Professor James Clark’s talk explores Wells Cathedral’s links to transatlantic slavery. He focuses on the cathedral community’s connections to the trade in enslaved people and the plantation economy, c. 1750-c.1904. The presentation outlines how slavery-derived wealth helped to fund the restoration of Wells Cathedral’s unique mediaeval architecture, and that a number of the cathedral canons were themselves members of slave-owning families.
Two university research internships were funded through the project, held by final-year undergraduate Tommy Maddinson (now doing a Master degree at UCL) and Master’s student Debbie Manners who also spoke at the conference. Together, they scoured local and national archives discovering how slave-owning families – such as the Dickinsons and the Tudways, who owned plantations respectively in Jamaica and Antigua – had been instrumental in the development of Wells in the 18th and early 19th centuries, with their legacies evident in areas such as religion, banking, public education and land-ownership.
James Clark is Professor of History at the University of Exeter, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Society of Antiquaries. A historian of the Church in England, his research in the archives and libraries of the ancient cathedrals traces the centuries-long impact of these institutions in religious, social, economic and cultural life.