Included in the BBC’s 2002 poll of Greatest British people is the English sea-dog Sir Walter Raleigh. He was a landed gentleman from Devon, writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy, explorer and played a significant role in England’s exploration and early settlement of America. Born in 1522 he was raised in a protestant family which heavily influenced his future political career. He was involved in Queen Elizabeth I's court and became one of her favourites due to his activities suppressing revolts in Ireland and supporting the Protestant Church there. He was knighted in 1585. His exploration of the New World and efforts against the Spanish bought him further prestige.
Elizabeth died on March 23rd 1603 and with that Raleigh's fortunes took a nosedive. He was arrested on July 19th of that year on charges of treason for his involvement in a plot against Elizabeth's successor, James I. He found himself imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he remained until 1616. The following year however, he was pardoned and led an expedition to Venezuela in search for El Dorado. Raleigh's pardon had included a condition that he avoided hostility with Spain. Sadly, his long-term friend, Lawerence Keymis did not follow Raleigh's orders and led an attack on the Spanish outpost of Santo Tom é de Guayana. The attack led to the Spanish ambassador in England demanding that Raleigh by executed. King James had no choice but to do so.
Upon his return to England Raleigh was arrested and taken to London. On the 29th October 1618 he was taken to the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster and beheaded. His head was embalmed and presented to his wife. His body was laid to rest in St Margaret’, Westminster where his tomb can be visited today.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on important people in British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
The Atlantic Slave Trade: Abolition
October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ve been exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. In this, our final blog, we look at abolition.
According to British historian Martin Meredith, "In the decade between 1791 and 1800, British ships made about 1,340 voyages across the Atlantic, landing nearly 400,000 slaves. Between 1801 and 1807, they took a further 266,000. The slave trade remained one of Britain's most profitable businesses." However, resistance and risings bought the horrors of the trade to the public conscience and by the end of the 18th century, public opinion in Britain began to turn against it.
The first group to publicly announce its opposition to slavery was the Society of Friends (a Christian group also known as the Quakers) in 1761. They decided none of their members, many of whom were wealthy merchants and industrialists, could be involved in the slave trade. Yet support for abolition would only be gained gradually, yet it was gained.
Even terrible events such as the Zong Massacre of 1781, when more than 130 enslaved Africans were killed by the crew of the British slave ship Zong for insurance purposes, had little impact initially, demonstrating the difficulty faced by the early abolitionists. Campaigners boycotted sugar, wrote letters and presented petitions. Tours and talks were undertaken, for example the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson went on a speaking tour, showing people chains and irons and a model of a slave ship The Brooke. The tours and powerful image of the cramped conditions of The Brooke helped to change public opinion allowing the abolitionists to write letters to parliament with thousands of signatures.
Former slaves also played a significant role in bringing the horrors of slavery to the public eye. They included Africans such as Olaudah Equiano, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, Ukawsaw Gronniosaw and Ignatius Sancho. They formed their own group 'The Sons of Africa', to campaign for abolition which has been called Britain's first black political organisation. Euquiano campaigned hard against prevailing financial interests and ingrained prejudices to bring the horrors of The Zong to the fore and in 1789 shared his experience of the horrors of slavery by touring the country and giving talks. Sancho wrote many influential letters, including one to Laurence Sterne encouraging the famous writer to use his pen to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade. Sterne's widely publicised response became an integral part of 18th-century abolitionist literature.
In 1787, the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was set up. Independent MP William Wilberforce represented the Committee in Parliament and nine of the original twelve members were Quakers. Wilberforce had he come into contact with Clarkson and a group of anti-slave-trade activists, including Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton in the same year and they had persuaded him to take on the cause of abolition. Wilberforce was an Evangelical Christian himself, a group that had been gradually moving towards seeing slavery a sin and demanding it's abolition. And so, Wilberforce was pushed to the fore of the English abolition movement.
1787 also saw the establishment of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Linked to the Sons of Africa, the mission of the Society was to inform the public of the inhuman and immoral treatment of enslaved Africans committed in the name of slavery, to campaign in favour of a new law to abolish the slave trade and enforce this on the high seas, and to establish areas in West Africa where Africans could live free of the risk of capture and sale into slavery. It pursued these proposals vigorously by writing and publishing anti-slavery books, abolitionist prints, posters and pamphlets, and organizing lecture tours in the towns and cities of England.
The Slave Trade Act 1788, also known as Dolben's Act due to the support of Tory MP Sir William Dolben, was passed the following year becoming the first piece of legislation to regulate the slave trade, placing limitations on the number of people that British slave ships could transport, related to tonnage. Its renewal in 1794 included an amendment that limited the scope of insurance policies concerning slaves, rendering illegal such generalised phrases that promised to insure against "all other Perils, Losses, and Misfortunes." (The Zong owners' representatives had highlighted such a phrase in seeking their claim at the King's Bench hearing.). The Slave Trade Act of 1799 was passed to make these provisions permanent.
It would not however be until 1807 that Britain’s parliament passed the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. While this act abolished the trading in enslaved peoples, it did not end enslaved labour. This continued across British colonies for almost another thirty years. The ending of slavery was not achieved until the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was passed and came into force in 1834. This expanded the jurisdiction of the Slave Trade Act 1807 and made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire, with the exception of "the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company", Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Saint Helena. In these territories the Company had been independently regulating, and in part prohibiting the slave trade since 1774; with regulations prohibiting enslavement, the sale without a written deed, and the transport of slaves into Company territory prohibited over the period.
Protecting profit remained a crucial factor in allowing the end of slavery in the colonies. When the practice of enslavement was abolished the enslavers who owned the plantations were given £20 million worth of compensation. The enslaved people were not given compensation. Instead a system of apprenticeship was established tying the formerly enslaved people to the plantations on which they had lived. They were still expected to work ten-hour working days and punishments, such as flogging, were still allowed.
It is believed that after 1833 clandestine slave-trading continued within the British Empire. For example in 1854 Nathaniel Isaacs, owner of the island of Matakong off the coast of Sierra Leone was accused of slave-trading by the governor of Sierra Leone, Sir Arthur Kennedy. Papers relating to the charges were lost when the Forerunner was wrecked off Madeira in October 1854. In the absence of the papers, the English courts refused to proceed with the prosecution. In Australia, blackbirding and the holding of indigenous workers' pay "in trust" continued, in some instances into the 1970s. Unfortunately, modern slavery, both in the form of human trafficking and people imprisoned for forced or compulsory labour, continues to this day.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
The Auld Alliance
On this day in 1295 the Auld Alliance was first signed between the kingdoms of Scotland and France. The purpose of the alliance was to ward against England's numerous invasions of both countries. The Scots word auld, meaning old, has become a partly affectionate term for the long-lasting association between the two countries. And although it was never actually officially revoked, it is considered by some to have ended with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1560.
Initially the alliance was signed by John Balliol and Philip IV of France in 1295 against Edward I of England after it became clear that Edward was bent on total subjugation of Scotland. The terms of the treaty stipulated that if either country were attacked by England, the other country would invade English territory. The immediate effect of this was however to provoke Edward into invading Scotland and the treaty proved to be of no effect as the Scottish army was comprehensively defeated at the First Battle of Dunbar and Balliol removed from the throne shortly afterwards. In the end, Scotland owed its eventual survival to the military acumen and inspiration of Robert the Bruce and the mistakes of Edward II, rather than to its bond with France.
In 1326, Robert the Bruce renewed the alliance with the Treaty of Corbeil and it would be renewed and put into action on many occasions after this as England fell in and out of conflict with the Scottish and French. The alliance would play an important role in the Wars of Scottish Independence, the Hundred Years' War, the War of the League of Cambrai and the Rough Wooing. The results were often disastrous for the Scots. For example David II’s botched invasion of England in 1346 led to his capture at the Battle of Neville Cross while James IV’s even worse defeat at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 resulted in his death.
The alliance effectively came to an end in 1560 with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh which replaced it with a new Anglo-Scottish accord. Over the course of the 16th century Scotland had become an increasingly Protestant nation and the links with Catholic France had become less attractive. James VI, who would later become James I of England, came to the Scottish throne in 1567; his desire to form close ties with England meant that the alliance had outlived its usefulness and therefore the Auld Alliance was not renewed.
In a speech which he delivered in Edinburgh in June 1942, Charles de Gaulle described the alliance between Scotland and France as "the oldest alliance in the world". He also declared that:
"In every combat where for five centuries the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight side by side with men of France, and what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous than yours with its friendship."
This scene was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on the Kings and Queens of Scotland. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Unto Us A Child Is Born
When the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth in 1620, amongst the passengers were eight adult women, three who were at least six months into their pregnancies. These women were Susanna White, Mary Allerton and Elizabeth Hopkins. Maybe it was expected that they would arrive in their new homeland before the time to give birth came, though history for these women is limited as at this time they had little rights and there are limited records of their courage and experiences.
The journey was hampered by storms and the Mayflower was blown off course, making the voyage longer than expected. During the voyage Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth to a son who was named Oceanus, his exact date of birth is unknown. Having been born on the Atlantic Ocean he was named 'Oceanus’, Latin for ocean.
Oceanus arrive with his family, Stephen and Elizabeth Hopkins in America, surviving the first winter, but died aged 2. His parents had married on February 19th 1617 or 18 at St Mary Matfelon Church in Whitechapel, London. They had their first child, a daughter Damaris, shortly after in 1618. They boarded the ship as part of a group of passengers known as the ‘Strangers’, which meant they were not part of the Separatist travellers but were aboard for different reasons. In the case of the Hopkins’ it was likely that they were aboard for their mercantile abilities as well as Stephen’s previous experience of travelling to the New World.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on the voyage of the Mayflower. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
The Atlantic Slave Trade: Resistance
October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ll be exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. In this, our fifth blog we look at resistance.
Becoming a slave was a horrendous fate for captured Africans. It was a cruel and harsh experience with slaves regarded as the property of their white owners and granted no rights. Up to a third of Africans captured as slaves died on the Middle Passage. Another third died on the plantations within a few months of arriving, because of new tropical diseases. Others died from sheer hard work.
It is little wonder therefore that some slaves took drastic measures to escape their plight, including suicide, murder, desertion and revolt. For white slave owners, the threat of revolt was a very real problem. Resistance by slaves was costly as it affected production. It was also potentially very dangerous - on the plantations slaves greatly outnumbered their white masters.
Resistance on the Middle Passage was generally very hard to achieve as the slaver ships were designed to prevent it. Options were very limited. Occasionally captives were able to commit suicide, for example by throwing themselves overboard, but larger scale action was rarely successful
Some slaves on the plantations fought for their freedom by using passive resistance (working slowly) or running away. The problem of runaways became so serious that most West Indian islands passed laws to deal with this and other forms of resistance. The punishment was usually a severe whipping, but could also include the loss of a limb and death.
However, some slaves resisted by planning rebellions. In doing so they risked reprisals of torture and death. Tacky’s Revolt, which erupted in Jamaica in July 1760 was the largest British slave rising in the 18th century.
Taking advantage of Britain’s involvement in the Seven Years’ War, the revolt was led by Fante king called Takyi (the Fante people are from what is now Ghana). He and his lieutenants planned to take over Jamaica from the British, and to create a separate black country. On April 7th 1760, Takiy and his followers began the revolt by easily taking over the Frontier and Trinity plantations and killing their masters. They stole arms and munitions from a nearby fort and were soon joined by the slaves of other plantations. They were however defeated by a local militia and Takiy himself shot and decapitated.
The militia were however unable to quash the unrest and other rebellions broke out across Jamaica, but in particular in the west of the island. Rebels numbering about 1,200 regrouped in the unsettled mountainous forests in western Jamaica. They attacked eight slave plantations in Westmoreland Parish and two in Hanover Parish, killing a number of whites. On May 29th a militia tried to storm the rebels' barricaded encampment but was soundly defeated and repelled. On June 2nd, however, bolstered by reinforcements, the colonial forces successfully stormed the barricade and drove the slave rebels out following a two-hour battle, killing and capturing scores of rebels.
The rebel slaves continued fighting for the rest of the year in western Jamaica, forcing the governor, Sir Henry Moore, 1st Baronet, to continue imposing martial law in Westmoreland and surrounding areas. By late 1761, Governor Moore declared that the main western revolt was over. However, some remaining rebels then scattered in small bands, and operating from the forested interior of the Cockpit Country, they conducted a campaign of guerrilla warfare for the rest of the decade, staging raids on plantations within their reach.
It took months and even years for order to be restored. Over 60 white people had lost their lives, as well as a similar number of free people of colour, in addition to 400 or so black slaves. Two ringleaders of the western rebels were burned alive, and two others who were hung in iron cages at the Kingston Parade, until they starved to death. As a consequence of the rebellion, the colonial Assembly passed a number of draconian laws to regulate the slaves. In addition, they banned the West African religious practices of obeah.
A slave revolt in 1791 in Saint Domingue was however much more successful. Here slaves led by Toussaint Louverture managed to overthrow their French oppressors and in 1804 founded the First Empire of Haiti.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Battle of Assandun
On this day in 1016 the Battle of Assandun was fought between the Danish army of Cnut the Great and an English force led by Edmund Ironside. The result was a decisive win for the Danes and bought about the conclusion of the Danish reconquest of England.
Following the death of his father in 1014 Cnut had been declared King of England by the people of the Danlaw. The English nobility however recalled exiled Æthelred the Unready from Normandy and the restored king swiftly led an army against Cnut, who was forced to flee to the safety of Denmark where his brother Harald was king. There, supported Harald, Cnut succeeded in assembling an army of around 10,000 men and a fleet of some 200 longships with which to launch an invasion in 1015.
Cnut forced Wessex to submit in late 1015 and in early 1016 his army was able to cross the Thames, moving northwards across eastern Mercia. Æthelred died in April 1016 and so his son Edmund Ironside was elevated to king.Cnut and the Danes undertook an unsuccessful siege of London where Edmund was located. Edmund was however able to escape and raise an army. Battles were fought at Penselwood in Somerset and Sherston in Wiltshire and Edmund was able to make some gains against the Danes but at terrible cost to his own army.
The next time the Danes and English would meet was the Battle of Assandun. Its location is unknown, however likely candidates include Ashdon near Saffron Walden in north Essex and Ashingdon near Rochford in southeast Essex. Little is known of the battle itself, for example how many men were involved or an estimate of how many died, however it appears that Edmund had sought battle having pursued Cnut’s men as they retreated back to their ships laden with Mercian plunder.
According the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the key moment in the battle was the betrayal of Edmund by, Eadric Streona, the Ealderman of Mercia, who left the battle allowing the Scandinavians to break through the English lines and win a decisive victory. Apparently Eadric had form for this sort of thing, having previously defected to Cnut when he landed in England but reverting back the English following Canute's defeat at the Battle of Otford.
From this point the English suffered terribly and lost many of their leaders. Edmund was himself badly wounded while Eadnoth the Younger, Bishop of Dorchester, was killed while in the act of saying mass on behalf of Edmund Ironside's men.
It was a crushing defeat and so on an island near Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, Cnut and Edmund met to negotiate terms of peace. It was agreed that all of England north of the Thames was to be the domain of the Danish prince, while all to the south was kept by the English king, along with London. Accession to the reign of the entire realm was set to pass to Cnut upon Edmund's death, who then conveniently died a few weeks later, perhaps of the wounds sustained at Assandun, on November 30th. Consequently, Cnut was left as king of all of England.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ll be exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. In this, our fourth blog we look at life on the plantations
Having undergone the horror of the ‘Middle Passage’ and perhaps having been interned in a ‘seasoning camps’ the life of the Africans sold into slavery continued to be harsh. Sometimes plantation owners bought them very cheaply with the intention of working them to death. In the Caribbean, most were put to work on sugar plantations. The major secondary crop was coffee, though coffee plantations tended to be smaller than sugar estates and, because of their highland locations, were more isolated.
On plantations gangs of slaves, consisting of men, women, children and the elderly worked from dawn until dusk under the orders of a white overseer. Work would begin at dawn, the slaves only stopped for rest and food at breakfast and lunchtime, after which they worked until nightfall.
Work was allocated according to factors such as sex, healthiness and strength, with the majority of men worked as craftsmen or worked in the semi-industrial mills. Meanwhile, women were mainly limited to working in the fields or as domestics. On many plantations women, who made up the majority of the field workers, were forced to work throughout pregnancy and their babies were raised in nurseries whilst they worked all daylight hours in the fields. In Jamaica for example, the majority of women between the ages of 19 and 54 were working in the fields. Girls worked on estates from the early age of four. Occupations for girls between the ages of 12 and 19 varied from field work and stock work, to domestic duties. Mature women often worked as midwives, nurses or housekeepers.
After returning to their living quarters, they would often still have chores to do before going to bed. During harvest time, slaves worked in shifts of up to 18 hours a day. Housing on the plantations was poor; slaves lived in small cottages with thatched roofs. The cottages often had earthen floors and were furnished with only a bed, table and bench.
White masters had complete control over the lives of their slaves and treated them like mere property. As slaves had no rights, plantation owners were free to act as dictators. Slaves who disobeyed or resisted even in small ways were violently punished - in Antigua it was not a crime to kill a slave until 1723.
The punishments handed out to slaves varied in severity. Captured runaways could be hanged or maimed. Slaves were often flogged with a whip for any wrongdoing – the number of lashes that they received depended upon the seriousness of their ‘crime’.
Despite these horrendous conditions, enslaved Africans tried hard to find ways to keep their humanity and dignity. They created families and communities that enabled them to share stories, music and religions within a culture of resistance to their dehumanisation. In our next blog we will look at some of the ways the resisted and the consequences of such actions.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Recently we have taken a look at some of the crew members who were responsible for managing the sailing of the Mayflower from England to America. In the timeline of the voyage, which would have been going on 400 years ago today, the Mayflower would have still been a long way from her destination with the journey taking much longer than planned, due to storms she was encountering. During one storm an indentured servant named John Howland was blown overboard. However, with what must have been incredible luck, he managed to grab hold of a rope that was trailing in the water, giving the crew the chance to haul him back on board and to safety.
Howland came from Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire and was the son of Margaret and Henry Howland His brothers Henry and Arthur Howland, who were Quakers, emigrated later from England to Marshfield, Massachusetts. When John boarded the Mayflower in Plymouth he was a servant of John Carvers sand held to the faith of the Separatist Pilgrims.
His determination to survive meant that he was able to complete the voyage with the rest of the ships crew and passengers and he was one of 41 men to have signed the Mayflower Compact in November. After John Carvers death in 1621 he became a freeman and three years later married fellow Mayflower passenger Elizabeth Tilley. They had ten children who all survived into adulthood.
He would become a key player in the fledgling colony. In 1626 he played a part in assuming the colony's debt to its investors which enabled the colony to pursue its own goals. In 1633, 1634 and 1635 he was elected assistant to the Governor, and in April 1634 was appointed head of Plymouth's trading post in Kennebec.
He outlived many of the other Mayflower Pilgrims into his 80’s. Among his millions of descendants are today are notable figures such as Humphrey Bogart, Anthony Perkins, former US Presidents George Bush and George W Bush, and the Baldwin brothers, Alec, Stephen, Billy and Danny.
The writer P.J. Lynch took inspiration for his illustrated book 'The Boy Who Fell From The Mayflower (Or John Howland’s Good Fortune)'.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on the voyage of the Mayflower. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ll be exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. In this, our third blog we look at the selling of slaves once they reached the Americas.
Having crossed the Atlantic via the ‘Middle Passage’ in atrocious and inhumane conditions, the ‘cargo’ of captives would be sold at auction as slaves. Different factors affected the price they would fetch, the most important being how healthy they appeared to be. Other factors included the island they’d landed on, how many other slave ships were in that particular port at the same time and the method in which the slaves were sold.
The slave traders used many methods in an attempt to make their slaves look healthier. For example, their skin was rubbed with oil to make them appear healthy. Flogging scars on the backs of slaves were who had resisted were filled with tar to hide the signs of an ‘undisciplined’ slave. Older slaves often had their heads shaved to hide signs of grey hairs and make them appear younger.
The two main methods of selling the slaves were by Auction or Scramble. At an auction an auctioneer sold the slaves individually or in lots (as a group), with the slaves being sold to the highest bidder. At a Scramble the slaves were kept together in an enclosure and buyers paid the captain a fixed sum beforehand. Once all the buyers had paid, the enclosure gate was thrown open and the buyers rushed in together and grabbed the slaves they wanted. This was often a terrifying experience for the slaves.
Slaves left that were not sold in this way were called ‘refuse’. They were sold cheaply to anyone who would take them, often leading to their quick death.
Slaves who resisted or fought back were sent to ‘seasoning camps’. Some historians suggest that the death rate in the 'seasoning camps' was up to 50% with malaria and dysentery being the leading causes of death. Around 5 million Africans died in Seasoning Camps, reducing the number of survivors to about 10 million.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
The Crew of the Mayflower
Over the last few weeks we've been looking at some of the events which lay behind The Mayflower leaving England for America on September 6th 1620. We've been bringing you a series of short biographies on some of the ship's crew members. We’ve already done blogs on Captain Christopher Jones and Master’s Mate and pilot John Clarke, both of who we know a reasonable amount about and in this blog we wrap things up with short biographies of some of the other members who we have information on.
BLOG TO THE PAST
On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past