Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Celebrating Mill Hill's links with William Wilberforce

Blue Plaque celebrating William Wilberforce
The Barnet Eye has long celebrated the links between Mill Hill and William Wilberforce, who led the campaign to ban slavery in the UK and its then colonies. Wilberforce saw out his days in Mill Hill. He built St Paul's Church on the Ridgeway for the people of the then village of Mill Hill, conveniently near the High St.

St Paul's Church has three very interesting articles on its website, detailing his links with the church,  his campaign against Slavery and his career at Westminster. The Church is well worth a visit to see its display which illustrates the story. Wilberforce's residence is marked by a Blue Plaque marking the site of his residence. I recently took a picture of the the plaque and as you can see, it requires some TLC. The plaque was erected by the Hendon Corporation, the precursor to Barnet Council. We will be writing to Barnet Council to ask them to give the plaque some TLC, as Wilberforce certainly does deserve to be properly commemorated by our community.

The Mill Hill Preservation Society says of Wilberforce "While he was living in Hendon Park Wilberforce had built, to his own design, a private chapel, which was later to become the Mill Hill Church of St Paul’s. One of the first services in the new church was a tribute to his memory, conducted at the moment that he was being buried in Westminster Abbey."

The London Gardens trust website has some interesting information about the construction of the Church. "St Paul's Church was designed in 1829 by Samuel Hood Page and consecrated in 1833, paid for by William Wilberforce, an important figure in the Anti-Slavery Movement, who lived at Hendon Park from 1826-1831; a blue plaque recalls this. Wilberforce, who had a long dispute with the Rector Theodore Williams (1812-1875), had moved to Highwood Hill in 1825 and gained permission to build the church on a gravel pit site on Belmont Estate. Brick was made locally at a kiln on Hendon Wood Lane, the church is rendered in cement. Until then the residents of Mill Hill had to go to the parish church of St Mary's at Hendon (q.v.). It became a parish church in 1926. The churchyard has yew in front, and iron railings and flower beds to the road."

I am indebted to the Mill Hill Historical Society for bringing to my attention papers concerning the attempt to prevent the building of the chapel by Williams.

I think we can all be pleased that it is the legacy of Wilberforce triumphed over that of Theodore Williams. St Pauls is recognised across the world as a very important site in the Wilberforce story, as this tweet from a Church in St Petersberg, USA attests.

On a personal note, I am pleased to have close associations with the Church. We regularly use the Church as a location for concerts at The Mill Hill Music Festival and I had the pleasure of assisting with the sound at a concert in the Church featuring the London Community Gospel Choir a few years back, to celebrate Black History Week.

Given the recent highlighting of racism and inequality, as a result of the death of George Floyd, it is important that we learn the story of slavery and our nations dark role in the story. It is also only right that we commemorate those who played a positive role in the story, especially those in our community. That is why we need some TLC for the blue plaque that commemorates William Wilberforce.

Black lives do matter. Today at 6pm, we will be taking the knee. We will also be officially releasing this video, which is a powerful message against racism in all its forms. William Wilberforce passed away in 1831 but his work is not done, by any stretch of the imagination.


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