Brighton’s Connections to Slavery

To celebrate Heritage Open Days 2020 we are publishing a series of blogs researched and written by Brighton Dome's heritage volunteers. The blogs reveal the fascinating stories connecting Brighton Dome's history with the Royal Pavilion Estate and the city.

It is difficult to imagine that the beautiful seaside retreat of Brighton had a part in the horrors of the slave trade but sadly it did.

Slavery was perpetrated worldwide but the British Empire played a crucial part, being the most active trading nation in the 18th century, with 2.8 million slaves carried by British ships all together.

As it is today, Brighton was a very popular destination in the past. The location attracted many wealthy British residents, some of whom were slave owners. Despite Brighton’s first two MPs calling for abolition, slave owners and abolitionists lived side by side in the city.

There are several examples of slaves living in Brighton including the unusual story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta. Sarah was captured from Africa and was given to Queen Victoria as a gift rather than the usual experience of being sold to a slave trader. The Queen was impressed by Sarah’s manner and gave her consent to be married at St Nicholas Church in Brighton, she later lived on Clifton Terrace.

Brighton also has examples of architecture of slave traders. The eye catching, seafront homes of the Royal Crescent were built by J.B. Otto who made his money from a plantation in the West Indies. He began building but ran out of money and returned to the plantation to make more so he could return to Brighton to finish the project.

The history of slavery and the British Empire is never far from home and the part that Brighton played should be more widely recognised. The issue has started to be addressed locally, following a public appeal, the blue plaque dedicated to slave owner Sir Edward Codrington was removed from Western Road in June 2020.

Thanks to Heritage Volunteer Abigail Ayres for researching and writing this blog.

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