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Never mind a spade, call a slave a slave

SLAVERY LEGACY: Briton should be upfront about the role it played in slave trading

PICTURE THE scene. Me, the wife and the little ones were on board one of those steamers taking a leisurely cruise on Lake Windermere last week, when the boat's captain, through the public address system, casually points out the grand house on the north bank of the lake.

It was bought at the beginning of the 19th Century by John Bolton who “made his money on the West Indian Line..." the captain informed us.

The horror was etched across my face.

We were, unsurprisingly, the only people of African descent on the boat (okay, there was an Asian family there who may or may not have been from Uganda or Kenya, but if they were they were not sharing in the horror).

It was not just the realisation that I couldn’t protect my children from the monumental reminders of the enslavement of their foreparents in this country that they call their own. The real horror is how ‘the West Indian line' has become a euphemism for enslavement.


It is bad enough not being able to find a corner of this country that has not been tainted by the blood of millions of Africans who were kidnapped, raped, humiliated and murdered for profit by Europeans. But it is sickening how the horrible history of Britain has been tweaked and sanitised to suit the sensibilities of tourists.

What is so difficult about calling a slave a slave? Have Brits become so squeamish that we cannot face up to the reality of our past? Or is it simply that our tourism industry would suffer if Britain was known throughout the worlds as a slave island? Because that of course is what it is. No more no less. A slave island. The world's most notorious slave island.

It wouldn't have looked good when the country was applying to host the Olympics. A big banner in the arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport welcoming visitors to ‘slave island' wouldn't go down too well, but it's the reality. What's wrong with calling a slave island a slave island?

Neither would it look good to suggest that our beloved Queen rules over a slave island, but even she can't turn left or right in any of her many castles and palaces without seeing the legacy of enslavement. So let's call a spade a spade, and next year celebrate her Golden Jubilee as monarch of a slave island.

The reality is that slavery is no longer good for business. Your children and my children will just have to live with it - or more precisely live without it.


Slavery used to be so good for business that a seventeen year old Englishman like John Bolton could arrive in St Vincent in the eighteenth century with nothing but a bag of potatoes and a piece of cheese to his name and end up within a few years as the most successful slave trader of his time, kidnapping Africans from Angola and transporting them to St Vincent and Jamaica. It was the proceeds from this pernicious trade that he used to purchase Storrs Hall on Lake Windermere.

There are those who will wonder why we don't just forget about it. Why don't we just let it be? My children would rather their father didn't challenge the captain of a pleasure steamer about his euphemism. They would rather that I didn't make them and all the other passengers on the boat squeak their bums in discomfort by loudly calling a slave trader's home a slave trader's home and giving everybody the true history of the shame that is Britain's.

But if I never said anything, they would also fall for the euphemism and, who knows, end up staying in Storr's Hall which is now a hotel. Imagine that! The ancestors would wail in their unmarked graves.

To my knowledge, I have only once stayed in such a house of ill repute. It was in the Bahamas. I didn't know at the time that it had been a slave-holding building, but I could not sleep that one night. Neither could Rita Marley's sister, the former reggae deejay Miss P, who was also a guest there. When we found out the next morning that the hotel had once imprisoned enslaved Africans we immediately checked out.

I don't wanna stay in a house with a slave legacy. This country is riddled with them. We need to know where they are. The tourist guides need to make it clear. If the whole of West Africa can be known as the Slave Coast then why not the whole of Britain be given it's rightful name of Slave Island?

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