A short walk to Bathwick fields repeated. Disenchanted if possible.
The route determined by the National Trust published route (2015) “Walk to the View!”,
this route augmented with data from the UCL Legacies of British Slave-ownership.
meanderings and wayfarings supplied by the walkers live
The National Trust route offered us the enchantment, both the indications of where to look for the picturesque but also the enchantment of the story of certain individuals who transformed Bath in the C18th.
The UCL research offers both the possibility of insights into a further enchantment, one that we might consider to be evil, but an enchantment nevertheless. To a time when the plantation and slaveowners were being required to abandon some of their productive assets and they in turn demanded compensation.
So where was the disenchantment? I feel we glimpsed it from the start when a walker pointed out that we were looking over the roof of the wrong ice-cream parlour to see Ralph Allen’s house. It was a crowded last day of late summer in Bath with tourists and guided walks all around us, autumn was unfolding as the cold mist lifted. A real attempt to sense critically from the outset, perhaps too the attempt to perform this live on a smart device and connect with the networks produced a different way of sensing.
At the river the National Trust offered as a triumph of engineering the Navigation from the sea to Bath, we added in our pooled knowledge of industry, mills and pollution. The slaughterhouses sluicing out the offal down the river. What might we have smelt or seen floating down the river? Was there a Bath stench?
We walked on to the Pulteney Bridge and the great palladian estate stretched before us. Trying to decipher the ghost signs on the walls by the church..justice? nuremburg? fresh? finding patterns and making sense. But here indeed was the Bath stench, the Great Silence:
On the walls plaques for Hannah More and William Wilberforce…not to mention others unknown or notorious but not a mention of the slaveowners and the economy that thrived around them. I was shocked that in the dying days of legalised slaveownership the slave owners fought for compensation for their projected loss. Not that they lost the labour as most enslaved peoples were simply transferred to a form of wage slavery. Each person cold valued in pounds shillings and pence.
This whole shameful mesh of financiers, insurance, bankers and landowners fought to retain the trade and then to retain their ‘property’ and in Bath they lived side by side. Hannah More for example opposite Charles Blair, great grandfather of George Orwell, who was compensated for the release of 218 enslaved people to the tune of £4442 13s 1d. The enslaved people got nothing. William Wilberforce lived almost next door to the Reverend Alexander Scott who on the basis of the release of 577 people in Antigua and Barbados received approx £10,570 ‘compensation’.
We talked about how these people and these payments should be brought to mind. The slave trade of the C18th supported many of the great estates and buildings of Bath and this massive influx of cash may have fuelled the railway mania of the C19th. There is a conversation to be had about reparations both to the countries of west Africa and to the Caribbean. Building a new prison in Jamaica was not what we were thinking of.
One slaveowner and neighbour of Jane Austen, Bezsin Reece, awarded a total of £3188 13s 11d compensation for the release of 163 enslaved people in Barbados is reported to have “lived in some style with several negro servants” (quote on UCL site) and his wife and daughters (quote on UCL site). The absence of black people in the Jane Austen and related Georgian enchantment was noted. On into the pleasure garden the total enchantment at the heart of Pulteney’s dream new town. Walkers shared that this was also a site of protest and public assembly…another silence.
Finally onto the canal and the fine iron Stothert bridges, we made our connections with the almost erased memory of the Stothert and Pitt engineering works asset stripped at the end of the C20th and buried under speculative housing development at the beginning of the C21.
I imagined young Hugo watching the trains, thought of refugees on foot across Europe and people freed at last, but completely displaced and effectively enslaved again in Barbados, Jamaica and Antigua….. as the wealth accumulated and continues to accumulate in this enchanted City. What stories we are telling ourselves…how to take note of, acknowledge, act on these crimes against humanity, how to make recompense, how to learn from the struggle and resistance of people here and abroad?