Call For Action on Wimbledon’s 'Slave-owner' Streets

Community Forum wants council to put up signs with historical information

Burghley Road is one of the addresses with slave owning associations
Burghley Road is one of the addresses with slave owning associations. Picture: Google Streetview

June 19, 2023

A call is being made for Merton Council to take action on streets in Wimbledon that are named after families who owned slaves.

A year ago Peter Walker, a former borough councillor, moved a motion which was passed at the Wimbledon Community Forum which stated, “The Wimbledon Community Forum notes that some roads in Wimbledon are named after former residents who were slave owners. The Forum calls on Merton Council to consider including historical information in the vicinity of such road signs including the fact they are named after slave owners.”

The council launched a consultation on the issue which finished at the end of last month.

The consultation stated, “Street names with historical links to the slave trade Some roads in Merton have been named after individuals who have an historical link to the slave trade, either through their own actions or through their families. This is the case with street names associated with the Burghley, Drax and Marryat families. However, it is important to acknowledge this history and the impact these individuals’ actions have had, and continue to have, on our society. We would like to consult with residents interested individuals or groups, as to what would be the best way of marking this link.”

The five roads in Wimbledon named after slave owners include Burghley Road (and the Cecil Chapel) which takes its name from Burghley (William Cecil) who was Secretary of State to Elizabeth 1 and was responsible with Elizabeth for instigating British involvement with the slave trade. He and Elizabeth funded Sir John Hawkins’s first voyage in 1562 to capture Africans and sell them as slaves in the America’s. The Cecil family grew rich from the slave trade. He and his family lived in Wimbledon’s oldest and most expensive house The Rectory Church Lane SW19.

Cecil’s son Thomas built the first Wimbledon Manor House in 1588 known as “Wimbledon Palace” and Thomas’s son, Sir Edward Cecil, became Viscount Wimbledon and built the Cecil Chapel at St Mary’s Church Wimbledon for the family to be interred in.

The Marryat family who give their name to Marryat Road and Marryat Place owned 1,466 slaves. Joseph Marryat MP (1757-1824) campaigned in defence of slavery as an MP and spokesperson for the London Society of West Indian Planters. He wrote pamphlets defending slavery and opposing abolition. His family lived in Wimbledon House at the junction of Parkside and Marryat Road. His son Joseph sold the house in 1899 for development.

The Drax family (Drax Avenue SW20 and Draxmont Road SW19) owned most of Wimbledon Common from Westside including Cannizaro House, down to the Portsmouth Road (A30) They also owned much of the land from the Ridgeway down to Worple Road.

John Sawbridge Earle Drax MP (1800-1887) started the Drax family’s involvement in slavery with a sugar plantation in Barbados, where they pioneered the early stages of the slave economy.

His descendant Richard Drax MP still owns the sugar plantation in Barbados. Sir Hilary Beckles the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies was quoted recently in the Observer that with slavery ”Black life mattered only to make millionaires of English enslavers and the Drax family did it longer than any other elite family.” He went on to state that he estimated that 30,000 enslaved people had died in Barbados and Jamaica due to the Drax family trade.

The results of the consultation were presented to the Wimbledon Community Forum at their meeting on 14 June at Wimbledon Library.

There were 833 responses which is unusually high for Council consultations. 60% of respondents said they had not been aware that some streets in Merton were named after people with links to the slave trade.

Over half (55.6%) agreed that Merton should publicly acknowledging the history of those individuals with links to the slave trade and the overwhelming majority (88.4%) agreed that a detailed description of the history of the individual, should be displayed on the street or a short statement and a QR code linking to a website for further information, displayed on the street.

Peter Walker called on Merton to act now on the results of the consultation and identify the five streets in Wimbledon named after slave owning families.

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