Croydon’s slave-trading history: the evidence grows

By - Wednesday 22nd June, 2016

Croydon was once home to many involved in the slave trade. As the borough holds its fourth Heritage Festival, Sean Creighton investigates one of the darkest chapters of our history

One of the benefits of giving history talks is that members of the audience are able to supply extra information. In the discussion after a recent talk I gave on Croydon’s connections with the slavery business at Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society meeting, local historian Brian Lancaster mentioned a link with the slave-trading and slave-owning Hibbert family, arising out of his previous research on Jean-Baptiste Say, the French economist and businessman.

Say knew James Purrier, a partner of the Hibberts. Since the talk, Brian and I have been exploring these links. Although he died in Croydon on 2nd January 1785, Purrier’s address has not yet been identified. Information about him and about his descendants who received compensation as part of the parliamentary emancipation of slaves can be seen at the Legacies of British Slave Ownership site.

In my talk I explained how, as elsewhere in the country, the area covered by today’s London borough of Croydon had many people involved in the slavery business and with links in the Caribbean.The slave trader Alexander Caldcleugh lived at Broad Green. His firm was involved in thirteen known slaving voyages between 1798 and 1807 transporting almost 4,000 captured Africans, of whom 376 are known to have died before reaching the Caribbean.

Almost forty Africans died on a voyage of the slave-ship Croydon between 1807 and 1808

Parliament banned British involvement in the slave trade in March 1807 with effect from 1st May. The firm’s boat The Croydon left London that April, took on board 377 enslaved men. women and children in the Congo River in West Africa and disembarked 339 survivors at Kingston, Jamaica in December, arriving home in April 1808. Almost forty people had died.

On her website, West Croydon resident Kake tells us that the Caldcleugh family owned land north of North End and Broad Green House. Brian also informed me that Alexander had ‘beautifi’d’ the Croydon church chancel at some time. After it was destroyed by fire in January 1867, the church had to buy the chancel back from Alexander’s descendants.

The British government compensated the owners of freed slaves a total of £20 million

Other Croydonians involved in the slavery business included William Bond of Park Hill, the Smiths and the Trecothicks. Bond owned a plantation on Jamaica, which he left to his nieces Sarah Wilkinson and Rebecca Robinson. Following a drawn-out legal dispute, compensation was paid about forty years after his death for the ‘loss’ of 365 slaves. £20m compensation was the total price the government had to pay to end British involvement in slave ownership by Act of Parliament in 1833. From 1805, the Selsdon Park estate was re-built by George Smith, and inherited by his son George Robert Smith. As bankers they lent money secured on slave plantation estates on Jamaica, British Guiana and St. Kitts on which compensation was paid for 527 slaves.

In 1768 Barlow Trecothick purchased the 5,000 acre Addington estate. He had previously worked in Boston and then the West Indies for the slave trader Charles Apthorp. He purchased plantations on Barbados, Antigua and Grenada. Having married Apthorp’s daughter Grizzell, he came to London where he served as an alderman, sheriff, and finally Lord Mayor as well as being an MP. Grizzell is buried in Addington’s St. Mary’s church. Trecothick paid for repairs to the church and funded new pews, and also commissioned a Palladian house to replace Addington Place. He installed his brother-in-law, East Apthorp, as a vicar in Croydon.

His nephew James Ivers inherited Barlow’s property. Because of big losses on his Grenada estates, he sold the Addington estate in 1802-3. He went on to receive compensation for 262 slaves on Grenada and 253 on two estates on Jamaica, continuing to own them and leaving them to his sons. His son James was born at Addington in 1798, and received a share of the compensation for 366 enslaved people on three estates on Antigua. Thomas Coles bought the Addington estate. His son, who lived at Thornton Heath, shared compensation on 127 slaves on Dominica. His son-in-law was Rev. George Coles, curate of St James Church and chaplain of the Whitgift Hospital.

Clues to the identities of slave-traders can be found in newspapers, book, journals and church records

Others receiving compensation included Henry Bowyer Lane, who owned land in Croydon, and collected the compensation for 210 slaves on Jamaica, John Swindell, who died at Victoria Villa, Lansdowne Road, in 1863, who had been awarded compensation on 308 slaves on two estates on St Kitt’s, the father of South Norwood’s sisters Hannah Maria Husbands and Julia Beckles (compensated for 181 slaves) and Emma Letitia Browne, daughter of a London banker and staunch defender of the planter interest. Lyndon Howard Evelyn was a collector of customs in Jamaica when he married Alice Samuda, who had received compensation for 37 slaves. The couple lived in Enmore Road in 1871. Nicholas Clements Henry of Shirley Lodge replaced his mother as executor for his father, who had been a planter on the island of St. Christopher.

There are clues from other sources, especially contemporary newspapers and journals, books and church records. Individuals identified on whom more research needs to be carried out are Captain John Brickwood, George O’Bryen Ottley, Rev. Robert James Hackshaw, Samuel James Musson, John Haliburton King, David Eliot, Jane Wallbridge, Isabella McLaurin, David Skene, Isaac Hatfield, John Swindale, Rev. William Strachan and possibly Elizabeth Iles, Robert Chatfield and James Lodge.

Investigation into Peregrine Bordieu of the Coombe House estate, who owned black servants, reveals the involvement of his family’s involvement in slave ownership; his brother received compensation on 789 slaves on Tobago, Jamaica and Dominica.

Finally, there are the Baring bankers. Sir Francis married Harriet, daughter of the Croydon merchant William Herring and cousin of Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury. Alexander married the daughter of a Philadelphian whose wealth had been partly made in slave-trading and auctions before the American Revolution. The Baring family was involved in claims for compensation on 1,717 slaves in British Guiana, St. Kitts and Jamaica. Alexander’s eldest son, William Bingham Baring, owned Ashburton House and Court in Addiscombe.

These compensation records give us a picture at a fixed point in time, but tell only part of the story. I hope that further work will in future reveal more of this shadowy side of Croydon’s history.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Anne Giles

    Interesting. A lot of this was published in The Citizen in 2014 by myself – as here:

    “Britain was the first major slaving power to abolish the trade in 1807. One of the last UK slave trade voyages in 1807 was by a ship called The Croydon, owned by a slave merchant living in Broad Green. It’s revealing to learn that slave owners were not described as such in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – instead they were listed as shipowners and merchants. The Croydon left London on April
    21st 1807 heading to the west coast of Africa where it took on board 377
    men, women and children. On 1st December it arrived in Kingston, Jamaica.
    Thirty-eight people had died on the voyage. The previous year, on a voyage from
    west African to South Carolina, thirty four out of 377 people had died in
    transit. Another Croydon connection was the Selsdon Park estate, which had been bought in 1805 by George Smith. He built what is now the Selsdon
    Park Hotel as his country house. Both he and his son were bankers. They
    lent money to the West Indian trade and were lending against enslaved people. Addington Palace was built by slave-owners and was the home to generations of
    families connected with slavery and slave-ownership. The Archbishops of
    Canterbury bought the Addington estate from the last of these families. There
    were also connections between the Anglican church and slavery. Another Croydon
    slave merchant was Thomas Gillespie, from Sydenham Road. He was awarded
    compensation for 109 enslaved people freed from the Clermont Estate in
    Trelawney, Jamaica. Slavery itself was not abolished until the Abolition Act of 1833, which eventually freed the enslaved people in 1838. When Britain abolished slavery, £20,000,000 had to be paid to slave owners all over the empire. William Wells Brown
    was born into slavery. He escaped in 1834 and gave an anti-slavery speech at
    the Lecture Hall in Croydon in 1848. He was a prominent African-American
    abolitionist lecturer, novelist, playwright and historian. Croydon composer Samuel
    Coleridge-Taylor was a descendant of African-American enslaved people. He lived and died here. He lived at 30 Dagnell Park, Croydon. There is a Greater London Council commemorative plaque outside his house there, and a Nubian Jak plaque at
    St. Leonards Road. His father was a Creole from Sierra Leone and was descended
    from African-American slaves freed by the British after the American
    Revolutionary War.