No streets with clear slavery links, Greenwich Council review says

Angerstein Lane
Greenwich Council says there is conflicting evidence about John Julius Angerstein’s links with the slave trade

No street names in the borough of Greenwich have definite links with slavery, researchers have found as part of a review carried out in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In June 2020 Greenwich Council said it would commission a study into its streets, statues and monuments to look for links with human trafficking, following the protest in Bristol that pulled down a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston.

With the old Deptford dockyard having played a key role in the slave trade, many of those connected with slavery lived in comfortable mansions around Blackheath.

The review, carried out by the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, concludes that no street names, statues or monuments on Greenwich Council land have clear links to slavery. (See the full review.)

However, the researchers do acknowledge more work needs to be carried out on some street names – particularly in the case of John Julius Angerstein, whose connections with the slave trade are contested.

Angerstein Lane in Blackheath is named after the insurance underwriter who amassed a large art collection which formed the basis of the National Gallery. His name also survives on a pub in Greenwich and a nearby industrial estate.

Some sources say Angerstein, whose Woodlands home still stands on Mycenae Road, owned plantations in Grenada and say his insurance activities would have included slave ships, though others play down his connections. University College London’s Legacies of British Slave-ownership project says his connections remain “remain inadequately researched”.

Crowleys Wharf, Greenwich
Crowley’s Wharf is commemorated with a street sign (Google Streetview from 2016)

The report also lists Ambrose Crowley, who owned shares in the South Sea Company and whose iron company is said to have supplied collars and shackles for the slave trade.

While the report says there is no entry on the street database, there is a footpath named Crowley’s Wharf – with a street sign – by Greenwich Power Station, close to where his mansion once was.

“With a long maritime history in the borough, and a history of colonialism in the UK, it is inevitable that historical figures remembered in our statues, street names and monuments will have links to slavery and the exploitation of minorities,” council officers say in a report to councillors.

“However, the RGHT review does not identify any direct slave traders. This is not to say that these historical figures are not responsible for actions that would be unacceptable in modern times or that do not need to be included in the retelling of their histories.”

The council said it had not received any complaints from the public about street names, statues or monuments, but that it would establish a panel to look at any complaints that came in.

Tower Hamlets Council quietly removed a statue of Robert Milligan – the slave trader who founded the West India Dock on the Isle of Dogs – a few days after the Bristol protests, and the City of London also decided to take down two statues.

But the Westminster government has made it harder for other councils to follow suit, forcing them to apply for full planning permission to remove statues, giving ministers the opportunity to overturn any decisions.

Calvert Road street sign
Calvert Road in east Greenwich is named after a landowner rather than a slave agent

One street thought to have a contentious name turned out to commemorate the namesake of a slave trader. Calvert Road in east Greenwich is named after Sir Stanley De Astel Calvert Clarke, whose family owned the land, rather than the notorious slave agent Anthony Calvert, whose company Camden, Calvert and King had connections with the area.

More research will also take place into the history of Charlton House. “The surviving interiors of the Grade I listed Jacobean mansion are rich with architectural detailing that reflects the global nature of merchant trade in London at this time,” the report says, but the review could not find direct connections.

There is also more work being done to look at the background of Severndroog Castle, which was built to celebrate the life of Sir William James, a director of the British East India Company, which exploited India until the mid-19th century.

The review will go before Greenwich Council’s cabinet, its main decision-making body, on Wednesday.

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