Reassessing the impact of the slave trade on the economic development and material culture of Liverpool and its hinterland by Alex Robinson

Reassessing the impact of the slave trade on the economic development and material culture of Liverpool and its hinterland

By Alex Robinson

Research on the transatlantic slave trade has been transformed by the internet and digitisation of records. On the one hand, the creation of the National Archives website Tracing your Caribbean Roots has facilitated the attempts by the descendants of enslaved Africans to get to grips with their family history. On the other hand, three recent research programmes have resulted in new evidence about transatlantic slavery – internationally, the Slave Trade Database, nationally, the Legacy of British Slavery Database and locally new field research which has at last meant we can quantify the impact of the slave trade and the plantation trade upon the local and national economy and trace the stream of finance into the key investment and infrastructure projects which made Liverpool the second city of the British Empire.
The Legacy of British Slavery Database has had quite a lot of media attention: it has put online the records of the compensation paid to slave holders after Emancipation in 1834. This database has shown for example that John Gladstone, the father of 19th-century Prime Minister, William Gladstone, received £106,769 (modern equivalent £83m) for the 2,508 slaves he owned across nine plantations. Chancellors and prime ministers figure more than once in this database; one of Mr Cameron’s great-grand-uncles, the second Earl of Fife, was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3m today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves who were emancipated on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica in 1834. I have Cameron ancestry myself – does this mean I could be implicated? Of course I am implicated – we are all implicated either as descendants of enslaved workers who were forcibly transported from Africa or as descendants of people who prospered as result of transatlantic slavery.
For this course we will use this this new evidence to examine the impact of transatlantic slavery nationally and explore its impact locally, on Liverpool and its immediate hinterland – the Wirral, Cheshire and South West Lancashire, looking at individual case studies of families with slave trade and slave holding backgrounds-like the Earles, the Gladstones, the Gregsons and the Heywoods, for example. The digital information will allow us estimate the importance of transatlantic slavery to the development of the local economy and its material culture, but also to trace this contribution down to the present day.

This course is run in partnership with the Centre for the Study of International Slavery.

Alex will begin a 10 week course on this subject from Thursday 30 January at 126 Mount Pleasant and if you would like to enrol on this course you can do so by emailing or phoning 0151 794 6900.

However if you would like to learn more about the history of slavery, the Centre for the Study of International Slavery (CSIS) – a partnership between the University of Liverpool and National Museums Liverpool has a number of events and workshops. For more information on the CSIS please visit their website at