Manchester, the slave trade & the Manchester Lit & Phil

A panel discussion chaired by Professor Erinma Bell MBE, DL, JP

John Raphael Smith (1752-1812), The Slave Trade. Courtesy the Whitworth, The University of Manchester
This is a past event
Date and time
27 September 2023
6.30 pm
£15.00 (non-members)


In May 2023, the Manchester Lit & Phil welcomed the Report by researchers from the University of Central Lancashire’s Institute for Black Atlantic Research: The Manchester Lit & Phil and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1780-1865.

The research was commissioned by the Society following the worldwide debates in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. The Lit & Phil wanted the researchers to explore what links – be they direct or indirect – its early members may have had with the slave trade.

As part of the Society’s follow-up to the Report’s publication, this event welcomes a distinguished, specially invited Panel to reflect on the key findings and to discuss its many-faceted implications for the present day – both for the Lit & Phil, and for the wider understanding of how best to address the legacy of the slave trade. That legacy continues to impact Manchester’s culture, economy and social fabric.

Panellists include the Report’s research team leader Alan Price and other experts in the field and will be chaired by Professor Erinma Bell MBE. The ‘Question Time’ format should hopefully allow for debate as well as questions. Event registrants will be invited to submit questions for the panel, by email, in advance of the event. Time will allow only a small selection of questions to be put to the panel, although where possible supplementary questions & comments will be invited from the floor.


An extract from the report’s Abstract:

…The research, which was carried out by scholars at the University of Central Lancashire, found that a significant number of early Lit & Phil members profited to varying degrees from links to the slave-based economies of the Black Atlantic. These members contributed to the transatlantic slave trade by stimulating demand for slave-produced cotton as enormous wealth flowed into Manchester through the scaled-up industrial capacity of its mills. They range from engineers James Watt, Richard Roberts, Sir William Fairbairn and Joseph Whitworth; to mill owners Peter Drinkwater, Robert Owen, James McConnel, John Kennedy, George and Adam Murray, and Samuel Greg; to slave-produced goods traders John Birley and Sir George Philips. Some were more directly involved in financing slavery and owning slaves, such as Benjamin Heywood, who invested in slave voyages, and George Hibbert, a plantation owner and anti-abolition campaigner.

In detailing how these individuals and their families and networks were connected to the transatlantic slave trade, this report addresses a longstanding gap in the information available on Lit & Phil members’ positions with respect to slavery during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its publication is evidence of the Lit & Phil’s willingness to enter into further dialogue about increasing diversity and inclusion within its own membership and engage more actively with contemporary demands for acknowledgement of their historical links to transatlantic slavery within a community that is still marked by racial prejudice and inequality.

John Raphael Smith (1752-1812), The Slave Trade. Courtesy of the Whitworth, The University of Manchester

professor erinma bell

Professor Erinma Bell MBE, DL, JP

Professor Erinma Bell co-founded the Community Alliance for Renewal Inner South Manchester Area (also known as CARISMA Services). This is a front-line community-based group set up to offer life-chances for people in the community by giving them positive alternatives other than violent street, gun and gang crimes.

Erinma’s transformative work has promoted social cohesion within communities, in turn bringing about peace and conflict resolution. Her highly successful ‘models for change’ have enabled a 92% decrease in gun and gang crime in Manchester.

She continues to lead on work around issues such as Restorative Justice, Peace and Conflict Resolution as well as Peace Making, Peace Keeping and Peace Building within an urban environment. Erinma’s passion for community peace has seen her travel widely nationally and internationally to share her stories and experiences with others seeking peace in communities across the world.

katherine belshaw

Katherine Belshaw

Katherine Belshaw is Senior Curator at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. She looks after the museum’s industrial heritage collections, including material relating to Manchester’s textiles industry. Katie co-leads the Global Threads public history project with UCL’s Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery.

Katie is currently developing a new, community partnership project, Cotton Connections, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund. The project will centre the voices of Global Majority communities in researching and interpreting the museum’s textiles industry collection – particularly in relation to histories of colonialism and enslavement.

kooj chuhan

Kooj Chuhan

Kooj Chuhan is an artist, filmmaker, and researcher. He co-founded Black Arts Alliance and Virtual Migrants,and is the director of Crossing Footprints.

In his artistic practice, Kooj interweaves racial justice with climate resistance using a range of interactive, visual, media and performance approaches. He won an award for digital artworks connecting refugees with climate change and curated ‘Footprint Modulation’ climate migration exhibition. Kooj also co-authored Revealing Histories on transatlantic slavery and Manchester.

A committed activist for over 40 years, Kooj chaired the campaign committee demanding justice for the Manchester racist murders in 1992. In his current role as director of Crossing Footprints CIC, he works to connect creativity with issues of human rights, the environment, inequality, and wellbeing.

Image credit: Miselo Kunda

professor alan rice

Professor Alan Rice

Alan Rice is Professor in English and American Studies at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston. He is co-director of the Institute for Black Atlantic Research (IBAR) and director of the UCLan Lancashire Research Centre in Migration, Diaspora and Exile (MIDEX). Alan has curated exhibitions, delivered slave trade walking trails and organised multiple conferences. He has also worked on a variety of documentaries with the BBC and other broadcasters, including Britain’s Black Past (BBC Radio 4).

Alan was the administrative coordinator of the Manchester Lit & Phil’s research project, setting the parameters and organising the team. He also delivered the in-person public lecture in Manchester in June 2022.

ismael lea south

Ismael Lea South

Ismael Lea South is a youth work management consultant. He is director of the Salam Project, a social enterprise that works on knife crime, county lines, youth offending, extremism, permanent exclusion, discrimination, and youth unemployment issues.

Ismael project manages various youth work schemes. These programmes offer mentoring, business start-up, employment, and resettlement support. They promote youth engagement, work on youth crime intervention, and deliver sports projects in communities. He has also worked on numerous anti racism projects with various organisations, including Love Music Hate Racism, Faiths Forum and Wisdom Against Racism.

dr natalie zacek

Dr Natalie Zacek

Dr Natalie Zacek is Senior Lecturer in American Studies at the University of Manchester. She teaches and researches in the history of colonial and antebellum America and the Caribbean, slavery, race, gender, and material culture. She is the University’s lead regarding the institution’s historical links with transatlantic slavery.

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