181 : London accommodation for ‘poor men and women of colour’ 1834

Following the British king’s assent to the Slavery Abolition Act in March 1834, slavery was abolished within most British dominions from midnight on 1 August 1834. This was a triumph of the abolitionist movement but the institution had long been part of Britain’s social fabric but now the activists had to consider how to incorporate into everyday life the formerly enslaved people largely in the Caribbean.

A letter published in The Times on 1 August suggested that a fund should be established ‘to build 12 almshouses, for poor men and women of colour, in some spot on the roadside near the metropolis’.

Almshouses ‘are often multiple small terraced houses or apartments providing accommodation for small numbers of residents’ as Wikipedia states. They can be seen in many places in Britain, and some are substantial – such as the Royal Hospital in Chelsea (established in 1682) – and some are perhaps quirky (Christian widows, or accommodation for a dozen males plus one women to look after them, are examples). Over thirty thousand people live in them today. Some of them have names which today suggest other purposes – college and hospital, for example. The suggestion in The Times was within the spirit of history and of the era, for bequests and charitable foundations often had a focus on particular groups such as sailors (the Greenwich Hospital, founded 1694) and tailors (Merchant Tailors of London, 1413). This suggests that in 1834 the deserving poor who were of African descent were seen as a separate group.

Who were these nameless potential recipients in London in the summer of 1834? And who was ‘A.M.’ who sent that letter?

My source for this is David Bruce, The Life of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (Lexington Books, 2014).


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