London's slave trade



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    At The Ranger's House in Greenwich Park

    The Ranger’s House, Greenwich Park, formerly home of Ignatius Sancho

    Ignatius Sancho was born in 1729 on a slave ship on the Atlantic. His parents died shortly afterwards. He was brought to London where his master gave him to his sisters in Greenwich. Teaching himself to read and write, he befriended the Duke of Montagu and went to live with him in the house that is now The Ranger’s House. He was employed as a butler and allowed to indulge his passion for the arts and socialise with London’s artistic set. Gainsborough even painted Sancho’s portrait in 1768. He married and opened a grocer’s in Charles Street, Westminster. Two years after his death in 1780, his ‘Letters of Ignatius Sancho’ were published and became a bestseller.

    AT In Sancho’s time, the park would have been similar to how it is now, although there would have been more people riding horses. He would have walked up here and would have known Equiano, though he was about 15 or 16 years older than him. Sancho was first looked after by two spinsters on the other side of Greenwich, and the Duke of Montagu used to visit the family and took a liking to Ignatius. He would invite him home and give him books to read and he taught him eventually to play the piano. I think there are a few scores at the British Library. Then Ignatius had an annex here, in the Duke of Montagu’s house. He was left a pension by the Duke and in those days £40 a year was a lot of money. He bought a shop, and his wife, who survived him, lived off its proceeds. She was black and that’s the interesting thing: it was exceptional in those days, when there weren’t many black women here. He must have fallen in love with her when he met her at some event where his employer met with her employer.

    DL It’s just been really wonderful to walk in the footsteps of these men who lived here 200 years ago. This was the beginning of a long, long struggle that is about equality, that we can link to the fight for gender rights, for employment, the Make Poverty History campaign last year.
    The second thing is to say that slavery is still with us. There are still people trafficked, awfully, arriving at ports, arriving into prostitution, arriving into very frightening and poor employment. There’s a campaign still to be fought today.

    The Equiano Society can be contacted at or by email to

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