VISIT | The Last Stand - Resisting Slavery at the Paganhill Arch in Stroud | Gloucestershire
A Symbol of Liberalism That Endured Long After The Abolition of Slavery
Is this the last surviving monument to the abolition of slavery in Britain?
Reconsider the Arch here at Paganhill - what is its place in modern Britain? To remind us of universal freedoms that should be accessible to all? Or to commend an action from 1833 with the abolition of slavery in the British Empire?
An Arch - for contemplation and for the town of Stroud
"...this archway with its community pride..."
I could tell you that this is probably the only contemporary anti-slavery monument in Britain. I could tell you that it was created for a man who believed in the abolitionist cause, that it was finally completed in 1834 as a ‘decorative arch’ for an entrance to his massive Georgian pile of Farmhill Park on the edge of Stroud in Gloucestershire by industrialist and judge Henry Wyatt. I could tell you that Stroud had its own abolitionist society, that they pressured the local MP to support their cause. I could tell you all of these things and it isn’t what makes this stone arch special. Its rarity is simply in its resistance.
In 1932 news arrived that Farmhill Park, once a heartland mansion for Gloucestershire Liberalism lived in by the Allen family had been acquired by builders as a new site for housing in Stroud. Some viewed it as progress, vital for the area and some keen to see the derelict mansion, stables gone and the site developed.
As night follows day, the Georgian house and outbuildings were demolished and the remains of the parkland partly developed and lo – where once was Georgian house and grounds now become council housing now called the Paganhill Estate. But here’s the thing – the builders left the lodge building which sat at one of its entrances and indeed the arch. It left the arch and adjacent lodge completely alien to its modern surroundings.
The arch was paid for by Henry Wyatt, a decorative arch over a drive into his estate and to the big Georgian house. Henry Wyatt, local textile businessman and subsequent magistrate was a tenant of the property Farmhill Park until he purchased the estate in 1833. It was completed in 1834 to commemorate the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.
Wyatt was a keen supporter of the Abolitionist movement in Britain, he was a key member of the Stroud Anti-Slavery Society who put pressure on the new Member of Parliament for Stroud, William Henry Hyett (formerly Adams) to vote in favour of abolition. In 1833 slavery was abolished in the British Empire – it outlawed the purchase and ownership of slaves; with the act finally being passed in 1834 much to the triumphal cheers of the abolitionists such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson. Three days after the final hearing of the Act of Parliament Wilberforce, the MP for Hull died.
There is a connection too for Stroud with the Wilberforce name – William Wilberforce’s youngest son Henry William Wilberforce became a converted Catholic vicar before settling in the final fifteen or so years of his life at Woodchester near Stroud. An interesting association.
But the Arch – the Anti-Slavery Arch remains.
Erected to commemorate the abolition
of slavery in the British colonies
The first of August A.D. MDCCCXXXIV
And on a plaque:
Dedit deus libertatem detur deo Gloria
Translated to 'God gave freedom. Glory be to God'
The arch in question was made of the usual sandstone found in the very best Georgian and late Georgian architectural pieces. But the inherent problem with all these sculptures is their tendency to weather in the rather inclement weather of the British Isles. And whose responsibility was the Arch now anyway? The builders? The Council? The state?
Well, let’s run through a few decades to 1959…
In February 1959, Stroud Urban Council had a conversation at one of their committee meetings to discuss the Paganhill Anti-Slavery Memorial Arch, as it was now being referred to as.
The only memorial in the country to the cause of anti-slavery.
The question was simple – preserve it or demolish it?
In the same breath, they discussed repairs for the Stroud Subscription Rooms costing nearly £3000. But this Arch was something more complicated…
Six months later, the Gloucestershire County Planning Committee received a letter from the Town Clerk of Hull in East Yorkshire offering to re-home the Arch in their town – the home of well-known abolitionist William Wilberforce. They had heard news of its impending demolition. The issue was passed on to Stroud.
In the meantime, Stroud had pushed on with their discussion. At some point, surveyors had labelled the big arch as unsafe. A worrying thought for some.
But the Advisory Committee on Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest stated that it was of historic interest and ‘worthy of respect’.
Interested parties came to see it in its place. Clough Williams-Ellis, eminent architect of Portmeirion fame even inspected the arch arguing it should stay where it was and be treated with respect; as well as then local Oakridge-based arts and craft architect Stanley Hinge Hamp responsible for designs at The Savoy among others. Their answers were all the same – it needed protecting and it needed to stay.
It must have been an interesting period for whilst this ‘discussion’ was taking place in Stroud, far, far away at Westminster Abbey the bicentenary of William Wilberforce’s birth was being commemorated in August 1959. But what to do?
Well – the Arch remained where it was. Some restoration occurred in the early 1960s thanks mostly to personal donations. In 1961 the new Archway Comprehensive was opened on the remains of the Farmhill Parkland that remained. And then once again renovated in the early 2000s.
Until we come to today – and yes – it still stands. On the corner of a busy road in Stroud, surrounded by housing. It sticks out like a sore thumb. But that is its glory – it doesn’t belong here but it really does. A monument to a fight against slavery in Britain.
So once again I say this – that the most significant thing about the Anti-Slavery Arch in Paganhill is that it survived. Not that it’s there. But throughout its existence from 1834 – there were opportunities to tear it down. The sale and demolition of Farmhill Park; the construction of council housing estate in 1930s; the degradation and subsequent chat in the 1950s. The continued degradation until the 2000s when it was fixed up again. Until now when Stroud decided to truly own it.
And you could argue and say that it was down to its architecture or period – but you’re missing the fundamental point – they knocked down the Georgian house, the period mansion – it would have been easy to get rid of the decorative feature at the gate, wouldn’t it?
There were plenty of opportunities to tear it down and it wasn’t. That’s what makes this arch at Paganhill special.
This truly is a symbol of liberalism which has passed through more ages than most royal lines. That we have a voice. That endurance matters far more than significance.
So maybe more than a commemoration, this Arch of Stroud is more a symbol that people have an innate freedom, that no matter skin colour or ethnicity, or label that freedom must endure. And that the Arch here is a reminder where our true north is, and a reminder of how we got so far off course. Anything less than that is unacceptable. It is a reminder that we must all think deeper, try harder and be better.
Directions and Map |
Find the Arch in the suburb of Paganhill near residential housing just off Farmhill Road which heads to Whiteshill which heads up the hill