Did anyone in Bury benefit from slavery?

In 1833, slavery was abolished in Great Britain, and British subjects could be prosecuted if they were found to be in legal possession of slaves after 1 August, 1834.  Former slave-owners were compensated by taxpayer’s money to a total of £20 million, and the records from this compensation provide a snapshot as to which individuals had owned slaves at the point of abolition.  Predictably, this database revealed that the bulk of slave-owners were resident in the major port cities of London, Bristol, Lancaster and Liverpool; and that only one individual in the Bury area was compensated.

Figure 1. Bury’s Wellington Barracks, viewed from Bolton Road.

This was Captain Richard Straker Wickham (1794-1876), of the 1st West India Regiment, who was born in Barbados, probably of Irish stock.  Sometime after 1842, he moved to Lancashire, and the 1851 census return lists him as ‘Barrack Master’ at 211 Bolton Road, Elton, Bury.  This address can only be that of the Wellington Barracks.  By 1861, Wickham had relocated to Edinburgh, and his total compensation, related to his slaves on the islands of Antigua and Barbados, came to £175 (£14,500 equivalent today).      

It may appear that Wickham was just passing through, as an itinerant soldier, and that Bury’s permanent population may have been blameless of any such abuses.  But history is invariably far more complex and nuanced than we assume, and the compensation records represent only money generated after the Slavery Abolition Act took effect.  They tell us nothing about how income from slavery in the years before 1833 might have found its way into mercantile society, and about which few records may have survived.

Figure 2. Memorial to Richard Calrow in St Mary’s Church, Bury.

On 23 December 1843, the partnership between Richard Calrow (1815-50) and John Houghton Brancker (1817-93), based at Albion Mill, in Elton, Bury, was dissolved by mutual agreement.  Calrow was the son of William Calrow of Higher Woodhill; whilst Brancker was a Liverpool merchant and ship owner, who had married into the Grundy family of Bury.  He was also the grandson of Peter Whitfield Brancker (1750-1836), a slave ship captain who went on to own slave ships and sugar refining works, served as mayor of Liverpool, and in 1834, received £1,000 in compensation for his freed slaves (£83,000 equivalent today). 

Figure 3. Peter Whitfield Brancker of Liverpool, slave ship captain and owner; grandfather of John Houghton Brancker, of Albion Mill, Elton.

Given this background, it is difficult to see how John Houghton Brancker’s finances could not be independent of the vast fortune generated by his grandfather’s involvement in the slave trade; quite irrespective of the fact that anyone trading in the cotton business in Lancashire was de facto involving themselves in slavery in the Southern States of America. 

Figure 4. Plan showing stowage of slaves on slave ship. Any slaves who became ill during the voyage were simply thrown overboard.

Albion Mill is the last survivor of a local group of mills either built or operated by the Calrow family, the others being at Burrs, Higher Woodhill, and Hinds.  Was Albion Mill erected on the blood-tainted profits extracted from men, women, and children dragged from their native African homeland and forcibly compelled to graft, so that men from the Deep South of America and Lancashire could become fabulously wealthy?

Figure 5. ‘Perfidious Albion’ – Albion Mill: was this Bury mill built using funds derived from the slave trade?

SOURCES

Slavery compensation records can be seen at the University College London’s Department of History website https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/project/details/

Thanks to Laurence Westgaph and others who provided information on the Brancker family (Fb page ‘Liverpool and Slavery’).

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