Map and Further information
This walk engages with Bath’s complex colonial connections. It brings to the light the multiple links between the Georgian leisure city and the trafficking and subsequent exploitation of enslaved Africans, which funded many of Bath’s grandiose neo-Palladian building projects. A departure from the city’s whitewashed narratives, which uncritically celebrate Georgian splendour, the walk looks at some of those wealthy British politicians, landowners, churchmen and art collectors who derived their fortunes from the trade and exploitation of enslaved labourers in the plantations they owned in Barbados, Jamaica, Antigua and elsewhere. They participated in the building of Georgian Bath either by seeking entertainment and thereby stimulating the need for high-class accommodation or by using their enormous wealth to fund the building projects which transformed Bath into the attractive city we see today. The walk also offers insight into the lives of some Bath residents and visitors who contributed to dismantling the slave economy by writing and campaigning against it like Emma Sturge, Hannah Moore or William Wilberforce. Their efforts, however, should not cast shadow on the agency of those Africans who resisted colonial exploitation through frequent uprisings in the Caribbean or through campaigning, public speaking and writing like Olaudah Equiano, Ignatus Sancho or Ellen and William Craft. To present a fuller picture of the city’s history, the walk also pays tribute to prominent Africans and African descendants who visited the city like violin virtuoso Georges Bridgetower and actor Ira Aldridge, or those that settled in Bath like the Emperor Haile Selassie.
Colonialism shaped modern Britain and as the recent Windrush scandal and BLM protests remind us of still living with its legacies. From 1625, when the first colonies of the British Empire were set up until the time of Abolition in 1833, British ships had transported an estimated 3.1 million Africans to colonies in the Caribbean and beyond. Although Britain banned the trafficking of enslaved people in 1807, emancipation was not immediate. When the “Slavery Abolition Act” was finally passed in 1833, the owners of enslaved people were compensated for their loss. The British government distributed £20m to compensate 46,000 claimants. This sum is the equivalent of £17bn in today’s currency. The formerly enslaved labourers received no reparation and were forced to work for four more years following abolition under the rule of ‘apprenticeship’. With few other opportunities for work, they often remained bound to sugar estates for even longer as there were few other work opportunities in the Caribbean. This walk was created in 2020-21 by a group of students and lecturers at the University of Bath to break the silence about Bath’s ties with this uncomfortable past and promote a critical reflection about colonial legacies in the city.
The walk, designed by Dr Christina Horvath and Benjamin Van Praag and illustrated by artist Natashe Sweeting, was based on a student VIP project run at the University of Bath in 2020-21. After the launch of the walk designed by the students, the authors took feedback from an online survey and a number of critical friends to improve the route and finalise the narrative. Guided walks will be offered during the 2022 Walking Festival in Bath. If you would like to find out more about the walk or get in touch with the authors, please contact us via the walk’s Facebook page: