London’s secret slavery shame exposed by new walking tour

20 March 2012

A new walking tour will reveal the central role slavery has played in the development of the City of London over the past two millennia. The Anti-Slavery International tour given by historian Dr William Pettigrew from the University of Kent will also seek to undermine recent revisionist attempts to displace ‘blame’ for the slave trade away from the capital and onto other English cities, such as Bristol and Liverpool.

Taking place on Sunday 25 March, the 205th anniversary of the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the inaugural tour will explain how slavery has been at the heart of the city of London’s story since the Roman invasion and will include visits to historic locations connected to medieval serfdom, the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the abolitionist movement as well as exploring the capital’s current incarnation as a major hub for human trafficking.

The tour will visit the headquarters of the Royal African Company, which between 1672 and 1740 operated a monopoly over the Transatlantic Slave Trade and trafficked 150,000 Africans. Also on the route is the London Guildhall, location of the Zong case of 1781, which exposed how a Liverpool slave trader threw 133 slaves overboard to claim insurance. The decision by the then Lord Chief Justice not to rule the deaths as murder led to angry protests and helped spread support for the abolitionist cause.

Dr William Pettigrew, History Lecturer at University of Kent, said: “’London’s role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade has been understated for far too long. London and Londoners provided the ideas, the institutions, the will as well as the money to perfect the slave trade long before providing the setting for its abolition.”

Dr Aidan McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International, said: “Anyone who goes on this tour will have to deal with many uncomfortable truths, including how London profited vastly from the trade in human beings, that arguments on liberty were perverted to convinced British elites to enslave Africans, and that slavery has not gone away and remains a very real problem for the capital today.”

The tour costs £10 and will start at 11am on Sunday 25th March outside The Distillers (pub), 66 West Smithfield, EC1A 9DY (nearest tubes Farringdon/Barbican). All money raised will go to Anti-Slavery International, the world’s oldest human rights organisation. Numbers for the tour are strictly limited, to buy a ticket in advance, visit

The walking tour is raising awareness of slavery in London as part of Anti-Slavery International’s Slavery-Free London Campaign, which aims to draw attention to the potential risk of an increase in forced labour and trafficking connected to the 2012 Games. For more information visit here.

Did you know…? Top ten London slavery facts:

1. Roman London was burnt to the ground in 60 AD by Queen Boudica of the Iceni as vengeance for the enslavement of her people.
2. At Smithfield in 1381, the Mayor of London stabbed to death Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, partly for seeking to end Medieval Serfdom.
3. The London-based and crown-sponsored Royal African Company shipped more African slaves to America than any other single organisation in the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade – about 150,000 (equal to half of all the Africans transported to mainland North America).
4. William Dockwra, a merchant who helped develop the British Transatlantic slave trade also set up the post office in 1680.
5. Guy’s Hospital was established with money made during the ‘South Sea Bubble’, a financial speculation frenzy fuelled by the belief that the slave trade would bring unlimited wealth to Britain.
6. John Locke, enlightenment Philosopher and ‘Father of liberalism’, famous for such insights as “all wealth is the product of labour” and “no one ought to harm another” was an initial investor in the Royal African Company. (Another of his quotes is “all men are liable to error.”)
7. The author of the hymn Amazing Grace, John Newton, was a reformed slave trader and, as vicar of St Mary Woolnoth, preached a sermon that helped recruit William Wilberforce MP to the cause.
8. The natural English right to trade in slaves was argued to be a liberty as sacred to as the right to trial by jury.
9. While the trade was abolished in 1807 and slavery from the British Empire was finally eradicated in 1838, slavery was only made a crime in 2010. (Forced labour amendments to the Coroners and Justice Act).
10. There are an estimated 5,000 people still in slavery in the UK today.

For further press information contact Paul Donohoe, Anti-Slavery International’s Press Officer on 020 7501 8934 or

Notes for Editors

1. Future tour dates

Sunday 13 May
Sunday 3 June
Sunday 17 June

2. Walking route

1: Smithfield Market: Intro, Logistics, Different Forms of Slavery, Serfdom, Peasants’ Revolt
2: London Wall: Slavery and Roman Invasion, Roman Slavery, Boudica’s Revolt
3: Walkway behind Guildhall Overlooking London Wall: Blitz and Slavery, War and Slavery
4: Guildhall: City of London Government, Amphitheatre, Gladiators and Slavery, Medieval London and Slavery, Crusades and Slavery before America, White Slavery (2), Londoners enslaved by Arab corsairs
5: Bow Lane: John Smith, British America, White Slavery (2): Indentured Servitude, John Donne
6: Monument: Resurgence of London’s Economy and Declining Supply of Servants for Transportation, Shift to African Labour
7: Fen Court: An Introduction to the Transatlantic Slave Trade
8: Africa House: Leadenhall Street: Royal African Company, involvement of monarchy, activities, contribution, weakness
9: Lloyds of London: William Dockwra and ‘freeing’ the slave trade, campaign like abolition
10: St Michael’s Alley: Jamaica Wine House, ‘golden age’ of London slave trading, statistics of slave trading, cargo analysis
11: Lombard St: South Sea Bubble, investment in slave frenzy
12: St Mary Woolnoth: Abolition (1): John Newton and William Wilberforce
13: Mansion House: Abolition (2), Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, Samuel Johnson
14: 1 New Change: End of Abolition, Slavery Continues, Modern Slavery Statistics, Summarising