The name of William Wilberforce (1759-1833) is one of the best-known in English history. And what people with only a little knowledge of history tend to know about William Wilberforce is that he had something to do with the abolition of slavery.
A Yorkshire man by birth, Wilberforce entered Parliament in his twenties and soon afterwards became an evangelical Christian. His active Christianity was a key element in driving his participation in many campaigns for reform. He supported the Society for the Suppression of Vice, missionary work in India, the creation of Sierra Leone as a free colony, the Church Mission Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. What Wilberforce is most remembered for is his involvement in and parliamentary leadership of the campaign to abolish the British slave trade. After the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 he worked with others in the subsequent campaign that led to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which completed its passage through Parliament just three days before he died.
William Wilberforce's burial in Westminster Abbey was an indication of the respect in which he was held by many.
The public man was also a private man. I don't know what Professor John Coffey is going to reveal in his lecture on The Secret Diaries of William Wilberforce, but perhaps it will give us an insight into the mind and conscience of a man who challenged powerful interests and sought to do good. I hope there might also be a glimpse into his happy marriage to Barbara Spooner, whom he met in Bath and married at St Swithun's Church, Walcot, on 30 May 1797.
Two summer visits now confirmed
As well as the members' visit to Bowood House and Gardens on Wednesday 16 May, which I referred to last month, I am now able to confirm that there will be a second visit, to Gatcombe Court, on Thursday 14 June. Details of both visits, including how to book, will be emailed or posted to members before the end of March.