Examining our original donors

Barnwood Trust’s historical links with slavery – an executive summary


Where does Barnwood’s money come from?

Barnwood Trust has a long history. Our roots go back to the late 18th century, when a group of people came together to build a ground-breaking new mental health hospital in Gloucestershire. To fund this ambitious project, they collected donations from local wealthy people. Between 1793 and 1859, 238 individuals – amongst them landowners, politicians, clergy, entrepreneurs, and clothiers – donated a total of just over £14,356 (today that would be worth about £1,665,163). This money was used to buy farmland close to Gloucester and to build the new Barnwood House Hospital. After many years, the land was gradually sold and the buildings were reduced in size, as the hospital became a residential home, and then eventually private dwellings. By the late 1980s, most of Barnwood’s land had been sold for residential and commercial development.

Today, Barnwood Trust looks very different: we work across Gloucestershire ‘to make the county a better place for disabled people and people with mental health challenges to live’. Barnwood doesn’t raise any money to fund this work. We pay for most of our programmes using money that has been invested in stocks and shares, mostly from selling off the land and properties which were originally bought in the 18th and 19th centuries.


Why did Barnwood want to look into the history of its funds?

In summer 2020, the international Black Lives Matter movement reached a crucial moment in its long campaign, as the world was forced to reckon with the ongoing impact of racism following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Here at Barnwood Trust, we began to look at how we could improve our own practices, and work towards becoming an anti-racist organisation. We knew there were ways in which we could better serve the disabled people and people with mental health challenges in Gloucestershire who are impacted by racism. While thinking about what this work might involve, we realised that one of the things we needed to do was to start looking at the origins of our foundational funds. In particular, we wanted to know whether the money which was originally raised around 200 years ago might have had any links with slavery.

We realised that this was a likelihood because at the time when the founders of Barnwood House Hospital were raising funds, Britain was a major actor in the international slave trade. Half of all people transported from Africa into slavery over the 18th century were in British ships. It was not uncommon for wealthy individuals at the time to hold investments in companies that made their business the transportation of enslaved people; or to own sugar plantations in the Caribbean, along with the people who were enslaved there. When slavery was abolished in 1830, massive sums of money were paid in compensation to 46,000 people who had previously ‘owned’ enslaved people. The industry of slavery was so much part of the British economy of the time that University College London estimates that around 10-20% of Britain’s wealthy had significant links with slavery.

Given that history, it seemed very likely that some of the people who had originally donated money to Barnwood House Hospital might had some financial links with slavery. It is important for us to acknowledge this, and to recognise that to be able to move into the future as an anti-racist organisation, we had to be able to honestly face our past.


What did we look for?

We decided to look into each of the 238 individuals who we knew had donated. Members of Barnwood’s research team sought to identify each of the 238 original donors, looking to find out as much as we could about their professions, the sources of their wealth, their family connections, and any political activity. Using only information that was freely available online, we were able to identify 188 of the 238 original donors. For many of these people, we were also able to find information about their finances, family connections, and politics.

You can find more about how we did our research at the end of the full research report, which is linked here.


Did we find links with slavery?

Yes. We believe that 58 of our original donors were likely to have benefitted financially as a result of slavery. Most of these 58 people were not themselves personally involved in slavery but came from families who had made money from slavery or the industries around it. A small number were themselves directly involved.

Some of our original donors made or inherited money from the ownership of sugar plantations in the Caribbean, and the enslavement of the people who were forced to work on them. Others inherited money from relatives who were involved in organisations such as the Royal African Company or the South Sea Company, which forcibly captured, transported, and sold thousands of people to work on plantations. Some wrote, argued, or voted against the abolition of slavery. When slavery was abolished and they were forced to give up their ‘property’ in the people they had enslaved, some received ‘compensation’ payments from the taxpayer for their financial loss.

These were people often in positions of power, and sometimes of moral authority. They served Gloucestershire residents as magistrates, lawyers, High Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, Members of Parliament, or Church officials. They built, renovated, or maintained some of the great houses and parks which still form part of the cultural fabric of our county. They donated to local causes, including to the Barnwood House Hospital. And they profited from the unpaid, brutal, dehumanising labour of people who had been forcibly taken from their homes.

As well as the 58 people whom we believe to have likely personally financially benefitted from slavery, we also found people with more distant links with slavery, colonial activities, or anti-abolitionist activism – either personal links or, more often, associations through distant family members. In total, we found 134 people who had some sort of link to slavery or colonial activities, including direct links and much more distant associations.

Our research also brought to light a small number of donors who were personally involved in the movement to end slavery, including people who spoke, wrote, and campaigned for abolition. We also found a sizeable number of people for whom we could not identify any links with slavery, colonialism, or related industries.


Get in touch

If you would like to discuss this research into Barnwood Trust’s historical links with slavery, please contact Lead Researcher, Laura Bolton on laura.bolton@barnwoodtrust.org or Head of Insights Roz Warden on roz.warden@barnwoodtrust.org

If you would like to have a conversation with the Chief Executive Officer about Barnwood’s plans to become an anti-racist organisation, please contact Sally Byng on sally.byng@barnwoodtrust.org