By James Robinson for MailOnline
William Beckford – often referred to as Alderman Beckford to distinguish him from his novelist son of the same name – was a well-known political figure in the 18th century.
A vastly wealthy man, he twice served as the Lord Mayor of London in 1762 and 1769.
But his and his family’s fortunes were built off the back of slavery in Jamaica.
His grandfather, Colonel Peter Beckford, left England for the Caribbean island in search of wealth.
A vastly wealthy man, William Beckford twice served as the Lord Mayor of London in 1762 and 1769. But his and his family’s fortunes were built off the back of slavery in Jamaica.
Peter later became the acting Governor of Jamaica in 1702 and reputedly owned 20 Jamaican estates, 1,200 enslaved Africans and left £1,5million in bank stock when he died in 1710.
The vast majority of his fortune passed to his eldest son – also named Peter Beckford – who was William’s father. It later passed to William – who was Peter’s sole surviving legitimate son.
William, who was born in Jamaica in 1709 and educated in England, inherited 13 sugar plantations after his father’s death.
When William’s brother died in 1712, the number of enslaved Africans he owned grew to 3,000.
On one of his plantations, in 1760, a rebellion took place and over 400 enslaved Africans were killed and many others brutally punished. It is said that the leader of the uprising was burnt alive.
Back in England, William pursued a life in politics and became an Alderman of London, Sheriff of London and twice Lord Mayor of London.
In 1770 he famously supported the MP John Wilkes in a speech representing the rights of the mercantile man to King George III.
He was considered a hero among political reformers for the speech. William died that year and a statue celebrating his career was placed in London’s Guildhall.
William’s son, also named William, would become a famous writer, remembered for his Gothic novel Vathek.
Alderman Beckford’s contribution to the slave trade has recently been highlighted following the Black Lives Matter campaign last Summer.
The City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee has now voted to remove him from their historic Guildhall headquarters.
Sir John Cass
Sir John Cass was a merchant, builder and Tory MP who lived between 1661 and 1718.
He was the founder of a mixed school in London and posthumously his wealth was used to set up Sir John Cass’s Foundation – which still provides funding for a number of schools and educational projects in London.
Sir John Cass was a merchant, builder and Tory MP who lived between 1661 and 1718
But his legacy as a philanthropist has been brought into question in recent years due to his contribution to the African slave trade.
In 1705 Cass became a member of the court of assistants – essentially a board member – of the Royal African Company.
The company shipped more African slaves to the Americas than any other institution in the history of the Atlantic slave trade.
Cass held shares in the Royal African Company until his death in 1718.
During his life he served as a Tory MP for the City of London from 1710 to 1715 and was also elected a Sheriff of London.
He founded a mixed school for 90 students in the buildings in the churchyard of St Botolph’s Aldgate in 1709.
With money from his will, trustees set up Sir John Cass’s Foundation to support education in London in 1748.
His charity funded the Sir John Cass Foundation School. Through a series of moves and mergers this became part of the City of London Polytechnic – now London Metropolitan University.
In June last year, Professor Lynn Dobbs, Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan University announced that the name of Cass would be removed from their Art, Architecture and Design School.
The modern Sir John Cass’s Foundation still provides funding for a number of schools in London, including some that have Cass’s name.
The Sir John Cass Redcoat School last year announced it would be changing its name to remove the reference to Cass, due to his connections with the slave trade. It is now Stepney All Saints School in August 2020.
Bosses at the Sir John Cass’s Foundation have also committed to changing its name in the future.
Sources: BeckfordsTower.org and Sir John Cass’s Foundation