A Brief History Of Slavery In Reading
Updated: Aug 3
Berkshire's association with slavery did not begin or end with the West Indies trade routes. Slavery was common in pre-Roman times and continued under Roman and Anglo-Saxon rule.
According to the Domesday Book, in 1086 13% of Berkshire's population were enslaved people. This was slightly higher than the national average of 10%. It took until around 1200 for slavery to be removed from the British Isles, although forms of bondage, indenture, and workhouse labour, forced many to live lives with little more freedom or rights beyond that of an enslaved person.
The Oracle Shopping centre gains its name from Reading's first workhouse, the Oracle Workhouse on the same site.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Reading's connection with the slave trade is less than many comparable sized towns and cities, but that is mostly due to it not being a port. The direct and indirect benefits of the slave system infiltrated all parts of British life and culture. Most of us, if we could follow the many legs of our lineage back to the 17th to 19th centuries, would no doubt find ancestors directly or indirectly involved with the trade. This is not a history of black people, it is a history of Britain and everyone connected with it.
The Blagrove or Blagrave family, whose name is given to Blagrave Street, various other town street names, and a pub, are connected to the ownership of Jamaican plantations. The street name honours John Blagrave (-1611), who was celebrated for his mathematical skills and instruments, and his charitable works.
His descendants went on to establish plantations in Jamaica. In his will of 1824, 9 years before the Slavery Abolition Act, John Blagrave (John was a common name in the family tree) said of his 1500 enslaved people:
“And lastly, to my loving people, denominated and recognized by the law as, and being in fact my slaves, in Jamaica, but more estimated and considered by me and my family as tenants for life, attached to the soil, I bequeath a dollar for every man, woman, and child as a small token of my regard for their faithful and affectionate service and willing labours to myself and my family, being reciprocally bound in one general tie of master and servant in the prosperity of the land, from which we draw our mutual comforts and subsistence in our several relations (a tie and interest not practised on by the hired labourer of the day in the UK), the contrary of which doctrine is held only by the visionists of the puritanical orders against the common feeling of mankind.”
Thomas Forrest of Emmer Green
Thomas acquired sugar plantations in Jamaica “with all the Negroes and other slaves and their present and future issue”.
The estate was inherited by his son Admiral Arthur Forrest who lived at The Grove, which would later become the central building of Highdown School.
At his death in 1770, his estate had 422 enslaved people, of whom, 219 were listed as male and 203 as female. 117 were listed as boys, girls, or children. They were inherited by his son Arthur Forrest. Family records show that the price of a black enslaved male was similar to a Grey Gelding horse.
Ann Katharine Storer of Purley
Ann Katherine Storer (1785-1854) was born in Jamaica and became an estate administrator in Westmoreland, Jamaica, on her family's estate. She retired to their country seat in Purley Park, Berkshire.
In 1824, she found herself in court for the alleged whipping of a black servant, Philip Thompson, who was brought back from Jamaica by the family. According to Thompson, “flogging was the usual punishment for any misdemeanour and he was often ill-treated”.
Evidence was given that in July of that year Mrs Storer accused Mr Thompson of not cleaning the lobby by 6 am and ordered him to be taken to the “whipping place” where he was initially given a dozen lashes by the butler. Whereupon Mrs Storer commented, “Well done, Robert, give him more”. The jury took a mere 15 minutes to find Mrs Storer, the lady of the manor, innocent of all charges against the powerless servant.
The “Black Doll”
She was a black nurse for the Loveday Family of Englefield House (west of Theale). She was much loved and a legacy was provided for her until her death in 1780.
Major Charles Marsac made his wealth in India as an army officer in the East Indian Company. Those who took this often unscrupulous, get-rich-quick route, were known as Nobobs (after the Indian princely title ‘nawab’). With his newfound wealth, he repaired and expanded Caversham Park, which would later become the home of BBC Monitoring. The Public Advertiser paper of 1784 wrote of Marsac:
“The homely rustic and blushing maid now supplanted by old French women, Swiss Valets de Chamber, Black boys, Gentoo coachmen, Mulatto footmen, and Negro butlers.”
Whitley and Coley manors
Colonel Richard Thompson was an MP for Reading between the years 1720 and 1734 and High Sheriff of Berkshire between 1719 to 1720. His purchase of the manors of Whitley and Coley was financed by his trading in Jamaica where he was also a member of the Jamaican Assembly, the ruling body. In the will he left his estates including enslaved people, to his son Richard Nicoll Thompson and £4000 to each of his three daughters Jane, Frances and Anne. Later Frances Thompson left in her will 'Negroes, Slaves, Cattle, Utensils and Hereditaments', to her sister Jane.
The Haynes family
The family of General Richard Haynes immigrated to Barbados from Reading in the 1640's and held the New Castle, Clifton Hall and the Bath estates (and possibly Mount Pleasant) in Jamaica. His will left 426 slaves to his family members.
The Berkshire Regiment
The Princess Charlotte of Wales' (Berkshire Regiment) was partly created from the 49th (Princess Charlotte of Wales') (Hertfordshire) out of the Jamaican Trelawney's Regiment of Foot. This regiment was raised by the British Colonial Governor Colonel Edward Trelawney to protect the plantations from “the threat of an outbreak of negros”.
The 49th were engaged in fighting the Tachy Revolt of 1760, so named after its leader, a Coromanti man (of the Akan people) newly imported from the Gold Coast. After initial success, the rebellion was quashed by the killing of about 400 rebels, and a similar number were executed after mock trials, with a further 600 being deported as enslaved workers to the Bay of Honduras.
Understanding the conflicts in the Caribbean is complicated by the existence of the Maroons, communities of escaped slaves living in the jungles, typically from the earlier Spanish era of colonisation. Attempts at recapture had failed which led to treaties that obliged the Maroons to support colonial forces in military action, either against foreign forces or current slave uprisings, in return for their own independence.
In 1793, the 49th also saw action in French St Domingue (now Haiti). Although the British were at war with the French, the French Plantation owners welcomed the British troops for their continued support of slavery. In 1796, the defeated 49th left for England after suffering one of their worst defeats at the hands of Toussaint L'Ouverture, an ex-slave army commander enlisted by French Forces.
The Slavery Compensation Act of 1837
Five years after the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 had been passed, the Slavery Compensation Act was passed to pay substantial sums to previous slave owners in the Caribbean. University College London holds an online database (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/) of recipients of the Act. John Proctor Anderdon of Farley Hall, Swallowfield, was one such recipient, as was Reverend William Mills of Reading, who was involved in the ownership of the Mount Nesbitt estate in Grenada. Edward Pinnock Wallen of Reading, who benefited from Jamaican estates, was also paid.
No payments were made to formerly enslaved people by the act.
Notable People of Reading and their connection to slavery
Henry Addington from Woodley, 1st Viscount Sidmouth and Prime Minister (1801 – 1804), supported slavery. His name is remembered by Sidmouth Street and Addington Road. His father, a Reading doctor, Dr Anthony Addington, attended to the pro-slavery George III during his bouts of madness. There is a plaque to him on Addington House in London Street and a school named after him in Woodley.
The author Jane Austen went to school in Reading. Her father, the Reverend George Austen, was a trustee of an Antigua plantation, although her brother, Sir Francis Austen was a naval commander commissioned with policing and enforcing the 1807 Abolition Act. Jane likely shared her brother's intense antipathy for slavery.
John Howard Hinton, a preacher in Reading, attended the first World Anti-Slavery Conference in London. Ironically, the conference did not allow women to attend.
Charles Simeon, a Reading born clergyman, was a Cambridge classmate and influence on William Wilberforce, a leader in the movement to abolish the slave trade.
John Soane was a celebrated architect born in Goring and educated in Reading. His many works include the Simeon Monument in Market Place Square. His library contained anti-slavery pamphlets and his reference to the shackles held in his museum in London make it clear that he disapproved of slavery.
Henry Fox Talbot, a photographic pioneer, made early important photos of Reading. He was also a politician who voted for the Slavery Abolition Act.
Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd, was a famous Reading born judge who supported universal male suffrage, the total abolition of slavery, and was in favour of women's rights.
Major Oliver of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, honourably acquitted British soldiers accused of cruelty during the slave rebellions in Jamaica while serving on a court-martial panel.
If you have anything to add to this please let us know.
The heart of the article was based on information from Reading's Slave Links. Blagrove family John Blagrave (slave owner)John Blagrave (notable of Reading) Thomas Forrest of Emmer Green Haughton FORREST (1826-1925): Biography, Catalogue and Gallery of Paintings Ann Katharine Storer of Purley UCL slavery entry The “Black Doll” No references beyond "Reading's Slave Links" Major Charles Marsac https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Marsack https://sowdonfamilyhistory.org.uk/marsack.htmlReading Museum Entry Richard Thompson, and family https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Thompson_(MP_for_Reading) http://www.coleypark.com/cp_history04.html https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146645337
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146659605 https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146659603 http://www.berkshirehistory.com/castles/coley_park.html Richard Haynes https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/6549 The Berkshire Regiment https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Berkshire_Regimenthttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/49th_(Princess_Charlotte_of_Wales%27s)_(Hertfordshire)_Regiment_of_Foot Notable People of Reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_from_Reading,_Berkshire Henry Addington https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Addington,_1st_Viscount_Sidmouth https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/addington-henry-1757-1844 Jane Austen https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146639585 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Austen John Howard Hinton https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Howard_Hinton Charles Simeon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Simeon http://www.centerforgospelculture.org/2011/01/charles-simeon-website/ John Soane https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Soane http://collections.soane.org/object-m1194 Henry Fox Talbot https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Fox_Talbot https://blogs.bl.uk/untoldlives/2014/03/the-talented-mr-fox-talbot.html\
Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Talfourd http://sbcox.history-redlands.tripod.com/sir-thomas-talfourd.html Major Oliver http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Berkshire/ReadingAfghanCampaign.html Photos: The Maiwand Lion, Forbury Gardens, Reading by Jim Linwood @flickr Photo: Reading's black history mural. Credit: getreading