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How Gloucester Benefited From Slavery

While marking the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade during 2007, there was much talk about how the development of Britainís prosperity benefited from the evils of slavery. This page features an example of this in Gloucester that came about due to the enterprise of the partners Samuel Baker and Thomas Phillpotts.

The Partners
     Samuel Baker and Thomas Phillpotts were the leading figures behind the development of Bakers Quay (pictured right) to the south of Llanthony Bridge. Both men had made money through owning property in Jamaica and through bringing the produce of the West Indies to London, and when slavery was formally abolished in 1834, they were awarded £4283 compensation for 240 slaves.
     Thomas Phillpotts had been born in Gloucester, and he evidently realised that the inland position of the recently opened ship canal offered great advantages to merchants wishing to supply markets in the Midlands. While continuing with their business in London, the two partners started importing sugar and other produce from the West Indies direct to Gloucester, the first consignment being delivered by their own barque Isabella in September 1833.

Bakers Quay
     As well as trading as merchants, Samuel Baker and Thomas Phillpotts used their accumulated wealth to invest in property. In particular, they bought the land known as High Orchard to the south of Llanthony Bridge with a view to commercial development. At that time, there was a desperate need for more quay-space at Gloucester, but the Canal Company could not provide it as they were deeply in debt. Seeing an opportunity, Baker, Phillpotts and other partners agreed to widen the canal in front of their land and build a new quay wall that could be used by all, and they laid out the land behind with roads and offered plots for sale. Baker also financed the building of one of a pair of semi-detached warehouses which had their upper floors supported on pillars over the quay.
     The land behind the northern end of the quay was soon taken up by timber merchants, some of whom moved from around the Main Basin allowing more warehouses to be built there. Towards the southern end of Bakers Quay, a large yard was purchased by the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway Company, later the Midland Railway Company, which provided an important means of carrying imports to customers in the Midlands. To the south of the railway, Thomas Phillpotts was instrumental in establishing the chemical manufacturing plant of the Anti Dry Rot Company, a national organisation exploiting the properties of corrosive sublimate (mercuric chloride) as a wood preservative. Behind the timber yards, other plots provided sites for a variety of industries, including a saw mill, a slate works and two iron foundries. (More about High Orchard)

The Benefit to Gloucester
     The partners' developments came at just the right time to accommodate a rapid growth in traffic to Gloucester and to provide space for industries that continued to flourish throughout the Victorian era. Gloucester owes much to Samuel Baker and Thomas Phillpotts, but it is fitting to remember that they in turn owed much to the wealth generated by the use of slaves. It was appropriate, therefore, that it was Bakers Quay that was used for shooting scenes for the film Amazing Grace about the struggle to end slavery.

Sources: TNA RAIL 829 minute books; PP Slave Compensation 1837-38; GJ ship arrivals; Glos Arch D3117/2536-40; Rate books.

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