'Facing the Past' project receives further funding to support education

The Judges' Lodgings Museum in Lancaster - exterior shot
The Judges' Lodgings Museum in Lancaster

A project, involving Lancaster University, that will see some of Lancaster's 'runaway slaves' memorialised in the city’s Judges' Lodgings museum, has been awarded funding to support school workshops, teacher training and an exhibition.

The Judges’ Lodgings, run by Lancashire County Council Museum Service, is one of the first recipients of the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) New Stories New Audiences funding, part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, for its 'Facing the Past' project.

The museum will work with Lancaster University, the Institute for Black Atlantic Research at the University of Central Lancashire and Lancaster Black History group.

The £15,000 additional funding will enable the Judges’ Lodgings to deliver schools workshops, with children’s work being displayed at the museum, and run creative learning sessions about the fine art and furniture collections on display.

It will also include Continuing Professional Development training to support teachers to deliver this complex subject in the classroom.

It is part of a wider project, which includes commissioning a series of new portraits of enslaved Africans based on historical descriptions of slaves in Lancaster that feature in the University of Glasgow's Runaway Slaves in Britain database.

These portraits will then be displayed opposite existing portraits of people whose families were involved in the slave trade.

Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for community and cultural services County Councillor Peter Buckley said: "This project will provide high quality cultural experiences for young people in the city and a reminder of Lancaster's troubled history with the slave trade.

"This is a fantastic collaborative project and we're looking forward to working more closely with Lancaster Black History Group, Lancaster University and UCLan."

Through collaborative art projects, 'Facing the Past' aims to reflect, reveal, and redress omissions in our collective memory of the role Lancaster played in the transatlantic slave trade and of the enslaved people who came through or stayed in the city.

These were developed in response to protestors spray-painting the words 'slave trader' across an 18th century monument to the Rawlinson family, which stands outside Lancaster Priory Church, during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

This prompted Priory Church, Judges' Lodgings, Lancaster Black History Group and other local partners to come together to look at how they could better memorialise enslaved Africans and raise awareness of Lancaster's role in the slave trade.

Geraldine Onek, the chair of Lancaster Black History Group, said: "For more than a year Lancaster Black History Group (LBHG) has been working collaboratively with various local organisations to explore the family trees of several key slave trading families.

"Profits from the slavery business in the West Indies and the Americas helped shape Lancaster, while slave traders and their descendants dominated political life here.

"Some of the historical research does exist, though much hasn’t been fully explored. LBHG's aim is to explore this history and connect the missing pieces to tell the stories that need to be told.

"Through education we can fight racism and, by working together to face the past, we can build a better future."

Following the incident with the Rawlinson family monument in 2020, it was proposed to create an artistic response to the portraits of slave merchant families from Lancaster.

The Judges’ Lodgings also recently secured £55,000 in grant funding to explore the story of Lancaster's famous furniture making firm of Gillows and the city's troubled history with slavery.

The partnership project will completely redevelop the Gillows Gallery and produce some new commissions of enslaved Africans, on-site.

Imogen Tyler, Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, says the AIM-funded project will "enrich" public understanding of the Gillows collection and the furniture-making trade that was an integral part of Lancaster's history in the 18th and 19th century.

Professor Tyler said: "This project will bring a new generation of visitors to the Judges’ Lodgings museum by telling new global and human stories about this industry, including the stories of the indigenous people and enslaved Africans forced to labour in Caribbean rainforests cutting down huge mahogany trees, the sailors who shipped this exotic cargo into Lancaster’s St George’s Quay, and the apprentices and skilled craftsmen employed in the town’s furniture workshops.”

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