Posts Tagged ‘Bristol’

(Eurocentric) Timeline on Port Cities

a Timeline on Port Cities website (click pic to go there)

This timeline is pretty useful. For history in an British school or education system. They are right of course, those who would argue it’s Eurocentric. Though no reason to dismiss it. It’s good for passing history exams in this country true enough! And it gives good references points for orienting our heads around annals of history even if it is on the Gregorian Calendar. Part of living in a multicultural world should be being able to navigate such things no? This is a time of World History.

Reading History – Coules vs. Dresser   – Two Books :

The Trade (Victoria Coules)


Slavery Obscured. (Madge Dresser)

Recently we’ve been reading some books The Trade by Victoria Coules and Slavery Obscured by Madge Dresser.  They are both excellent ways into the subject of Bristol and its role in transatlantic slavery. The Trade is a nice  easy read. It begins by acknowledging the roaring passions that were ignited with whole 2007 Abolition thing recently. It then flows through the story from the making of Brigstowe (Bristol) through to…well chapter 8 at the moment. Coules draws on a number of sources in recent writing and research including Madge Dresser. That’s the other book. Madge’s is much more academic in its historiography and prides itself on getting close to the sources. Madge is an academic historian. Victoria is a film maker. Victoria wants to share a story that fascinates us, researched it and shared it with us in like an easy but informative documentary film. Madge wants to push back the frontiers of knowledge on the subject and assert new a position.  One thing Slavery Obscured looks to do is clarify the exact nature of the impact of the Africa business on Bristol’s rise in ‘Gentility’ (ironic notion) .  The language of the Slavery Obscured is much more academic – with its research, many images and ploughing of new research sources and directions.  It asserts a certain authority in research in this field.  The Trade is a much easier read since  the language targets a much wider  audience.  It could be read by older primary school children.  Both bring Bristol into the mix giving a much better of picture of exactly what we mean by ‘Bristol had something to do with the slavery’.

Both are reading well so far, and backing each other up about Bristol, Cabot, Colston, the ‘white slave trade’, (Which Derek Robinson mentioned back in 1973 with his very readable Shocking History of Bristol and giving dates and names to Bristol’s involvment in the ‘Africa trade’.   The Coules and Dresser books  complement each other well. So  more Coules AND Dresser rather than VERSUS. They are useful to bounce back and forth between and feture lots of knowledge there for us to better our understanding of the nature, impact and legacy of Bristol’s involvement.

Monarchs and Merchants

What happened to the wealth people featured on this BBC site?

What’s quite enjoyable about reading books about history is the references to English history. A bit like school.  With Henry VII and VIII, Mary, Elizabeth I, James, Charles, Cromwell and so forth. They are all there. Though some of it also reads like any page of the Financial Times today. Then there’s Colstons and Canynges and Cabots –  Investors in (ad)-ventures, traders and protectors of UK GDP.  New Worlds, New Markets.

But now. New Identities. For those transported and..

…for many of those companies, banks, insurance companies, big corporations have changed their names. And business interests.  Well maybe not Tate and Lyle. Like those after the Nazi Holocaust that became safe names like BASF. [as Wikipedia would say – needs citation]

There are a few institutions that are still evident very strongly today. The Monarchy, Bristol City Council and The Society of Merchant Venturers. Others have changed evolved in identity as well as markets. The monarchy were clearly key investors in licenses and laws to trade and colonise. Though when the whole busines proved proved lucrative, the intested cash.

Bristol City Council.

Many of the Society of Merchant Venturers were also members of Bristol Corporation, the council that ran the city. They were powerful men. The setting up of the Society transformed a loose network of traders into a formal organisation to promote trade..

The members of the Society were the leading merchants of the city and they had asked King Edward VI for a charter (a licence) allowing them to oversee foreign trade. They complained that the city�s trade was being ruined by untrained merchants. The King�s charter gave control of overseas trade to the Society and the rules governing membership stated that members should have been through a proper apprenticeship or training in the �Arte of Merchaunts� (the Art of the Merchant).
quotes above from Port Cities website

All the big Bristol names carved into the walls, the streets, the monuments, the houses, the parks and public places are there in this story. It’s impossible to separate from any aspect of English life of the time. A bit like trying to separate the arms trade from other strands of the global economy including our pensions funds and saving accounts.

The story of the (white) Bristol poor is another thing and they could have been shipped to ‘Barbadoes’ for liberating  a loaf of bread to feed their starving families.  Barbados was not the tourist hotspot we know today (that’s a later market!) but a growing colony in a hostile climate, hungry for labour on sugar plantations.

Barbadoes, William Mayo , 1722

From British Library

The books refer to the time when one notorious Judge Jeffreys comes to Bristol to get the ‘great’ and the ‘good’ back for support the Monmouth Rebellion . This guy is notorious for enjoying cruelty and using his power as a judge to revel in it. But then even he comes to Bristol in the 1680’s to tell the Bristol rich and powerful off for their their cruel habits. The Bristol courts (where the judiciary were also planters and investors in the colonisation project) were conning unfortunate Bristolians who found themselves up for trial for the most meagre of offences,  into taking an alternative sentence in the West Indies .

But then, Jeffreys telling them off was really a politically motivated thing because the Bristol rich were supporting the rebels against the current monarchy. Because clearly he didn’t care either. Those same bloody assizes (courts / trials)  he held did exactly the same thing.

The subsequent Bloody Assizes of Judge Jeffreys were a series of trials of Monmouth’s supporters in which 320 people were condemned to death and around 800 sentenced to be transported to the West Indies.
Wikipedia (Monmouth Rebellion)

However the times were thus. Those new and emerging colonies not, yet 150 years after Columbus and Cabot, needed labour to generate the wealth required for those investors back home in empire-building ventures.  So as the Taino, Caribs, Arawaks and Native Americans, Amerindians as we know them began to die , from European diseases and just pure genocide, the transported European convicts and ‘volunteers’  also withered in the tropical sun.  With the whole UK /European investment and venture under threat there was a voracious demand for labour.  Hence the Africans were increasingly captured, transported, worked, tortured, bred and belitted for the wealth of Great Britain and Bristol. This was already happening with Portugal and Spain but the British streamlined it.

Africentric timelines?

Guardian – Black History Timeline – at least it doesn’t start at 1619… see next

biography.com – Black History Timeline –  ‘coca-cola’ version that starts in 1619 with Obama prominent in the present.

Smithsonian Institute – Timeline – Mali, Ethiopia, Nile Valley

Paul Obinna’s Timeline


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Who am I in Bristol

Being able to talk about slavery and Bristol made me really have to think about what i knew about the town i have been brought up in. I mentioned before that learning about Willie Lynch was the beginning of any understanding for me around why we as black people live the way we do. The self destruction we bring to each others lives, putting people down, not wanting the best for one another, I can finally see the reasons behind this behavior, but at the same time i am concerned with the fact that now this information is out there what can be done to change the stereotypical views of Black people. Who am i in Bristol im yet to find out but as i travel on this journey to see the effects of slavery in Bristol i am interested to see who i can become.

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Myths and Facts


Facts and Feelings?

This working title for this book project is a bit problematic.

The idea of myths suggests something that is not ‘true’. Something that is a part of folklore, usually involving supernatural and celestial beings.  The kind of ‘myth’ we are supposed to be dealing with here though is like:

Slaves were kept in caves in Redcliffe.


Blacks were sold on Blackboy Hill.

Blackboy Hill on Port Cities website

Blackboy Hill on Port Cities website

While I could not say that this is absolutely untrue, I am aware that established historical orthodoxy on the subjects suggest that such things were certainly not the norm.

The other kind of ‘myth’ we are dealing with is

‘That’s such a long time ago, let’s move on’.

Usually that comes from a feeling that we should change the subject and not talk about this anymore.  We’ve learned over the last few years that it’s important to acknowledge these feelings. It’s not a ‘myth’, it’s an opinion and since it’s accompanied by an emotional charge, then there is a reality to it.   Any book on Bristol and transatlantic slavery,  published now, addressing popular prominent ideas about the subject should touch on such common feelings and ideas too we feel.

How long is ‘too long’ and what is meant my ‘move on’ are some arguable points right there. But such ideas are common. It’s difficult for people not get agitated or uncomfortable when exploring this subject.  Is it like talking about the Nazi implemented Holocaust in Germany?   It would be great to see our capacity for such conversation in Bristol to mature. And it is completely possible But first there is the need for the alleviation of much ignorance.

Knowledge will lead to understanding and hopefully some shifts in feeling. Like it or not our thoughts and feelings do impact on our realities today. Even when something has come out of nothing like Tracy thought that Brian said some stuff about her.  It’s still going to affect how Tracy and Brian relate to each other.

This book, if anything is to be added to the dialogue in the city must address FEELINGS.  It must enhance the dialogue. Especially after all the fireworks from the Abolition 200 moment has long sizzled out, gone soggy and got stamped into the streets of yesterday.

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So were enslaved Africans kept in caves under Redcliffe?

Were enslaved Africans kept in caves under Redcliffe in Bristol?

…Feelings and Opinions. Well however it goes, there is a book being published by the Bristol Race Forum that will try to address the myths and facts of the city and transatlantic slavery.

Slaves in Caves; Whiteladies Road; Blackboy Hill; “It’s all too long ago”; Cabot only traded pineapples… and a mix of prominent views and urban lore that usually gets attributed to Bristol’s maritime history will be addressed in this creative publication.

We have the brief on this site and will play a role in it’s making. Alongside Imayla, we aim to publish an accessible and enlightening piece of work that anyone can access.

We are also looking for your input.

So for Bristol this aspeect of its history lives on in a healthy way and can be addressed openly like many other aspects of the city’s past.

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Going ever so slightly ‘off-message’, this post has nothing whatsoever to do with race, culture, politics or education.

I was seduced by a fascinating and quite frankly bonkers statistic and just had to share it.  But rather than just give you the naked statistic, I’ll give you the whole sentence.

“The amount of chewing gum being spat on to Bristol’s streets has fallen by 59 per cent in the past year.”  (For full article in Evening Post click here.)  

The facts of this story leave me giddy.

– Bristol has been “congratulated” on this achievement.

– Bristol came 4th on a league table which measures such achievements.

– Bristol lost out to Oxford, Blackpool and Colchester. (86%, 85% and 60% reductions respectively).

– Bristol has a number of chewing gum “hot spots”.

The magic just goes on and on and on.

Now like any sensible person I think clearing up litter of any description is a good thing, and chewing gum is obviously a pain in the backside.  I’ve no idea how they even begin to measure such an activity as the ratio of people who spit out gum.

Maybe the ‘Chewing Gum Action Group’ (which is a real group by the way!) – who are obviously a highly committed, intelligent and capable bunch of boffins and activists – should be put in charge of the city’s schools. 

If not actually running the schools, at least draft them in to evaluate where the root of where our education problem lies, and come up with a heady statistic and a probability of how the problem can be solved.  Let’s be fair, what harm could it do??

I await seeing the results of the new regime with interest.

(I’m pleased with how I’ve managed to shoe-horn in education eventually!) 


Some gum in a Bristol playground getting stuck to the bottom of a child’s school shoes, yesterday.

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It’s a blow to the cultural “offer” of the city that the Commonwealth museum is moving to London.  In it’s short time in Bristol it has hosted a wealth of exhibitions and events that have aimed to raise poignant questions for the whole city; for those born here and for those born elsewhere.

That said, there are also people in the city that have refused to even step inside due to it’s name, that won’t be sad to see it go.  It also came under criticism for it’s use of “smiley ethnic faces” in it’s publicity campaigns and posters for exoticising “others” and glossing over the brutality of much of the colonisation era.  In my view the museum would never be able to please all the people all the time and I feel it did it’s best to reflect the historical context of the British Empire in a balanced way; at times it’s exhibitions didn’t go far enough and in other times it was spot on.  I personally will be sad to see it go as at least it kept certain issues on the radar, and if they were not always agreed with, at least they could be debated. 

As for the name, I think it is more accurate and apt than most other “British” museums in the country, whose big attractions are mummies from Egypt and marbles from Greece. 

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