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The Tragic History of Clapham's School for Africans

Posted by Dr Stephen King, Westminster Tour Guide on Friday, June 11, 2021 Under: Georgian

The Tragic History of Clapham's School for Africans

A small churchyard in a quiet corner of Clapham has a largely forgotten and sad part in

Britain’s black colonial history. Zachary Macaulay was one of the leading members of the

Clapham Sect, a network of individuals working for the abolition of slavery in the British

dominions. He is remembered by a memorial in Westminster Abbey, a plaque on the site of

his former house just by Clapham Common Tube and a road next to the Common.


Macaulay had worked in the Caribbean and seen slavery first hand and returned determined

to end it. He was the numbers man, providing William Wilberforce MP with the facts to

demonstrate the trade’s scale and barbarity. Macaulay became the governor of Sierra

Leone, the colony set up in west Africa for freed formerly enslaved people, many of whom

fought for King George in the American War of independence.


In 1799 Macaulay returned to Britain, bringing with him 25 children, aged from 10 to 19. He

set up just opposite St Paul’s Church by Clapham Old Town the School for Africans, and the

Georgian house that was the school still stands. The objective was to train the next

generation in the skills to support the colony and to return to Africa. Practical skills were

taught, but the emphasis was on religious instruction.


The school ended in tragedy. The initial history of the school stated that “one by one they

succumbed to the cold”. Slowly the children died, not of the cold, but measles. Of the original

25 only six students had survived by 1806.


They were buried in St. Paul’s Churchyard. But unlike for Macaulay no memorial remains,

their tombstones, if they did indeed even have tombstones, have been cleared away a long

time ago. All that are left are the records in the Clapham burial register. The myth of the

English cold continued and when the Windrush brought Jamaicans to help rebuild a war-torn

London in 1948 MPs confidently stated the young men would return after one British winter.

In : Georgian 


Tags: clapham  black history  slavery  georgians  zachary macaulay 
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