Wednesday 22 April 2015

Local view on global history

Some of my writerly friends might have seen the post by Lynne Hackles on the Creative Frontiers blog 'Give local interest books a whirl'. Worth a look, if you haven't already seen it. Generally, we don't have to dig too deeply to find a local connection with something of global significance - and sometimes these connections come from unexpected places.

At the singing workshop I went to last Saturday, one of the songs we worked on was 'The Abolition of Slavery' with music by Bob Chilcott and words by Charles Bennett, who leads the BA in Creative Writing at the University of Northampton. Charles was there to hear the setting of his words. It was very emotional to sing; I can only imagine how it must have felt for him. The song is from his libretto, Five Days That Changed The World.

Actually, I've met Charles Bennett before (though I didn't go over and tell him this, because I'm sure he won't remember). He did a poetry reading at the Althorp Literary Festival from his book Evenlode, supporting and supported by some examples from John Clare (with whom there are also local connections); I bought a copy of the book and he kindly signed it for me.

Back to the song. Kettering man William Knibb was instrumental in the abolition of slavery in Jamaica, where was a preacher in the 1800s. According to the website of the BMS, on whose behalf he was in Jamaica, his weekly congregation was regularly packed with slaves and he was shocked by  their plight. In 1831, he wrote: 'I have beheld them when suffering under the murderous cart whip; I have seen them when their backs have been a mass of blood; I have beheld them loaded with a chain in the streets…; and never have I heard one murmur – one reproach – against their guilty persecutors.'

Seven years later, as the last remnants of slavery were being abolished in the British Empire, he wrote: 'The hour is at hand; the monster is dying,' and then as midnight struck: 'The monster is dead; the negro [sic] is free.' The following day, a symbolic coffin was buried containing a slave collar, chain and whip.

There is a timeline in the paving stones around the edge of Kettering Market Place, and William Knibb's place in history is commemorated there, and in the town's centre for young adults that bears his name.
William Knibb Source:

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