William Wilberforce’s schooldays


Hull Grammar School

This is my photograph of Hull Grammar School, where Wilberforce was educated from 1767 to 1768. The statue is of another old boy, the poet Andrew Marvell. Wilberforce began his schooling there at the age of seven. It was a short walk over the cobbles from his home on the High Street, and as he went home for lunch, he would have made this walk four times a day. It was a common custom in the north of England in the mid-eighteenth century for the sons of merchants and even of gentlemen to attend a local grammar school rather than be sent away from home. Young William was lucky in his father’s choice of school, as shortly after his arrival a new headmaster was appointed. This was Joseph Milner, recently down from Cambridge, and on his appointment he brought in his seventeen-year-old brother, Isaac, to be usher (assistant master). The Milner brothers were the sons of a Yorkshire weaver and their story provides a fascinating insight into eighteenth-century social mobility. Isaac went on to be Dean of Carlisle and President of Queens’ College, Cambridge. The brothers ensured that the school provided an excellent education for the boys. As well as the traditional Latin, they introduced Geography, Algebra, and English Grammar to the curriculum, and the adult Wilberforce was always grateful for the opportunities it provided. From the start he stood out among the other pupils, so much so that Isaac Milner put him on a table to read to the other boys; Milner later claimed that the had done this because of his pupil’s beautiful reading voice, but Wilberforce deflated this somewhat by stating that it was because he was so small.

With the death of his father, Robert, in 1768, Wilberforce left Hull Grammar School and went to live with his aunt and uncle, William and Sarah Wilberforce, at Wimbledon. Here, his schooling took a turn for the worse. He was sent away to an establishment run by a Mr Chalmers at Putney, later described by Wilberforce as ‘a most wretched little place’. The teaching was mediocre and the food unpleasant. It is surprising that the Wilberforces, who were a very wealthy couple, could not have found a more suitable school for their much-loved nephew, but they did not expect him to go to university, and they were providing him with the education they thought appropriate for a future merchant.

In 1771, just after his twelfth birthday, William was back in Hull. His horrified mother had discovered that the Wimbledon Wilberforces were Methodists, and she hastily removed him from them in order to rescue him from the ‘contagion’. As I argue in my book, the emotional effects on William were profound and long-lasting. He was not sent back to Hull Grammar School as Joseph Milner had also become infected with Methodism. Instead he was sent to a school in Pocklington (which still exists), run by the rather unfortunately named Kingsman Baskett, a fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. Three of his schoolboy essays survive from that period – these are discussed in the book. After his haphazard education at Cambridge, he worked hard enough to gain a place at St John’s, where he went up as a fellow-commoner in the autumn of 1776. The sociable young man was determined to enjoy himself and do as little work as possible.

Wilberforce’s birthplace


My photograph of Wilberforce’s birthplace, 25 High Street, Hull

Today – 25 August – is the anniversary of the birth of William Wilberforce in 1759. He was born at 25 High Street Hull (now an excellent museum) the son of a prosperous merchant, Robert Wilberforce, and his wife Elizabeth, née Bird, the daughter of a silk manufacturer. William was their third child, and first (and only) son. He had two elder sisters, Elizabeth and Sarah (Sally), and another sister, Ann, was to follow in 1768. Elizabeth and Ann both died in childhood. The two remaining siblings, Sally and William, remained extremely close, and Wilberforce was devastated when Sally died in 1816.

Wilberforce’s birthplace was a substantial seventeenth-century merchant’s house, built of red bricks in the Dutch style. It was a prime location at the heart of Hull’s commercial district. A narrow back garden ran down to the river Hull and to the family’s staith, a private wharf that was characteristic of the Hull mercantile community. Robert Wilberforce refurbished the interior, putting in a Venetian window and an elegant staircase, but the counting house was situated to the left of the main entrance. The house and its embellishments are excellent examples of the self-confidence of the Hull mercantile community, their aspirations to gentry status but also their lack of embarrassment about the sources of their wealth.

Wilberforce never forgot that he came of mercantile stock and was immensely proud when, in the general election of 1784, he was able to take on the local aristocrats and be elected Member of Parliament for Yorkshire, the largest constituency in the country. Yet, as I argue in my book, he was ambivalent about his origins. Towards the end of his life, he spent a great deal of money buying a house that would confirm his status as a landed gentleman. This proved a disastrous move and the collapse of his finances forced him to leave it in somewhat discreditable circumstances at the beginning of 1831.

William Wilberforce junior

Between 17 July and 4 November 2001 The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, hosted an exhibition devoted to the painter, John Linnell. The exhibition reveals a fascinating link to Wilberforce’s eldest son, William Wilberforce, junior (1798-1879), whose disastrous financial speculations were to force his parents to leave their home in 1831.

In 1824 Linnell painted a portrait for  Wilberforce junior of his wife, Mary (née Owen), whom he had married in 1820. If you scroll down to 53, you will see the following information;

‘A dispute arose on the terms of the commission leading Wilberforce to write to Linnell in a letter dated 22nd July (MS3307-2000) that, “I am not now prepared to pay you for yr. picture & I shall therefore again request you to send for it immediately …” Linnell replied the same day (MS3312-2000) reminding Wilberforce of the terms that had been agreed and adding he considered the contract binding. An entry in Linnell’s journal for 4th August, the date given on the sketch, records a meeting with Wilberforce at which he received payment for the painting. Thus Wilberforce obviously backed down and it seems the sketch must refer to this.’

There is also an amusing sketch by Charles Heathcote Tatham: The Finale of William Wilberforce junr. which depicts the young man being hanged.

The  portrait of ‘Mrs Wilberforce junior’ (watercolour and gouache over graphite on scored Mrs William Wilberforce and child, by John Linnell, 1824gesso ground) is in the Paul Mellon Collection of the Yale Center for British Art, and is in the public domain. (Unfortunately, it is wrongly described as being a portrait of Mary’s mother-in-law, Barbara Ann Wilberforce.) The child is her son, William, born on 6 December 1821. In August 1824 Mary gave birth to another son, Robert, who was to die at the age of sixteen months. The portrait was presumably done in the early stages of her pregnancy or after the birth of her child. The background may represent Hampstead Heath, as both Linnell and the young Wilberforces were living in Hampstead at the time.

In his dispute with the painter, William junior was acting in character. He was  thoroughly untrustworthy and unreliable, inheriting his father’s inability to manage money, but completely lacking his strong moral compass. It is painful to read the elder Wilberforce’s grief-stricken diary entries about his anxieties for his son. After a disastrous venture into dairy-farming, Wilberforce junior ran up debts in excess of £50,000 (over £3 million in modern money). In 1831 he and Mary left for Switzerland, where he remained until his debts were settled.

The Wilberforce family never seem to have thought much of daughter-in-law, Mary. However, Wilberforce was clearly concerned for her welfare. In his will he left her an annuity of £500 ‘for her own separate and peculiar use and benefit exclusively of my son the said William Wilberforce’. This was the legal phraseology that protected married women’s property rights in the days before the Married Woman’s Property Acts. Wilberforce wasn’t a feminist, but he was clearly well aware of the vulnerability of women.

Review in History Today

I was delighted to get a very favourable review in the November issue of History Today.  See here. The reviewer, Dr Ian Bradley, is a noted expert on the Clapham Sect so his positive comments are extremely welcome.  i’m delighted to say that he agrees with my argument that ‘Wilberforce’s spirituality was both distinctively evangelical and part of the same late-Enlightenment culture that created Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther’. It is equally gratifying when he writes that the book captures the Clapham legacy ‘beautifully and sensitively’.

Painting: The Wimbledon Wilberforces: their Portrait and their House

In Chapter 1, ‘The Merchants’ Children’, I describe how important emotionally Uncle William (1721-77) and Aunt Hannah (née Thornton; d. 1788) Wilberforce – the Wimbledon Wilberforces – were for the young Wilberforce. A fine portrait in oils of William and Hannah, c. 1750, by Joseph Highmore (1692-1780) may be seen at the Wilberforce House Museum in Hull, and can be viewed online as part of the BBC’s ‘Your Paintings’ Project. When taken out of their care, the distraught 12-year old boy wrote in a letter that he would give anything in the world to be with them again.  [Bodleian Library, MS Wilberforce, c. 51, of. 100]

The Wimbledon Guardian has a very interesting article on the elder Wilberforces’ house, known to them as Laurel Grove but subsequently named Lauriston House off Wimbledon Common, Southside. Here is an extract from the article:

‘When [the house] was demolished in 1957, a priceless ceiling painted by the famous Swiss Neoclassical artist Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807)) was lost forever.

The house had also been the home of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce.

Originally known as Laurel Grove, Lauriston House was built in 1724 for William Jackson.

It was set in three acres and next to four cottages pre-dating 1684 which became the stable block. Jackson’s widow sold the house in 1752 to Wilberforce’s uncle. He commissioned Kauffman to paint magnificent murals for the main stairwell and in 1782 his famous nephew moved in to enjoy them.

Wilberforce’s friend, William Pitt the Younger, was then Chancellor of the Exchequer and about to become Prime Minister. He became a regular visitor…

Wilberforce left the house in 1786 and launched his long anti-slavery campaign the next year but Pitt continued to visit Wimbledon regularly as his Cabinet colleagues Richard Grenville and Henry Dundas also lived nearby, respectively in Eagle House and what later became Cannizaro House.’

Wilberforce left the house following his evangelical conversion. He wanted to move nearer to the House of Commons in order to be a more effective MP. For his country retreat, he now used the Clapham home of the wealthy merchant, John Thornton. Its demolition is a typical example of post-war vandalism.

Another review – a nice one this time!

Canon David Isherwood, the rector of Holy Trinity Clapham, and therefore the successor of John Venn and William Dealtry, has published a review of my book  in the Clapham Society’s newsletter. David has many kind comments to make, but what I especially like is the way he clearly understands what I was trying to say. I’m pleased he enjoyed it.

As it isn’t easy to access online I’m reproducing his review here:

Wilberforce, Family and Friends by Anne Stott
In 2004 Anne Stott’s biography of the evangelical philanthropist Hannah More, was published to critical acclaim, winning the Rose Mary Crawshay prize for literary biography. And hard on its heels (in literary terms anyway) comes another fascinating book on the life of Wilberforce, Family and Friends. Both books are published by Oxford University Press and were launched at Holy Trinity Clapham, the spiritual home of the Clapham Sect.

Anne has published widely on women and evangelicalism, which makes her latest book all the more fascinating because most of the books on my bookshelves about the slave trade and its abolition have been written by men. By contrast, Dr Stott’s biographical insights bring to the foreground the women who managed themselves, and the families of high profile public figureheads in the 18th and 19th centuries and draws extensively on diarised records of what makes families tick in any generation – incidental and sometimes consequential asides, preoccupations and relationships which add a rich texture to otherwise complicated but significant public figures. Relationships between spouses, the joys and anxieties of child rearing, domestic ideology, women and gender, sexuality and intimacy are explored with great insight and sensitivity over 16 chapters covering the abolitionists; love, marriage and their consequences; family life in Clapham and the sometimes difficult and strained relationships between a father and his progeny.

Anne’s thoroughly well researched references and notes make this account of Clapham’s most significant resident and the network of domestic relationship which earthed his pursuit of great causes, a thoroughly good read, casting light on the crucial significance of Wilberforce’s closest friends and acquaintances. In the end, I was left with a more sympathetic impression of those who for too long have lurked in the shadows of this famous man. Summer’s coming and time, like my forebears here, to pour something like a decent cup of tea (no sugar) and settle down to an entertaining and edifying read.

Canon David Isherwood


Enlightenment, Romanticism and Sentiment: William Wilberforce, religious conversion and the language of abolition

This is the substance of a paper I gave at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, in January 2010. The following works are referred to in the paper:

D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989)

Boyd Hilton, The Age of Atonement: The Influence of Evangelicalism on Social and Economic Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991)

Brycchan Carey, British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment and Slavery, 1760-1807 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

William Cobbett, The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, vol. 28 (1789-91)

D. Bruce Hindmarsh, John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2001)

D. Bruce Hindmarsh, The Evangelical Conversion Narrative: Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (London: HarperPress, 2009)

John Locke, Essay on Human Understanding (1690)

David Newsome, The Parting of Friends: A Study of the Wilberforces and Henry Manning (London: John Murray, 1966)

Mungo Park, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (Ware, Herts.: Wordsworth Classics, 2002)

John Pollock, Wilberforce (London: Constable, 1977)

Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

Robert Isaac and Samuel Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce, 5 vols (1838)

William Wilberforce, A Practical View of the Religious System of Professed Christians…Contrasted with Real Christianity (1797)

William Wilberforce, Letter to the Freeholders of Yorkshire on the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1807)

William Wilberforce, An Appeal to the Religion, Justice, and Humanity of the Inhabitants of the British Empire in Behalf of the Negro Slaves in the West Indies (1823)

John Wolffe, Religion, Exploration and Slavery: From Enlightenment to Romanticism (Milton Keynes: Open University, 2004)

The starting-point for this paper is John Pollock’s description of William Wilberforce’s famous conversion experience of 1785, which he describes (p. 37) in essentialist and vertical terms as part of a classic Christian experience of ‘darkness preceding dawn’ that was shared by Augustine, Luther, Cromwell, Pascal, and Bunyan.  One of the reviewers took Pollock to task for this, arguing that Wilberforce’s conversion should be seen horizontally as a classic product of the late eighteenth-century age of sentiment, the age that produced Sterne’s Sentimental Journey (1768) and Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and it is Wilberforce’s alleged relationship with late eighteenth-century sentimentalism that I want to explore here.

In order to do this, it is necessary to revisit David Bebbington’s  well known thesis that the eighteenth-century Evangelical revival ‘represents a sharp discontinuity in the English-speaking world, the transition from the Baroque era to the Enlightenment’ (p. 74) and that the whole movement ‘was permeated by Enlightenment influences’ (p. 57).  This assertion has been taken up by many other historians of Evangelicalism, for example in John Wolffe’s at first sight startlingly counter-intuitive assertion (p. 15)  that John Newton’s hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ ‘was in its way quite as much a product of the Enlightenment as Hume’s ‘Of the immortality of the soul’.  Both  Bebbington and Wolffe associate Evangelicalism  with John Locke’s empiricist philosophy.  As Wolffe notes,

‘Evangelicals were men and women of the Enlightenment to the extent that they perceived themselves as advocates of a coherent alternative religious system founded on tested experience and an integrated view of the world’ (p.18).

Continue reading

Wilberforce and Bath: two love stories

This is an amended version of a talk I gave in Bath in the spring of 2007, as part of the commemorations of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. For copyright reasons I have not quoted directly from Wilberforce’s journals or any other manuscripts. The full quotations and the references can be found in my book.

My photograph of the Georgian House, Bristol, home of Charles Pinney, the slave-owning merchant who became engaged to Elizabeth Wilberforce

I didn’t realize until I did a word search how often Bath crops up in Wilberforce’s correspondence! Because of his very indifferent health he was frequently in the town even though he complained on 20 April 1826 that Bath was one of the worst possible places for finding any leisure in the morning, because the door knocker was continuously going. That sociable city was not the place for quiet reflection or sustained reading.

The first record I have found dates from November 1786, when he was in his late twenties, where his diary records that when in Bath he gave way to what he called ‘intemperance’. I’m not sure that should mean that he was drunk! This was the period of his evangelical conversion and he was very hard on himself for any lapses from high standards. Two years later, he went to Bath again so sick that many thought he was dying. He recovered, but his illness meant that his parliamentary motion for the abolition of the slave trade had to be delayed for a year; it took place in May 1789 rather than in 1788 as had been planned.

In 1811 he bought an estate at West Wick between Bath and Bristol, though as an investment rather than a place of residence. By this time he was a married man, the father of six children. He had met his wife at Bath and they were married at Walcot church, the same church where Jane Austen’s parents had been married. So this is the first love story I am going to tell. The second – a less happy one – relates to his younger daughter, Elizabeth.

For most of the 1790s Wilberforce was urgently – at times frantically and often irrationally – looking for a wife. Yet to many observers he seemed the epitome of the confirmed bachelor. Certainly that is how Dorothy Wordsworth saw him. What woman would be expected to keep up with his frantic and disorganized life?

Wilberforce’s quest for a wife was inspired by two strong forces working within him: his sexual needs that could only be legitimately satisfied in marriage, and a wistful envy when he saw the happy marriages of his friends. Those who knew him well quickly picked up on his need for domestic companionship and were keen to offer advice. The clinching piece of advice was to be provided by his close friend, Thomas Babington, MP for Leicester and a fellow Evangelical.

Early in 1797 Wilberforce completed his book A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians … Contrasted with Real Christianity. On 12 April he set off for Bath and the following day a triumphant Babington told him he had found him a wife: a Miss Barbara Ann Spooner, twenty-five years old (not twenty as many of Wilberforce’s biographers state), and the eldest daughter of the Birmingham merchant, Isaac Spooner. The family spent a great deal of time in Bath because of Isaac’s health. The Spooners owned Elmdon Hall in Warwickshire (now in the suburb of Edgbaston). They were well-to-do but the family was large and Barbara’s fortune was the relatively modest one of £5,000. But money was never a consideration for Wilberforce. Nowhere in his journals does he show any particular interest in how much money his putative bride would bring him. He had two criteria, neither of them negotiable: she had to share his Evangelical convictions and she had to be ‘affectionate’. (This was a man who craved affection more than anything else.) As it happened Barbara Spooner was to pass on both counts. She was also, as her surviving portrait shows, extremely attractive with dark hair and expressive eyes. The couple met on Saturday 15 April (unfortunately we don’t know where), and at the end of the day Wilberforce felt he had been gauche and came away ‘irritated and sad’. The following day was Easter Sunday and during a not very impressive sermon his mind was distracted by Miss Spooner. He was, he recognized, in danger of falling in love with a creature of his own imagination. He dined with Babington and the Spooners in the evening and was convinced that he was in love.  So blatant were his attentions that the following evening he found Barbara ‘irritated’ as his attentions were now ‘public news’ in Bath.  The city, it seemed, was alive with gossip that Wilberforce was in love with a woman he had met two days previously. For this rest of the week the couple were seen in public at the Pump Room and by the Saturday Wilberforce could describe himself as ‘captivated’ by her’. True to his usual practice he consulted friends, this time Hannah More and his second cousin Henry Thornton, who understandably advised him to slow down. But he thought they were ‘imperfect judges’.  Of course they were both seriously alarmed. What was to become of the great causes of evangelicalism and abolition if their foremost proponent made a public fool of himself?

On Monday 24 April, nine days after meeting Barbara, Wilberforce had the necessary interview with Mr Spooner, and the following day he made his engagement public by escorting her to the Pump Room. He now had leisure to assess his fiancée’s character. He thought her ‘good’ and ‘natural’, but also ‘wild’, by which he seems to have meant  spontaneous.  On the Saturday he received a message from the Prime Minister William Pitt, that he was needed in London in order to give support to a controversial loan to enable Austria to continue her war against Revolutionary France. After they had breakfasted together, he  took leave of her.  Once in London, in the grip of another bout of illness, quite possibly psychosomatic, he had time to reflect on his rash action: had he yielded to his physical appetites and entered into an irrevocable commitment? Yet he trusted that Barbara really was a child of God.

At the end of May as the time approached for him to return to Bath and his marriage, he lamented how much of his time had been frittered away. The war was going badly, the country was in dire straits, and in his heart of hearts he did not care!

At the wedding service, which took place on 30 May at Walcot church (the same church where Jane Austen’s parents had married) , it was Barbara who was tearful and Wilberforce who felt no emotion. After a courtship of six weeks, he had worn himself out mentally. Their honeymoon was spent on a tour of Hannah More’s schools in the Mendips.

The couple returned to Bath later in the year and according to my calculations, their first child, William Wilberforce junior, was conceived in Bath around 20 October. Not all his friends thought Wilberforce had made the right choice of a wife. Dorothy Wordsworth was not alone in thinking Barbara good-hearted but whiney and sanctimonious.

The criticisms can be summed up as follows: far from being worthy of her great husband, Barbara was a trial to his patience; she was incapable of stimulating conversation and in her anxious protectiveness she stifled his conversation with his friends; she possessed to an uncomfortable degree the evangelical vice of speaking in cant religious phrases. She was also incapable of running a smooth, efficient household, and at the chaotic breakfasts in the Wilberforce household, guests were expected to fend for themselves and sometimes had to be prepared to go hungry – though one doubts whether any wife could have coped easily with such a constant stream of visitors. Her children, too, found her a trial because of the way she fussed over them. Her vivid imagination found it all too easy to picture them in all sorts of dire perils, both physical and moral. For example, when she heard that her youngest son, Henry, had written home from his brother’s alone and at night, she conjured up a picture of him falling from his horse and lying injured in a ditch, his life slowly ebbing away. The children either laughed it off or gritted their teeth. Yet Wilberforce never regretted his marriage.

As a married couple, the Wilberforces visited Bath frequently, most sadly in 1821 when their elder daughter was taking the waters to cure the tuberculosis that was to kill her early in 1822. They were celebrities in the city. In 1824 the surviving daughter Elizabeth reported that people were forking out considerable sums of money to buy Barbara’s drawings.

In Bath three years later, Elizabeth  presented the family with a major crisis when she announced her wish to marry Charles Pinney, third son of the Bristol merchant, John Pinney, who was the owner of a substantial slave estate in Nevis. His youngest son Charles had been born in 1793 in the house in Great George Street now open to the public as the Georgian House. Charles inherited his father’s business skills and when John Pinney died in 1818 he inherited the Bristol house and the Nevis property – and the slaves. Some time in the mid-1820s he met the Wilberforces probably through their common friend, John Scandrett Harford, I suspect either in Bath or at nearby Blaise Castle. Whatever the location, in April 1827 the family were at no 3 Queen Square where Wilberforce was approached by Pinney who asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

With what seems like astonishing naivety, Wilberforce responded sympathetically. In his letter to Pinney he discussed the possible marriage settlement but made not mention of his prospective son-in-law’s substantial interests in the West Indies or in the fact that he was also involved in granting mortgages to planters in need of funds. This was worse even than being a slave-holder as he was involved in slavery at a distance and had no control over the working conditions of the slaves.

The day after Wilberforce in effect agreed to the marriage, he received a blistering letter from his abolitionist brother-in-law, James Stephen which distressed him so much that he became ill.  Barbara suggested that the family travel to Leicestershire to consult the family oracle, Thomas Babington. A week later they set off. Of course in theory the choice rested with Elizabeth. At the age of 26 she had the legal right to make her own decision. But what could she do? After listening to Babington Elizabeth broke off the relationship. As her mother put it in an apologetic letter to Pinney’s sister, Mary Ames, she could not destroy her father’s peace of mind.  Wilberforce noted with relief in his diary that she did not seem too troubled by her decision, but the next day he had to report that she had been confined to her room all day with a headache. The crisis was over – but not without its casualties. Elizabeth’s thoughts on the subject have not survived, but it must have been an extremely depressing time for her.

I wish I could provide a happy ending for Elizabeth. In January 1831 she married a clergyman, the Rev John James of Lydney, and went to live in his poor Yorkshire parish at Rawmarsh. By this time she was already suffering from a hacking cough. In October she gave birth to a baby daughter, Barbara. She then went rapidly downhill and died in the Isle of Wight in March 1832.

By this time Wilberforce himself had not long to live. In May 1833 he was back in Bath and clearly dying. The waters seemed to be doing him good, and he was able to walk on the Parade for half an hour,  but this was a false hope. The Wilberforce family were very good at unrealistic optimism.

On 17 July Wilberforce left Bath for the last time to seek the advice of London doctors. On 26 July he heard that the Anti-Slavery bill had passed its third reading. He died at 3 am on 29 July a few weeks before his seventy-fourth birthday, and with him died most of the family’s connection with Bath. Barbara Wilberforce does not seem to have visited it often if at all after her husband’s death. But then perhaps Bath’s glory days were over?

Wilberforce House Museum, Hull

Here is the photograph of number 25, High Street, Hull, the home of the merchant, Robert Wilberforce. It was here that his only son, William, was born on 24 August 1759. It is the elegant and genteel house of an affluent merchant and in itself conveys some fascinating social history. There was no clear distinction between a merchant and a gentleman. It was also a working home. The counting house was situated to the left of the grand entrance and the garden led down to the family staith (landing stage) on the Humber River.