Revealing Enfield’s links to the slave trade

A depiction of slaves aboard a ship crossing the Atlantic in the 19th Century. Engraving by Swain circa 1835 (credit Wikicommons)
A depiction of slaves aboard a ship crossing the Atlantic in the 19th Century. Engraving by Swain circa 1835 (credit Wikicommons)

Palmers Green resident Sylvia Collicott describes the results of her independent research into the borough’s links with the Atlantic slave trade

The British government finished paying a long-term loan in 2015. Two centuries ago, in 1833, the government of the day borrowed £20million (£2.4billion in today’s money) from the Rothschild and Montefiore banks, to finance compensation paid to slave owners in British colonies following the passing of the Emancipation Act.

While 46,000 slave owners were compensated, former slaves received nothing. The slave trade was deeply embedded in the whole of the British economy – and all corners of society. There were many groups of people directly involved in the trade, but even more people involved indirectly. They had amassed great wealth out of other people’s suffering.

The history of port cities such as Bristol and Liverpool is intertwined with the slave trade, but its influence also extended to many other places. In what is now the London borough of Enfield, there were at least 15 men who, at some point in their lives, were directly involved in owning enslaved people. They were rich and successful City of London merchants, who aspired to move to the country, buying big houses in the Middlesex parishes of Enfield and Edmonton.

Some of these men had served as Lord Mayor of London and some were to even enter parliament. MPs who were part of the West Indies pressure group could and did block abolition for many decades.

William Linwood, a City merchant, bought Bridgenhall House and its estate at the foot of Forty Hill in 1819. He made enough money in the 1790s, trading in Jamaica where his brother also lived and traded, to be able to lend large sums of money to plantation owners in financial difficulties. William called in all the mortgages that were outstanding, just before the Emancipation Act, and thereby became the owner of 819 enslaved people. He then applied for compensation and received £15,723 – now equating to about £1.9m.

Bridgenhall House, in Forty Hill, was owned by slave trader William Linwood
Bridgenhall House, in Forty Hill, was owned by slave trader William Linwood

Two members of the Bosanquet family of Walthamstow also received compensation. James Whatman Bosanquet lived in a mansion named Claysmore in Clay Hill (below Flash Lane and since demolished) and Charles Bosanquet had a house nearby. Originally refugee Huguenots, the Bosanquets set up a bank and prospered, issuing insurance for slaving ships crossing the Atlantic. Both James and Charles were bankers. James had 358 people enslaved on the Caribbean island of Nevis and received £5,971 in compensation (£0.7m today). Charles owned 409 enslaved people on the neighbouring island, St Kitts, and received £6,670 (£0.8m today).

The Snell family of Edmonton were merchants who lived in a house near Pymmes Park. Three members of the family received compensation. John Snell owned 123 enslaved people on St Vincent and was paid £3,341 (£0.4m today). Charles Snell Chauncey had 1,541 enslaved in British Guiana, Grenada, St Vincent and Tobago and was paid £67,609. (£8.1m today). Nathaniel Snell had 350 enslaved people in Grenada and Tobago and was paid £6,426 (£0.8m today).

Meanwhile Samuel Baker lived in Chase Side House, now the site for Enfield Town Library. He was a very successful merchant and businessman and an early investor in the railways. He owned 410 enslaved people in St James and St Catherine, part of Jamaica. He received compensation of £7,990 (£1m today).

Timothy Abraham Curtis was born in Southgate and his fortune came from a family business in Wapping, making ships’ biscuits. His father Sir William Curtis had been an influential MP and Alderman of the City – Alderman’s Hill in Palmers Green was named after him. Timothy became governor of the Bank of England in 1837, but resigned in 1839 and declared himself bankrupt. Timothy owned 206 enslaved people in St Vincent and was paid compensation of £5,933 (£0.7m today). The Bank of England issued an apology just this year after a University College London study uncovered the extent of Timothy’s slave trade links, as well as other bank employees from the same time.

Other local recipients of compensation for slave trade ownership included Samuel Boddington, from Baker Street, who received £36,819 (£4.4m today); Joseph Marryat got £43,299 (£5m today); Sir Edward Hyde East of Southgate got £21,595 (£2.6m today); Thomas Boddington the Younger received £4,606 (£0.5m); Isaac Currie, a banker in Edmonton, got £15,381 (£1.8m); Isaac G. Currie (son of the previous) received £20,000 (£2.4m); and finally John Gore inherited a plantation in Antigua from his ancestor, also John Gore, director of the South Sea Company, and received compensation of £667 (£80,000).

The Emancipation Act not only gave enslaved people ‘freedom’ and compensated owners, it set out an apprenticeship scheme for the enslaved to last seven years. There were protests and great unrest in the Caribbean and in 1838 ‘freedom’ was finally granted. The UK still controlled the colonies and each colony was an integral part of the British Empire. The 15 men of Enfield who received compensation had owned 11,156 enslaved peoples and, between them, were paid just over £31m in today’s money. It ensured the slave owners remained prosperous, while their former slaves were not compensated one penny for their years of misery.

The compensation figures included in this article were sourced from Nicholas Draper’s book The Price of Emancipation.