The Bishop of London says she is profoundly sorry for the involvement of past Bishops of London in the transatlantic slave trade.
Rt Rev Dame Sarah Mullaly was speaking at a preview of an exhibition at Fulham Palace examining the systems which ultimately led to the ending of the transatlantic slave trade.
She said the historic involvement of the Bishop of London and the Church of England in colonialism and slavery continues to be a source of great shame.
The Church of England was deeply implicated in Britain’s colonial expansion and the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans. The Bishop of London was one of the Church’s most senior figures, having jurisdiction over the British colonies around the world.
Some Bishops of London were personally involved with or benefitted from colonialism and the slave trade. One Bishop is known to have owned enslaved people, another exploited his connections overseas to import thousands of plant species to Fulham Palace. Other Bishops owned land abroad, or invested money in trading companies like the Royal African Company.
In 2020 Fulham Palace Trust started to research the historic role of the Bishops of London in colonialism and transatlantic slavery. The research informed Fulham Palace’s decision to empower people who are descended from those who were enslaved or indentured to shape and lead on future projects, including this current temporary exhibition.
Over a hundred participants from five schools and community groups in London have been involved in putting the exhibition together.
Bishop Sarah said :
“I am profoundly sorry for the harm that was inflicted by my predecessors through their involvement with the transatlantic slave trade. It continues to be a source of great shame to us as a Diocese, and this exhibition at Fulham Palace comes as a painful but vital reminder of the Church’s role in this reprehensible period of our history - one which still adversely impacts descendants of enslaved people, manifesting in a range of issues from systemic inequalities to explicit racism.
“Today, we are committed to having racial justice woven into every aspect of what we do, and we are focused on taking practical steps towards building communities and cultures that are inclusive and fair for all. Earlier this year, the Church Commissioners committed to addressing past wrongs for its involvement in the slave trade with a £100m fund delivering a programme of investment, research, and engagement. Our attempts to right this wrong will never be enough, but understanding and responding to our past can help us create a positive and lasting legacy to serve communities impacted by slavery.”
Fulham Palace was home to 120 Bishops of London over a period of 1300 years.
The exhibition opens on Monday 24th April and is free, although Fulham Palace Trust says advance booking is encouraged.