9 - 10 AM: Upon Westminster Bridge (Long 18th century)
10 - 11 AM: Thames boat trip to Greenwich Village
11 AM - 2 PM: Greenwich (The Maritime Museum, Observatory, Victoria Footwalk)
2 - 3 PM: Lunch
3 - 5.30 PM: The Museum of London Docklands (guided tour; Sugar and Slavery Walking Tour)
5.30 - 7 PM: Journey to National Theatre and dinner
7.30 - 10.30 PM: Small Island at the National Theatre
Student Report, written by Sally Idehen: Greenwich and The Museum of London Docklands
Having discussed the theoretical aspects of topics like literature from the long 18th century, London and migration, and London’s imperial past in class, it became really important for me to visit some of the places we talked about and experience the things I recently came to know for myself. And so, when the opportunity availed itself, I gave it no thought as I indicated my interest of participating in the 2019 academic excursion to London.
On Wednesday, the 7th of August 2019, the third day of our excursion, we all started off with a visit to the famous Westminster Bridge, on which the great poet William Wordsworth composed the poem “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802”. It was a really thrilling experience, to read the poem on the same bridge and probably at the same spot where Wordsworth must have stood as he composed it. Here, my fellow students and I had a first-hand experience of what the great writer must have felt and seen as we looked out onto the very busy London Streets, observing people as they went about their business.
Thereafter, we had the opportunity to take a boat tour along the famous River Thames. As one of our tour guides took us around London, he told us about buildings with historical significance. Tales of London’s ancient history came to life in our minds as we made our way past the city. High-rise buildings and bridges with their beautiful architectural designs graced our eyes as we enjoyed the lovely scenery and the history behind it. Landmarks like Waterloo Bridge (nicknamed “The Ladies’ Bridge”), Blackfriars Railway Bridge (originally built in 1929), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Tower of London, London Bridge, and many others came into view as we made our way calmly down the river. For most of us, this was a new experience as we took that educative and informative boat ride along the river with an open mind. Here we could freely share our thoughts, excitements, and impressions with one another, take pictures, laugh at some things that were said and share jokes.
From here on, we proceeded to the Maritime Museum as well as the Royal Observatory line in Greenwich. After crossing under the river via an original Victorian foot tunnel, we explored the Museum of London Docklands. We were led around the museum’s “London, Sugar & Slavery” exhibition by a tour guide named Victor, who told us about the history of the museum. He presented pictures and exhibits of different historical eras, which told of the hardships the Caribbean slaves had to endure, and of their struggles for freedom. We ended the day’s programme with a visit to the National Theatre, where we saw a theatrical adaptation of Andrey Levy’s novel Small Island, which we had read in the seminar. The play offered an impressive representation and physical illustration of the plight of the African-Caribbeans after the Second World War. Afterwards, we returned to our accommodation totally exhausted but happy.
Selected student responses to our visit at The Museum of London Docklands:
“The list with ships and numbers of slaves gave me an impression about the slave trade in the 18th century in London and the dimension of the slave-trade in this time. The tour was very informative and gave, in addition to the exhibition, a greater look to this huge topic of slave-trade and revealed more interesting details. The most appalling thing for me was to see how inhuman slaves were treated. Therefore, it was so important that people like Olaudah Equiano gave these people a voice and dignity.”
“What really surprised me was that slavery did not end after its abolishment and that slave owners were paid, instead of the enslaved people, relatives and friends who suffered from slavery. I think it is important to reflect on one’s own history in order to reflect on the question of identity.”
“The exhibition, especially in combination with the guided tour, was extremely interesting. It gave us a good overview and showed us the relevance of the topic. What struck me the most was how people, in favour of slavery, ‘took away’ the culture and the humanity of the enslaved people to justify their actions.”
“In all slavery/anti-slavery related documentaries and commentaries I had seen prior to today, Wilberforce was always cast in the image of an abolitionist saint (if not martyr). It’s disappointing and insightful to learn he actually discouraged abolition at some point (for economic reasons).”
“The Museum of London Docklands made me realise what wide and complex topics racism and the history of enslavement are. The exhibition gives an introduction with emphasis on the historical connections to the London Docklands, providing one with authentic and personal documents. It inspires the participants with a desire for learning more about this horrible part of human history and its consequences that continue to be present even today.”
“I am, again and again, surprised by the fact that even after the 1833 Abolition Act was passed, there was no real emancipation. Instead, one cruel system replaced another in a certain way. This is very sad considering that ‘our’ wealth then and today was built on slave trade and cruelty.”
(Slightly edited by Darleen Helms and Nadine Schmidt for publication purposes.)