The slave trade and Georgian Lancaster

Date: Friday 28th September 2012

The vice-president of Morland and Newby Women’s Institute, Jan Shepherd, welcomed Billy Howorth to the September meeting. Billy, of Acropolis Education, is an archaeologist and historian, and talked about “The Slave Trade and Georgian Lancaster”.

He traced the changes in Lancaster since Speed’s map of 1610, which showed Lancaster’s layout to be the same as in Roman times. The city expanded during the 17th Century, but an Act of 1749, which improved navigation on the River Lune, led to its further development as a port, with warehouses on the quayside from around 1750 and bonded warehouses for high value goods from 1790.

Billy explained the “slave triangle”, which was at its peak about 1750, taking captured slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean, returning to the UK with goods such as sugar, rum and exotic woods, and then taking manufactured goods, guns and ammunition to Africa.

Although Lancaster slave ships were relatively small, it was the fourth largest port in the land at the time, the trade flourishing there during the second half of the 18th Century. By 1807, 29,000 slaves had been taken to the Caribbean by Lancaster ships.

Billy explained the links between the slave trade and the economy of Lancaster for example the development of the furniture company Gillows, using tropical timbers. Members were interested to learn that the Quakers were a major force in Lancaster’s slave trade.

A 1799 Act meant that all Lancaster’s ships had to use Liverpool and, together with the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, Lancaster’s port was finished.

Its shipyards and industries closed and the river silted up. This period has left a legacy of the original warehouses which, unlike those in many other ports, have been preserved, although they are now mainly apartments.

The Customs House is now the Lancaster Maritime Museum, with its slave gallery, which Billy updated. During a very short period, there was huge development which resulted in much of present-day Lancaster’s Georgian architecture.

Judith Edwards thanked Billy for a most interesting and informative talk. His enthusiasm for and in-depth knowledge of his subject made members keen to explore Lancaster’s history further. The talk was followed by a short business meeting.