefited from slavery were from the Church of England. Six governors and four directors of the Bank of England are also named as claimants or beneficiaries in the database.  

They include Sir John Rae Reid, governor between 1839 and 1841 and director of the West India Co, who was paid £7.1 million in today’s money for his stake in 17 plantations, with 3,100 slaves, across the Caribbean.

The Bank vowed on Thursday night to block any images of its notorious former leaders from being displayed there, describing the 18th and 19th century trade as “an unacceptable part of English history”.

UCL has been logging the details of the 47,000 people in the UK who received some of the £20 million – £2.4 billion today – paid in compensation under the terms of the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act.

Also on Thursday, three of the world’s biggest banking and insurance companies pledged to make payments to projects benefiting black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities after their roles in the slave trade were exposed.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds Banking Group and RSA Insurance said they would make payments or were considering doing so after being linked to the UCL database.

The Greene King brewery - Tony Buckingham
The Greene King brewery – Tony Buckingham

That came after Greene King, one of the UK’s largest pub chains, and the insurance giant Lloyd’s of London said on Wednesday that they would make donations to BAME causes.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat leadership challenger, said on Thursday: “The Church of England and Bank of England, like many British institutions, must use the controversy over Black Lives Matter to confront past links to slavery and make amends.”

Research shows that 151 clergymen in the database were involved in claims worth £66 million in today’s money, 96 of whom were from the Church of England. The claims to which the 96 clergymen were linked would be worth £46 million today.

The construction of 32 churches is linked to claimants. They include Holy Trinity in Barnstaple which, according to British History Online, was “erected at an expense of nearly £10,000, defrayed almost wholly by the Rev. John James Scott”.

The Rev. John James Scott was the main beneficiary from the compensation paid out over plantations in Jamaica which belonged to his father – more than £100,000 in today’s money.

Among other clergymen to benefit the most from abolition compensation were brothers Rev. George Trevelyan and Rev. John Thomas Trevelyan, of Somerset. Jointly with other family members, they received more than £3 million in today’s money when forced to surrender six estates in Grenada – inherited from their father – on which more than 1,000 people were enslaved.

The Rt. Rev. Henry Philpotts, the Bishop of Exeter from 1830 to 1869, was named as executor over three claims, worth more than £1.5 million today, on three plantations in Jamaica with 665 slaves. UCL researchers said there was no evidence that Bishop Philpotts personally owned slaves. 

The cash was paid to individual clergymen, not the church itself.  The church campaigned for the abolition of slavery in the early 1800s and issued an apology for historic cases in 2006.

A Church of England spokesman said: “We are unfamiliar with this data, but slavery and exploitation have no place in society. 

“While we recognise the leading role clergy and active members of the Church of England played in securing the abolition of slavery, it is a source of shame that others within the church actively perpetrated slavery and profited from it.”

A Bank of England spokesman said: “As an institution, the Bank was never itself directly involved in the slave trade, but is aware of some inexcusable connections involving former governors and directors and apologises for them.

“The Bank has commenced a thorough review of its collection of images of former governors and directors to ensure none with any such involvement in the slave trade remain on display anywhere in the Bank.”

In the case of RBS (see above), there were 18 former companies associated with the bank that have links to claimants or beneficiaries in the database. A company report by RBS, published in 2009, listed the names of 80 male, 57 female and 27 child slaves part-owned by five partners of Hankey Bank, later merged into RBS.

An RBS spokesman said it “will look at what more we can do as a bank, and this includes looking at making contributions to BAME groups”.

Lloyds Banking Group was linked to slavery through eight former companies associated with it which had links to claimants or beneficiaries in the UCL database. A spokesman said it was “building a plan to invest in BAME colleagues, communities and customers” after the revelations.

There were also five former companies associated with RSA Insurance with links to claimants or beneficiaries in the UCL database.

A spokesman for RSA said it would be “making a donation to a charity which supports education programmes to address racism and improve awareness of black history in society”.

Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Commons defence select committee, told Chopper’s Politics Podcast, which you can listen to on the player below, that the revelations meant the UK was “finally having a conversation about our past, trying to better reflect it and understand it”.

Chopper's Episode 178 - Greg Clark, Tobias Elwood, Kate Nicholls
Chopper’s Episode 178 – Greg Clark, Tobias Elwood, Kate Nicholls

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