Time for Lancaster to face its past

Project through Black History month will reveal the stories of the enslaved people who came to or through Lancaster

By Michelle Blade
Friday, 8th October 2021, 3:45 pm
Reflecting on its past, Lancaster Priory will be a focal point of the Facing the Past project. Picture by Darren Andrews.
Reflecting on its past, Lancaster Priory will be a focal point of the Facing the Past project. Picture by Darren Andrews.

project reflecting on Lancaster’s slave trade past has taken a big step forward with the backing of Arts Council England.

For the first time, Lancaster Priory, the Judges Lodgings, Lancaster Black History and More Music have joined forces and can now go ahead with the first phase of Facing The Past.

This project aims to reflect, reveal and redress omissions in the way the city has so far commemorated its role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Facing The Past patron, David Lammy MP.

Facing The Past will involve arts and creative learning workshops and visits to the Judges Lodgings for young people and the development of a creative resource pack for schools.

Arts workshops at Lancaster Priory and in Morecambe will also be open to the community.

Public consultation will take place for phase two which involves developing a plan for new public artworks, more community work and a digital programme.

Lynda Jackson, manager of the Judges Lodgings, which is run by Lancashire County Council, said: “We’re pleased that the Judges Lodgings is involved in this really interesting project which puts a spotlight on this often sadly neglected area of history.

Young people will visit the Judges Lodgings during the Facing The Past project.

“It is important that Lancaster’s role in the slave trade is properly documented and those affected by this terrible trade are not forgotten.”

The project will reveal the stories of the enslaved people who came to or through Lancaster, starting with the locations where those who benefitted from slavery are memorialised.

It aims to lead to a better understanding of this period of Lancaster’s history while also raising questions and encouraging further research. From 1736 to 1806, Lancaster was the fourth-largest port in England for transatlantic slavery, a trade that made several Lancastrians very wealthy. Their names are reflected in the city’s buildings, institutions and streets.

Some slaves were baptised in Lancaster Priory and its memorial garden contains the mummified hand of a slave servant, Frances Elizabeth Johnson, ‘owned’ by the Satterthwaite slavers of Castle Hill. There are memorials both within and outside the church to families involved in slavery.

The Judges Lodgings houses collections that commemorate Lancastrians who were involved in the slave trade including famous furniture makers, the Gillows.

The impetus for Facing The Past was the reaction to last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations which included damage to the grave of the Rawlinson slave-trading family in the Priory churchyard.

Since last year, the grassroots community group, Lancaster Black History has developed its work fighting racism through education.

“The history of British involvement in the slave trade lies in many cities and towns across the UK but it largely lies hidden,” said Facing The Past’s patron and Shadow Justice Secretary, David Lammy MP.

“It is time to support cities like Lancaster to bring that history to the surface, to make sure that anyone spending time in the city can find it easily, and for visitors and residents from all communities to see themselves reflected back.”

Facing The Past is a collaborative project between Lancaster Priory Church, the Judges Lodgings museum, Lancaster Black History and arts, heritage and community organisations, including More Music.

Facing The Past, Phase 1 will focus on young people, young musicians and community members in Morecambe and a cross-section of the Lancaster community including the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community which is 4.4% of the local population.

Lancaster Priory Commissioning Group is steering Facing The Past. It is an active member of Lancaster Arts Partnership and has hosted many Light Up Lancaster events as well as its own cultural programme including the annual Festival of Song.

The Judges Lodgings commissioned Lubaina Himid’s Swallow Hard in 2007 to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

She went on to win the Turner Prize and Swallow Hard was part of the Turner Prize show. The museum has also hosted many cultural events and participated in Light Up Lancaster.

Lancaster Black History is a grassroots community group fighting racism through education. Its current research project with local people traces the links that prominent local families had with the transatlantic slave trade.