Pittville and the inheritance of the slave trade
The Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, outlawing the traffic of people into slavery, was passed by the British Government in 1807. The Act included provision for the Government to pay compensation to former slave owners for the loss of enslaved workers, their ‘property’. £20 million was granted, to be paid by British taxpayers.
Owners submitted their claims specifying numbers of workers, their ages, level of skill, type of work and monetary value. “Legacies of British Slave-ownership”, an ongoing project run by University College, London, has painstakingly uncovered many of these payments and is revealing the vast extent of slave ownership across many levels of society, and how the money was spent. The records currently show that 379 awardees lived in Gloucestershire, with 61 of these in Cheltenham. Several came from Pittville: in some cases, we can assume the money was used to build or purchase property; in others, it enabled retired owners or their surviving relatives to live in Pittville’s elegant post-Regency surroundings.
I am grateful for the help of Eric Miller: several of the residents mentioned here are included in his article ‘Plantocrats and Rentiers: Cheltenham’s Slave-owners’ which appears in the Journal of the Cheltenham Local History Society (34: 2018).
Nineteenth-century Pittville residents known to have been associated with some aspect of the slave trade are briefly discussed below. NB: In some cases these residents lived outside the original Pittville Estate but within Cheltenham Borough Council’s “Pittville character area”.
Major-General Robert Sutton Burge (1829-92), a retiredofficer of Her Majesty’s Indian Army, lived at Kingsmuir, now the Kingsmuir Hotel, on Pittville Circus. His father, William Burge, had been Attorney General in Jamaica and was an active supporter of slavery at a time when the abolition movement was gaining strength and exposing the cruelties and injustice of the system. That he also served as MP for over 20 years shows how supporters of the system were very much part of the establishment in the mother country.
Solomon Mendez da Silva lived at 5 Blenheim Parade, now 11 Evesham Road. Born in Jamaica in 1781, he lived first at Park Place in Cheltenham, then at Blenheim Parade for the last 20 years of his life. He was an active member of the Jewish community in Cheltenham and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Elm Street. Da Silva is recorded as having over 300 enslaved workers on six estates in Jamaica, for which he was awarded £6,180 in compensation.
Elizabeth Hamilton lived at what is now 31 Pittville Lawn in the 1840s. She inherited plantations in Dominica from her father William Lee and received more than £2,000 in compensation for the loss of 105 enslaved workers. She was the widow of Henry Hamilton, Governor of Dominica, who died in office in 1795.
Slavery was not restricted to the Caribbean. Enslaved workers continued to be used in Brazil long after emancipation in the Caribbean territories. A resident of Napier House, Pittville Lawn (now No. 3), was Jane Herring, widow of Charles Herring. Charles had been the ‘strong and energetic’ superintendent of the St John d’el Rey mine in Brazil.1 The mining company used enslaved workers – there was a shortage of free labour – and it seems that when emancipation did come to Brazil, it was driven more by economics and pressure from abolitionists in Britain than humanitarianism on the part of the company itself. The last enslaved workers were freed as late as 1882. In 1861 the now-widowed Jane and her daughters, who had been born in Brazil, were living in 7 Clarence Square. Towards the end of her life, then in her 80s, Jane moved to 10 Pittville Villas (48 Prestbury Road).
The link between Pittville residents and estate ownership may be indirect: between 1857 and 1859 George Law is recorded as living at Kenilworth House, 27 Pittville Lawn, moving in 1861 to Cotswold Lodge in Pittville Circus Road. He was a beneficiary through his brother-in-law Joseph Seymour Biscoe – an awardee of £5,545 compensation paid in 1835 for more than 400 enslaved workers on estates in Jamaica and Nevis. The first wife of Joseph Biscoe (‘Seymour’ from his mother, Lady Mary Seymour, daughter of the Duke of Somerset – family of Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII) was Susanna Hope, famous in 1794 for a scandalous court case over an affair with Robert Gordon, another owner of estates in Jamaica. Biscoe divorced Susannah and three years later married Stephana Law, sister of George. Joseph Biscoe died in 1833; Stephana and George were his executors along with Stephana’s son William Biscoe.
The painstaking work of assessing claims for compensation did not always benefit the claimants. An unsuccessful claim forover £8,000 was made by Barrett Lee (the compensation was awarded to a mortgage trustee).In 1851 Barrett Lee was living at Pittville Lawn Villa (now 39 Pittville Lawn). She was the second wife of Colonel Michael White Lee, and the great-niece of his first (although the age difference of fifteen years was considerably less than the twenty-six-year difference between White Lee and his first wife). Barrett Lee’s family had had holdings in Jamaica. She was a distant relation of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
A map of Jamaica of 1763 (extract), showing plantation owners. ‘Barrett’s pen’ is shown in the parish of St Thomas in the East, in the far south-east of the island. See enlargeable version here. Library of Congress, Geography and Map DivisionA fine memorial to Michael White Lee (‘deeply deeply regretted’) and his wife, Barrett, can be seen in the North Aisle in Holy Trinity Church in Portland Street.
The memorial to Michael White and Barrett Lee in Holy Trinity Church.
Photo: Terry Langhorn12 Albert Place was the last address of Lucy Munkhouse,who lived as a lodger and died there at the age of 90 in 1899. In 1835 she had received £272 as her share of the compensation for an estate in Jamaica that had belonged to her uncle Arthur Savage, a merchant and coffee trader in Kingston. Lucy Munkhouse never married, but her sister Fidelia Hill, also a beneficiary, moved to Australia from Jamaica with her husband in the 1830s, and became Australia’s first published woman poet.
Purchase of Blenheim House and 3 Blenheim Parade (1 and 3 Evesham Road) was made by Joseph Freeman Padmore in 1833. It is not known where he was actually living in Cheltenham, but records show that he received compensation of £1,790 for 83 enslaved on an estate in Barbados.
Also on Evesham Road, James Law Stewart lived at No. 1, Blenheim House. He had been born in the West Indies around 1787 – both his parents came from plantation-owning families, as did his wife. He was awarded £8,355 in compensation for three estates in Jamaica. Stewart also lived for a few years at Apsley House by Pittville Circus, now the Tower House, although his eventual death was recorded in Pembrokeshire.
Robert Stokes, best known for his work as Joseph Pitt’s architect in the 1830s, was born in Jamaica, and on the death of his father inherited a share from the sale of a plantation lease. He had connections with several properties in Pittville Lawn, his last address being at 7 Pittville Lawn. For more details on Stokes’s life and work, see James Hodsdon’s article on this website.
Other Pittville residents were active on the side of the abolitionists, and one of these is recorded below:
Following the 1807 Abolition Act, the British Navy patrolled the seas looking for illegal traders. William Broughton had been captain of HMS Primrose in 1830 when a successful raid on a Cuban vessel had resulted in his promotion. This may have enabled him to purchase Primrose Lawn (now Devonshire House), where he lived from 1832 until his death in 1849. His widow and family retained the house for many years afterwards.
Captain Broughton’s ship HMS Primrose engages
with a Cuban slave vessel off the coast of West Africa,
7 September 1830: Wikipedia (public domain)Over subsequent decades, times changed and more teachers, secretaries, nurses and tradespeople took up residence in the area. The UCL project is ongoing – with an estimated 10-20% of the population having some interest in the slave trade, more links are continually being uncovered. Further connections may emerge to the enslaved themselves: the compensation claims identify only owners, although other records do enable people to trace ancestors who were enslaved. Many of the enslaved and freed came to Britain and settled here – we wait to discover if any turn out to have lived in Pittville.
1 Eakin, Marshall C., A British Enterprise in Brazil: The St John d’el Rey Mining Company and the Morro Velho Gold Mine 1830-1960 (Duke University Press; 1989), p. 23.