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OU on the BBC: The Hidden Slave Trail - Programme summary

Updated Tuesday, 17th October 2006

Historical novelist Philippa Gregory turns historical detective to uncover previously untold stories about slavery, its impact and legacy on the north of England.

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Philippa Gregory Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Philippa’s fascination with the untold slavery trail began after writing her novel “A Respectable Trade” about the lucrative slave trade based in Bristol.

Philippa journeys from the North West to North East coast, discovering some of the compelling stories behind the slaves of northern England. Using academic resources, original documents and archive materials, she reveals how widespread and embedded slavery was in the region, both socially and economically.

The slave trail begins near Lancaster, at the little known grave of a slave called “Sambo” who died shortly after being brought to England. Using the few historical documents still existing, Philippa traces Sambo’s story to the local grammar school where the headteacher reveals more about Sambo and his links to a local vicar.

In Cumbria, Philippa links up with a retired detective who unearths the story of the the country’s first black policeman, John Kent. He was a swash-buckling character in Carlisle, who was well known in the city, particularly for keeping the local kids in order! Using parish records and other sources, Philippa is able to trace the modern day descendants of John Kent who were unaware of their ancestry and their link to the slave trade. It’s certainly a revelation for a Cumbrian farming family.

In Oxford, Philippa goes in search of records from sugar plantations in Barbados. She looks for church associations with slavery, as she discovers the Bishop of Durham and other church members who sat on a committee that reaped the profits of slavery. On her trail, Philippa delves into notable names such as the Jefferson family and William Wilberforce, each having very different associations with slavery. She reveals an architectural splendour built on slavery and the wealth derived from the trade by local businessmen.

Ahead of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slave trading in 2007, Philippa’s journey across the north of England is a revealing reminder that slavery was not only confined to the big cities of Liverpool, London and Bristol, but was also evident in the quiet corners of northern rural England.

First broadcast: Sunday 22 Oct 2006 on BBC One





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