Wells and Transatlantic Slavery

14th March 2023

Wells Cathedral has announced the launch of a new Wells and Transatlantic Slavery self-guided trail telling the story of treasured items such as paintings, stained-glass windows, and chandeliers that all have connections to the enslavement of Africans.

Conference to share findings of a multi-agency project on transatlantic slavery connections in Wells

The trail is part of the Wells and Transatlantic Slavery Project which will see its findings presented publicly for the first time this week alongside talks designed to give a range of histories and perspectives on the issue.

A number of institutions and individuals from the City of Wells – including Wells Cathedral, the Cathedral School, the museum, St Cuthbert’s Parish Church, City Archives and the Somerset African Caribbean Network, local historians and interested individuals – have come together to research the history of connections between Wells, the transatlantic slave trade and British slavery in the Caribbean.

Each institution is conducting research into connections relevant to them, and a local historian is also working with historians from the Caribbean to understand how the British slave trade and slavery are connected to Wells, the conditions enslaved people endured on forced-labour plantations, and the continuing legacies of British slavery in our present day.

The research will be brought together in a variety of ways to make it accessible to a wide audience, including the self-guided interpretation trail taking visitors to particular sites of interest with a map to locate these, the conference this Thursday (16 March) and a dedicated website to house the research.

Jessica Witchell, Wells Cathedral Learning Manager and convenor of the Project Group, said:

“This is a piece of our history that has been long-ignored and which it is important to tell alongside the rest of the Cathedral’s story and the story of the city. 

“Across the whole project we have tried to engage with all sides and perspectives of these challenging histories. 

“A very rich and intricate story has emerged including Canons at the Cathedral whose wealth came from slave ownership, the relationship between the Wells Theological College that was based in Vicars Close and the Codrington Theological College and sugar plantation in Barbados, and the City’s historical links with the Tudway family who owned sugar plantations in Parham, Antigua. 

“To try to understand more, we have been in touch with historians in Antigua and Barbados and learnt of stories of enslaved resistance on the plantations & the current discussions about reparations. 

“We have also learnt of the active involvement of two bishops of Bath and Wells in the abolition movement, as well as the visits of formerly enslaved African American abolitionists to the local area.

“Unlike Bristol, this side of the history of Wells is not widely known and the conference, together with a city-wide trail map and dedicated website is aimed at raising awareness of it.”

Last October, members of the Wells and Transatlantic Slavery Working Group met with Paterson Joseph, actor and author of ‘The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho’. Sancho was a former slave who became the first black person of African origin to vote in parliamentary elections in Britain. Paterson is interested in the Wells and Transatlantic Slavery project and will be a speaker this Thursday and will give a short performance especially for the conference.

The conference is on 16 March 2023 at Cedars Hall, Wells and is open to the public and Sixth Form students, book tickets here.

 This is an ongoing research project, so anyone with any information or family history that may be of use to this city-wide initiative should email legaciesofslavery@wellscathedral.org.uk.