A black and white archive photograph of the exterior facade of Liverpool Town Hall.
Liverpool town hall. © Historic England Archive. Image reference AA98/04365.
Liverpool town hall. © Historic England Archive. Image reference AA98/04365.

The Impact of Transatlantic Slavery on England’s Built Environment: a Research Audit

A project that brings together previous research into the tangible traces of the impact of the transatlantic slave economy reflected in England's built heritage.

Much work has been done over recent decades to understand England’s role in transatlantic slavery.

Spanning the 15th to the 19th centuries, the transatlantic slave trade was one of the largest forced migrations of people and had a considerable impact on the history of Africa, the Americas and Europe. Britain dominated the trade in the 18th and early-19th centuries, until a force of abolitionist opinion led to the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

However, the abolition of the trade did not mean an end to enslavement in British colonies, and wealth generated from commodities produced by enslaved labour continued to flow back to Britain. Emancipation of enslaved people in British Caribbean territories did not take place until 1833 (followed by binding terms of ‘apprenticeship’), and in other areas of the empire emancipation came later.

In early 2020 Historic England commissioned a research audit examining how this history finds expression in England’s built environment. The research audit brings together the work of historians, heritage organisations, local and community researchers, and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic research networks which has identified the tangible presence of England’s slavery past in buildings, houses, streets, industrial heritage, urban fabrics and rural landscapes.

The scope of the project

The consultants, Dr Mary Wills and Dr Madge Dresser, have gathered a wide variety of research that has been carried out in the last 30 years across a range of media in relation to this broad theme. These ‘slavery connections’ include:

  • The built environment of English cities, towns and villages in relation to transatlantic slavery, and particularly the development of certain English industries
  • The country houses and other residences which were built or renovated as a result of an individual’s connections to transatlantic slavery, and the impact of this wealth on the surrounding landscapes
  • The historic Black presence in England at the time of Atlantic slavery as revealed in the built environment
  • This history of abolitionism as evidenced in the built environment
  • The public history of these ‘slavery connections’ as seen in museums, exhibitions, memorials, and creative responses to this history

Much remains to be uncovered. The research audit summarises the existing research, identifies gaps and makes suggestions for future research.

Project findings and resources

The findings of the research audit are detailed in the Summary Report.

Searchable bibliography

The research sources identified are listed and categorised in the Bibliography, which you can download as an Excel spreadsheet.

Download bibliography

Webinar recording

The findings were presented at a webinar on 11 August 2020. 

View the recording

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