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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Fenland (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TF 46063 09627





II* This list entry has been amended as part of the Bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition Act.

Commemorative monument, standing at the centre of Bridge Street. Erected 1880-1881. Architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878). Responsibility for the design and execution of the monument was assumed by Scott's son, John Oldrid Scott, after his father's death. The contractor was Pattinson of Sleaford. The monument was restored c1984.

Limestone and red sandstone. Six steps lead up to a buttressed pedestal with four sides, on each side a red sandstone panel. The first of these is carved with the words 'Clarkson / Born at Wisbech / 1760', within a moulded frame. The remaining three panels are relief sculptures, with inscriptions beneath; two show distinguished abolitionists, Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce, both seated. The fourth panel is a copy of Wedgewood's iconic 1787 bas-relief of a supplicant slave, designed by William Hackwood. Beneath this panel, the words 'Remember them that are in bonds.' Around the top of the pedestal, a cornice of hop leaves; brewing was an important industry in Wisbech. On a secondary pedestal is a statue of Thomas Clarkson in white Ancaster stone; Clarkson stands a little over life size, with a scroll in one hand and the broken fetters of a slave in the other. The statue is enclosed by an open canopy with trefoiled heads, supported by buttressed shafts. The canopy is surmounted by a lantern with crockets to buttress finials, and a spire terminating with a gilded cross. The height of the monument is about 68 ft.

HISTORY: Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) was pivotal to the British campaign to end the slave trade and the institution of slavery. Born at Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, Clarkson was the son of a curate and grammar school headmaster; his intention was to follow his father into the church. At Cambridge, in 1785, Clarkson wrote the winning Latin prize essay for which the set topic was 'Anne liceat invitos in servitutem dare' ('Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?'). Research into the Atlantic slave trade left him appalled, and he resolved to devote himself to seeing 'these calamities to their end'; his first act was to translate and publish his essay, which proved hugely influential. In 1787 he joined with Granville Sharp and others to form the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and in the same year, Clarkson was instrumental in persuading William Wilberforce to represent the cause in Parliament. Clarkson undertook to travel the country raising support, and seeking out evidence about the slave trade to put before Parliament. This he did, visiting slave ports great and small, inspecting slave ships, and talking to seamen, doctors, slave captains and merchants. He became a celebrated national figure, but also made bitter enemies. In 1788, Parliament appointed a select committee to examine the slave trade, for which Clarkson organised witnesses and material evidence, including the horrific diagram of the arrangement of slaves below decks on the ship named the 'Brookes'. During the 1790s, his health at risk, Clarkson went into temporary retirement from the campaign, moving first to the Lake District, and then to Suffolk; he married in 1796. But in 1804 he re-joined the fight with vigour, collecting new evidence and putting pressure on sympathetic MPs. On 25 March 1807 the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill at last received royal assent. In the following years, Clarkson was active in campaigning for the abolition of slavery itself; in 1823 he was one of the founding members of the Anti-Slavery Society. The Slavery Abolition Act having been passed in 1833, Clarkson helped bring about the end of enforced apprenticeship of former slaves in the West Indies. Clarkson died at his home, Playford Hall in Suffolk (q.v.), on 26 September 1846, and was buried at St Mary's Church (q.v.), where there is a listed memorial to him. Besides the monument at Wisbech, there is one at High Cross, Thundridge, in Hertfordshire (q.v.), and in 1996, to mark his sequicentenary, a tablet was placed in Westminster Abbey near the Wilberforce tomb.

The Clarkson Memorial stands at the centre of Wisbech, close to the market and the Town Hall. The monument falls into a tradition of Gothic memorial edifices for which its designer, George Gilbert Scott, knighted as Sir Gilbert Scott, was largely responsible; Scott's work in this line included the Martyrs' Memorial (1841-3) in Oxford, and the Albert Memorial (1876) in Hyde Park. Scott's brother, John, was vicar of Wisbech Parish Church.

The town of Wisbech considered a number of schemes for commemorating Clarkson following his death, including the restoration of the grammar school of which his father had been headmaster. The public monument was not proposed until the 1870s. Subscriptions were raised from townspeople, a large donation being made by the Peckover family. The Peckovers, a Quaker banking family, had been friends of the Clarksons, and were abolitionist sympathisers; Jonathan Peckover was a subscriber to Olaudah Equiano's influential 'Interesting Narrative', published in 1789. Contributions to the cost of the monument also came from outsiders, including the Duke of Devonshire, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, Lord Selborne, and Sir Henry Brand, Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for Cambridgeshire. The memorial was unveiled by Sir Henry Brand on 11 November 1881.

SOURCES: Wisbech Society Annual Report (1960); Peckover P. H. photographic collection, 166 (1931); Cambridgeshire County Council Survey, R. Walker (1983); Perspective drawings by Sir G. Scott, 476; A. Peckover (Watson's History), Watson's History of Wisbech (1827), 472; Gardiner, History of Wisbech (1898), 280; N. Pevsner, Buildings of England, Cambridgeshire (1954, 1970), 497; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; accessed on 28 October 2007; Notes and Queries, series 11, vol XII (1915), 337; Wisbech Advertiser, 12 November 1881; J. Oldfield, 'Chords of Freedom', (2007), 75-8

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION The Clarkson Memorial is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * It is a handsome neo-Gothic monument * It was one of the last works of Sir George Gilbert Scott * The monument is of particular historical interest, having been erected to commemorate Thomas Clarkson, one of the foremost heroes of the abolition movement. TF4606309627


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Gardiner, F J, History of Wisbech and Neighbourhood, (1898), 280
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, (1970), 497
Watson, W, An Historical Account of the Ancient Town and Port of Wisbech, (1827), 472
Watson, W, An Historical Account of the Ancient Town and Port of Wisbech, (1827), 476
'Wisbech Society Annual Report' in Wisbech Society Annual Report, (1960)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 16 Feb 2005
Reference: IOE01/13609/21
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Peter D. Dewar. Source Historic England Archive
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