Bristol and the slave trade

This week we tackled a more difficult subject for our walk in the past walk – the Bristol slave trade.

It is an uncomfortable but undeniable fact that much of Bristol’s prosperity came from the slave trade. Slavery is thousands of years old. The Romans brought slaves to Britain and Celtic tribes  traded slaves. However with the discovery of America  in 1492 new opportunities for the trade were created.

Europeans found the hot humid conditions of the south difficult to work in but loved crops like cotton, tobacco and sugar that could be grown there.  One solution was to take people from Africa who were used to a hot climate and transport them to America

A triangular trade was started. Manufactured goods and guns were traded along the coast of Africa for slaves who were taken to America and the West Indies and sold for goods like sugar and tobacco which were brought back to Europe.

The numbers involved are staggering. It has been estimated that about 13 million people may have left African ports as slaves. Portugal has the dubious honour of being the most important slave trading nation with Britain second.

Because of its position on the West coast of England Bristol became one of the major slave trading ports. It is estimated that Bristol ships may have transported up to half a million slaves. Conditions on board the slave ships were horrifying and mortality was high.

St Mary Redcliffe church
St. Mary Redcliffe Church

We started our walk at St. Mary Redcliffe the magnificent parish church close to Bristol Harbour. The church owes much of its elaborate decoration to gifts from Bristol merchants and its graveyard contains the tombs of many Bristol slave traders. They obviously were able to reconcile their Christian faith with slave trading.

The Georgian House museum

There is a campaign to open a slavery museum in Bristol but until it happens you can see the legacy of slavery in many of the buildings of the city.

We visited the Georgian House, number 7 Great George Street. This was owned by a slave trader called Mr. Pinney. It has been turned into a museum and is furnished to show the lavish lifestyle the Pinneys would have led. it is free to enter. Click here to find out more.


Guide in a posh Georgian dress
A guide dressed as Mrs. Pinney. (Georgian house museum)

As was fashionable at the time the family kept a black servant.

A picture of Mr Pinney with his slave.
An information board about Pero Jones

Another reminder of the slave trade in Bristol is the fact that many of the fashionable houses in Queen Square were owned by Slave traders.

Slave trader’s house in fashionable Queens square

You can also see the customs house where profits on cargoes from America would have been collected.

The Abolition of Slavery.

Towards the end of the 18th century there were growing demands for the end of slavery. In Bristol John Wesley   who had worked in Savannah in America preached against it and was banned from many local churches. Thomas Cottle published pamphlets against slavery.  Perhaps the most important figure in Bristol was Thomas Clarkson a journalist who visited pubs like the Seven Stars and listened to the testimony of sailors. His findings provided Wilberforce with much of the ammunition to fight for the abolition of slavery in Parliament.

Slave trading by British ships was banned in 1807 and in 1834 slave ownership was banned in British overseas territories. This bill was only passed after slave owners were offered large sums in compensation. They were able to invest much of the money in Bristol industry and property.

One of the most famous Bristol slave traders was Edward Colston. He gave away much of his fortune establishing schools and almshouses in the city.

The legacy today

Bristol is very uncomfortable with its past. There is a move to rename the Colston Hall which is one of the main concert Halls in the centre of the city and to remove the statue of Edward Colston from the centre. My own view is that we should acknowledge our past but not celebrate it.  I welcome a move to give prominence to other figures in the story. I chose the image at the top of the post as it is Pero’s bridge named for the slave Pero Jones.


As the organiser of our walking group did not want to profit from the slave trade himself, our fees went to support Papyrus a charity which was set up to help prevent suicide by young people. It is a sobering fact that suicide is the single biggest killer of people under 35 in the U.K.

If you want to find out more about the Bristol slave trade I recommend

This post will be added to a link party for blogging grandmothers. As always I love to read your comments.



Walking for health after retirement

Any one reading my blog will know that I enjoy walking. Most weekends I go out with a walk in the past history group and we walk four or five miles often up and down hills.

A cow in the river
A Constable moment

My husband took this photograph near Bradford on Avon on our walk last week.  I love learning more about the history of our local area and visiting the countryside which is looking its best at this time of year. I know walking is good for both my mental and physical health and am keen to encourage others to share my interest.

The start of the walking for health initiative

Before I retired I worked as a nurse in a local nursing home for the elderly. I witnessed at first hand the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle in a bid to prevent illness and disability as we age. I also saw the problems faced by those people who did not.  This led to me becoming interested in how to encourage older people to stay healthy.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to obtain a place on a health promotion course run jointly by the University of the West of England here in Bristol and our local NHS trust. As part of the assessment we had to complete a research project. I chose to study how to prevent violence in the care setting but the other participants also discussed their research with me.

One of the other students was involved in a new initiative by the government to promote walking for health. Research had shown that older people were adopting an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and this was leading to a rise in obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart problems. Inactivity is also associated with an increased incidence of depression and anxiety.

The government’s plan was to organise free walks of about three miles and encourage every one to come along. My colleague’s study was based in a poor part of inner city Bristol where there was a high degree of isolation and loneliness among the elderly. They discovered that many people were afraid to leave their homes. It was decided that in order to encourage people to participate all walks would end with a free tea or coffee and biscuits.

When people turned up for their first walk they were asked to fill in a questionnaire asking about health problems and also feelings of loneliness and other mental health problems. This questionnaire was repeated after about six months. The organisers were surprised to find out how popular the walks were and the number of participants who became regular walkers.

When they analysed the second batch of questionnaires  every one was surprised to find that although people reported feeling fitter and having more stamina most people thought that the chance to visit new places and make new friends was far more important.

Other studies have shown that walking regularly helps prevent osteoporosis, some types of cancer and possibly the onset of dementia. Government guidelines suggest that older adults should have about 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

Walking for health today

The walking for health initiative has continued to grow. There are now schemes all over England. Volunteers still lead three mile walks.  Locally they have also added shorter walks, and buggy walks for young mothers. Unfortunately you no longer get a free drink and biscuits but they often end with a visit to a coffee shop.

Here is a link to the walking for health website if you want to find out more. Walking for health  you should be able to find details of your local walks.

A few tips if you are new to walking for health.

  • Wear sensible shoes! Trainers or sandals are fine for urban walks but proper walking boots are best for walking in the county side.
  • Thin layers are best if the weather is likely to be changeable.
  • It is always good to walk with others but if you are on your own take a phone and tell someone your route and when you expect to get back
  • You need to become breathless from time to time
  • know your capabilities.

Remember although walking will help you to get fit you can’t out walk a poor diet. If you want to lose weight you will need to adopt a healthy eating plan as well as increase the amount of exercise you take.

One of our favourite walks

This is folly farm which is owned by Avon Wildlife trust.

A favourite walk through the woods
A walk through Folly farm

This post will be added to a link party for blogging grandparents. I would love to know any tips you have for keeping fit.