Thursday, 25 August 2016

Happy Birthday William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce, politician, philanthropist, abolitionist and Hull’s most famous son is 257 today! Born at 25 High Street on the 24 August 1759, Wilberforce went on to be the leading light of the slave trade abolitionist movement, living just long enough to see the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

Portrait of William Wilberforce, 1838

To celebrate his birthday we thought it would be interesting to have a quick look at what Hull was like during his lifetime through a few of the images and documents held at the Hull History Centre.
First, let’s take a look at where Wilberforce was born. It opened as Wilberforce House Museum on the 24th August 1906, so today is the museum’s birthday as well!

Illustration of Wilberforce House, High Street, Hull

Wilberforce began his education at the Old Grammar School near Holy Trinity Church in 1767.

Illustration of the Old Grammar School, Hull

William Wilberforce was fortunate to receive an education, but not all children had the advantage of an education in the 18th century. In 1753 another Hull Philanthropist, Alderman Cogan founded the Alderman Cogan’s School for Girls to educate and clothe 20 poor girls. The school tried to find employment for the girls when they finished their education and this page from a Cogan’s School account book (1754-1820) lists girls in the school leaving at Whitsuntide, giving the name of the employer if known.

Page from the Cogan School account book [C DMC/3/97/3] 

This map shows us what Hull was like when Wilberforce became MP for Yorkshire in 1784. He had become an Independent MP for Hull in 1780, a post he held for four years. It is dedicated to Samuel Thornton, MP for Hull 1784-1800, and William Wilberforce.

Map, 1784

With the onslaught of the Napoleonic Wars, the City became worried about invasion and in 1803 appointed a Committee for the Defence of the Town. Their first task was to raise subscriptions for the defence of the town and here we can see a list of those subscribers. If you look closely you can see some of the most influential families of the day such the Maisters, the Sykes and the Broadleys.

Subscribers' list raising funds for the defense of Hull, 1803 [C DMT/7/5]

C DMT 7a

Many people found themselves in dire straights during this period, and many fell foul of the Settlement law which stated that the parish of birth was responsible for poor relief for those in need. If those in need refused to return to their own parish, Removal Orders would be issued to remove them by force if necessary. Here we see the Crouddis family being forcibly removed back to the parish of Holy Trinity in Hull in August 1804.

Removal order relating to the Crouddis family [C DMX/118]

Now back to Wilberforce. He died on the 29 July 1833, just three days after he heard that the passing of the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery had been guaranteed. Within 5 days of his death the Mayor was petitioned for a permanent memorial to Wilberforce's life, and the resulting monument, which was erected in 1835, stood on Monument Bridge by Princes Dock for almost 100 years, until in 1935 it was moved to stand at the head of the new Queens Gardens, where it still stands today.

Wilberforce monument, Monument Bridge, 1907

Wilberforce monument following its removal to Queens Gardens, Mar 1935

This brings us to the end of our quick tour of Hull and life in the 18th and 19th centuries. There's lots more information to be found at Hull History Centre so why not pay us a visit!

Further information about Wilberforce House, the monument, and the man can be found on the Hull Cultural and Leisure Ltd’s Museum website.

Carol Tanner, Collections Manager, Hull City Archives at Hull History Centre

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