Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Queen, the Reign, the City, Slavery, Memorialisation

The Queen, the Reign, the City, Slavery, Memorialisation

I awoke to Pomp and Circumstance on the radio,
All Last Night of the Proms, Land of Hope and Glory,
The co-option of William Blake and Jerusalem;
John Major chosen to inform us
That the nation instinctively turns to the Queen in times of crisis
The flunkey Nicholas be-Witchell, telling us that
Even those opposed to the institution of the monarchy,
Have nothing against Her Majesty
He quite studiedly avoided the use of words such as
Republican, Citizen or Subject;
David Cannadine told us that her reign had overseen
A transformation of the country,
From stuffy Victoriana to modern multi-cultural;
So I decided to put this heritage theory to the test:
I went to London to witness how slavery history is represented
In our capital city on the day when Queen Elizabeth
Becomes our longest reigning monarch.
A train to Paddington and the tube to Liverpool Street
(No mention anywhere of slave compensation capital
Involved in the creation of the GWR London-Bristol line,
Or Liverpool's primary involvement in the slave trade),
Nor in the Guardian when Patrick Barclay wrote of
 William Ewart Gladstone:
'The ground on which we stand here is not British or European,
but it is human'
No mention that his family received more
Compensation for the ownership of slaves than anyone else;
But George Monbiot reminded me, as I travelled to the City,
That: 'Behind the Speaker's chair in the House of Commons sits
The Remembrancer, whose job is to ensure that the interests of
The City of London are recognised by the elected members.'
I walked alongside Bishopsgate,
Past Weatherspoons' The Crosse Keys:
'Avoid Segregation, Join our Congregation'
(With pictures of various draught beers),
To the vast insurance and financial complex of Plantation House
(Which I insouciantly and be-shorted entered,
To ask if anyone knew of the provenance of the building's name - The be-suited security men were as helpful as they could be,
 Whilst we discussed slavery and history
This first venture of mine into a lion's den of finance capital,
I regard as a misguided tour, a situationist intervention,
An act of 'guerrilla memorialisation');
No information boards or signposts in Fenchurch Street or Anywhere in the City let me, or anyone, know that we were close
To Fen Court and one of the most important slavery
 Commemorative exhibits in the country.
I eventually found it
But the street sign is obscured by giant building works,
There was a slightly secluded small square,
On the site of an old church:
The information from the link (minus images):
‘On a nearby information board:
Gilt of Cain by Michael Visocchi & Lemn Sissay

This powerful sculpture was unveiled by the Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu on 4th September 2008.  The sculpture commemorates the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, which began the process of the emancipation of slaves throughout the British Empire.
Fen Court is the site of a churchyard formerly of St Gabriel’s Fenchurch St and now in the Parish of St Edmund the King and St Mary Woolnoth, Lombard St.  The latter has a strong historical connection with the abolitionist movement of the 18th and 19th centuries.  The Rev John Newton, a slave-trader turned preacher and abolitionist, was rector of St Mary Woolnoth from 1780 – 1807.  Newton worked closely alongside the famous abolitionist William Wilberforce.
The granite sculpture is composed of a group of columns surrounding a podium.  The podium calls to mind an ecclesiastical pulpit or slave auctioneer’s stance, whilst the columns evoke stems of sugar cane and are positioned to suggest an anonymous crowd or congregation gathered to listen to a speaker.

The artwork is the result of a collaboration between sculptor Michael Visocchi and poet Lemn Sissay.  Extracts from Lemn Sissay’s poem, ‘Gilt of Cain’, are engraved into the granite.  The poem skilfully weaves the coded language of the City’s stock exchange trading floor with biblical Old Testament references.

The Gilt of Cain 
By Lemn Sissay, 2007

Here is the ask price on the closed position,

history is no inherent acquisition

for here the Technical Correction upon the act,

a merger of truth and in actual fact

on the spot, on the money – the spread.

The dealer lied when the dealer said

the bull was charging the bear was dead,

the market must calculate per capita, not head.

And great traders acting in concert,
arms rise
as the actuals frought on the sea of franchise

thrown overboard into the exchange to drown

in distressed brokers disconsolate frown.

In Accounting liquidity is a mounting morbidity

but raising the arms with such rigid rapidity…

Oh the reaping the raping rapacious fluidity.

the violence the vicious and vexed volatility.

The roaring trade floor rises above crashing waves:

the traders buy ships, beneath the slaves.

Sway machete back, sway machete again

cut back the Sugar Rush, Cain.

The whipsaw it’s all and the whip saw it all

The rising market and the cargo fall

Who’ll enter “Jerusalem” make the margin call for Abel?

Who will kick over the stall and turn the table?

Cain gathers cane as gilt-gift to his land

But whose sword of truth shall not sleep in hand?

Who shall unlock the stocks and share?

Break the bond the bind unbound - lay bare

The Truth. Cash flow runs deep but spirit deeper

You ask Am I my brothers keeper?

I answer by nature by spirit by rightful laws

My name, my brother, Wilberforce.

This project was initiated by Black British Heritage and the Parish of St Mary Woolnoth and was commissioned by the City of London Corporation in partnership with the British Land Company.
{lines from the poem are inscribed on elements of the monument.}
This sculpture, 'Gilt of Cain', was unveiled by Bishop Tutu in commemoration of the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 2007.  Ornamental Passions discusses the iconography used in this artwork (sugar cane, pulpit, slave market).
All around people sped by, talking commerce on their phones,
Unconsciously echoing the message of the exhibit,
But no one looked at it in the thirty minutes I spent there,
Two workers dozed; two workers had a smoke,
Everyone else sped by with City speed and insecurity.
I sauntered down to London Bridge where the throngs
Watched and snapped a slightly damp squib
'Royal Flotilla' of some four boats
('She's not even on the royal barge. 
She's at Balmoral, I think. 
But that don't matter, do it?'),
I walked along the Thames Path, past the Golden Hinde,
All Gloriana and circumnavigation of the globe,
And thought that if David Cannadine is correct,
Then an interesting commemoration to mark
The historical significance of the present Queen's reign,
Could be the re-creation of a slave ship near Canary Wharf,
With a full explanation and with free entry -
After all, the present monarch's forebears invested in
The Royal African Company
And King George the Third
Opposed abolition.
At the moment, the national and civic representation of the history of slavery in our streets seems to be akin to
'The Truth that date not speak its Name':
Its time, surely, for its articulation.
With sense and sensibility.

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