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Swindon's GWR Heritage


ADVERTISEMENTHeritageWhat is ‘Heritage’?

We all sort of know what heritage means,

Don’t we, in a way …

Something handed down from the past,

A tradition, an inheritance,

Be it cultural, tangible,

Physical, natural,

intangible, oral, folkloric

And so on … and so on …

You know, that sort of thing;

Or as Michael Heseltine put it

When English Heritage was formed,

English Heritage will tell ‘the story of England’.

And therein lies the rub, of course:

Who tells the story?

Who makes up the story?

How reliable is the narrator?

How omniscient is the listener?

Let’s think about Isambard Kingdom Brunel:

A case study in Swindon and heritage

If ever there was one:

The half-mythologised story

Of Brunel choosing Swindon as the site

For his locomotive works,

With the tossing of a ham sandwich,

And where it fell, Swindon grew …

The subsequent lionisation

And heroization of Brunel,

The statue, the shopping centre,

A man for all seasons it would seem.

He was also a man of Bristol, of course,

Bristol: the source of so much of the capital

That financed the Great Western Railway;

He was also a man of London,

Almost losing his life in the construction

Of the Thames Tunnel when it flooded,

So, Brunel is almost a personification

Of the eventual GWR coat of arms,

With the crests of London and Bristol.

But what of its heraldic motto,

‘Domine Dirige Nos: Virtute et Industria’?

‘Lord Guide Us’: ‘Virtue and Industry’ …

The Enslaved and the Great Western Railway

Friends, railwaymen and women,

I come not to bury the Great Western Railway

But to tell you of its provenance;

To tell you how the compensation

Given to owners of the enslaved,

Led to their railway investments

From that twenty-million pounds

So generously given in 1834,

Nearly half the national budget for that year,

Billions and billions in today’s values.

The GWR:

God’s Wonderful Railway:

I do not come to bury you,

But to tell the following tale of everyday Bristol folk:

Thomas Daniel whose £70,000 + compensation

For the very partial freedom gained

By over 2,500 enslaved on his estates,

(That’s £86 million in today’s values)

Came in right handy,

For a line from London to Bristol;

Richard Bright – only £14 million

In today’s values, I know,

For his 640 enslaved,

But every little helps you become

The deputy chairman of the GWR;

George Gibbs, only £1million in today’s values

(47 enslaved),

But a future director of the Great Western Railway;

Then there’s Henry Bush (114 enslaved),

Whose £3 million in the hand,

Helped finance the Bristol to Gloucester line;

And, penultimately, let’s remember John Cave,

Another railway Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers,

But, also, Sheriff and Mayor -

But I choose to conclude with Christopher Claxton,

Zealous defender of the West Indian plantocracy,

Vigorous defender of enslavement and its triangles,

Keen to fight a duel with an opponent of enslavement,

A surname that lives on in St Kitts and Nevis,

Close confiding colleague of Isambard Kingdom Brunel,

Out there, regarding the Clifton Suspension Bridge

And Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s giant steamships,

For he became the managing director

Of the Great Western Steamship Company …

‘Friends, Swindonians, countrymen, lend me your ears:

‘Domine Dirige Nos: Virtute et Industria’

‘Lord Guide Us’: ‘Virtue and Industry’ …

Written after reading From Wulfstan to Colston –

Severing the sinews of slavery in Bristol

Mark Steeds and Roger Ball Bristol Radical History Group

This piece indicates how local history and global history are so often intertwined. The term that has been coined for this fusion of approach is ‘Glocal History’. The link below takes you to my previous research on those who gained from compensation in 1834 in Bristol, Gloucestershire and Bath. Further research would be needed from the UCL slavery database to update the list, and research how many others invested in railways in general and the GWR in particular.

Reimagining how the Railway Lies

I live in Stroud,

Home of the arch commemorating the abolition of slavery,

An arch from 1834,

Standing near a comprehensive school,

By a busy main road to Gloucester;

We are rightly and justly proud of this in Stroud –

But, of course, quite a few owners of enslaved peoples

Lived around this town,

Not to mention Gloucester, Cheltenham,

Bath, Bristol and the rural south-west.

Slave owners received the equivalent in today’s values,

Of £17 billion;

Fully forty per cent of GDP in 1834;

A great deal of this ‘compensation’

Went into railway investment and development

In the 1830s and 1840s:

The Gladstone family in the north, for example …

And, nearer to home,

Bristol merchants in the GWR,

Samuel Baker at Lypiatt, near Stroud,

I could go on and on and on …

But what is chastening to reflect upon, I think,

Is the Keynesian multiplier effect …

The consequential impact in a series of links and chains,

Tendrils and tentacles,

And Victorian Venn diagrams

Upon our ancestors …

How many of our family forebears

(Six generations of mine)

Ended up working on the revered railways

Or ran the homes and kitchen

Because of that initial injection of capital?

It’s a sobering thought,

As we reflect upon those tentacles

And tendrils of racial capitalism.

Before I move on:

Out of the £695,000 raised by subscription for the construction of the railway from Swindon through Stroud to Cheltenham, £212,000 came from the spa town of Cheltenham, home to so many beneficiaries from the abolition of enslavement.

Reimagining how the Railway Lies

The Iron Road, the Permanent Way:

Lines of steel stretch to vanishing point,

Where pale-skinned navvies with pick and shovel,

Work their way through the nineteenth century.

But wait until the steam clouds dissipate,

See how that express train changes shape –

A slave ship on the Middle Passage,

Sharks following in its crimson wake.

The station now a sugar plantation,

Manacles and shackles in the waiting room,

Signal gantries now high gallows -

For the bounty paid to enslavers,

When slavery was abolished in 1834,

Helped fuel the Railway Mania;

Like Samuel Baker up at Lypiatt,

Investing in railways in the Forest of Dean,

Or the Gladstone dynasty up in Liverpool,

Or the gentry of Bath and Bristol in the west;

Or, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire.

The Iron Road, the Permanent Way:

Lines of steal stretch to revelation point:

A colonial landscape all along the line,

That is how the railway lies.

So, what of Swindon and the surrounding villages and enslavement? I carried out a quick and perfunctory search Of the UCL (oh, alma mater!) enslavement data base, To see what would turn up, And here we are:

George Kibblewhite Lydiard Millicent

William Kibblewhite Lucy Sadler (nee Kibblewhite) BENEFICIARY Jamaica St Mary 94 (Weyhill) £1949 7s 0d [114 enslaved]

Edmund Kibblewhite High Street Wootton Bassett AWARDEE [TRUSTEE] Jamaica St Mary 94 (Weyhill) £1949 7s 0d [114 enslaved]

Joseph Christopher Ewart Broasleas Devizes Antigua 86 [Long Lane Delap’s] £2790 8s 8d [213 enslaved]

Charlotte Peach (nee Philpot)v Sarum Devizes UNSUCCESSFUL CLAIMANT [LEGATEE] Antigua 324 [Vernon’s] £4906 5s 5d [329 enslaved]

Joshua Smith Erlestoke Devizes

Anna Susanna Watson Taylor OTHER ASSOCIATION Jamaica Hanover 21 [Haughton Grove] £2512 0s 3d [138 enslaved] OTHER ASSOCIATION Jamaica Hanover 577 [Haughton Court Estate] £5343 19s 1d [273 enslaved]

OTHER ASSOCIATION Jamaica St Mary 247 [Llanrumney Estate] £5649 0s 7d [331 enslaved]

OTHER ASSOCIATION Jamaica St Mary 26 [Montrose and Flint River Pens] £5343 5s 6d [296 enslaved]

George Watson Taylor (nee Watson) BENEFICIARY Jamaica Hanover 577 [Haughton Court Estate] £5343 19s 1d [273 enslaved] OTHER ASSOCIATION Jamaica St Mary 247 [Llanrumney Estate] £5649 0s 7d [331 enslaved]

OTHER ASSOCIATION Jamaica St Mary 26 [Montrose and Flint River Pens] £5343 5s 6d [296 enslaved]

OTHER ASSOCIATION Jamaica St Mary 247 [Llanrumney Estate] £5649 0s 7d [331 enslaved]

OTHER ASSOCIATION Jamaica St Thomas-in-the-East, Surry 457 [Burrowfield Pen] £1711 10s 6d [99 enslaved]

Further research: if you were to type in this link for the search page on the UCL database and then type in Wiltshire into the county box, you would see the records of some nearly 100 individuals. Future and further research would allow us to see if any of these people invested in railways in general and the GWR in particular.

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