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As Black History Month draws to a close for this year, a powerful new and educational Diocesan video produced by our Diocesan Board of Education, DBE, has been released on YouTube.  

In the video, available to schools and also parishes to show all year-round as part of their own education projects, the Vicar of Lancaster, Rev Leah Vasey-Saunders, discusses Lancaster Priory’s relationship with the transatlantic slave trade; specifically how the Priory and the city are coming to terms with a difficult history as part of the city’s ‘Facing the Past’ project.   

Part of that work is the development of a ‘Key Stage 2 (KS2) slave trade trail’ featuring the Priory which has been completed by no less than 32 schools so far. 

Speaking in the video to Liz Agbettoh, the DBE’s School Effectiveness Officer, Rev Leah outlines the story of the journey the Priory embarked on in recent years to understand and acknowledge its past and the ways in which this journey has manifested itself, such as educational initiatives with adults and children and working alongside partners in the city in creating the recent ‘Facing the Past’ festival.

Other organisations and groups are developing work across the city too, like the ‘Facing the Past’ art exhibition in the Judges Lodgings (a Lancashire County Council Museum) and a new emerging project looking at the collection of the Abyssinia Campaign, in the Kings’ Own Regiment Museum within Lancaster City Museum.

The city’s Black History Group also completed a Slavery Family Trees Project which will be touring again in 2024 and will be at the Priory Church in February.

Talking in and about the video, designed to be used at any time of the year not just in Black History Month itself, Rev Leah said: “When I arrived as vicar in 2021 we were had recently experienced the Black Lives Matter protests around the country including here at the Priory where the ‘Lindow Rawlinson Memorial’ was sprayed with the words ‘slave trader’ in red.  

“We were aware everything from street names to grand buildings across the city were associated with wealthy people, but there was no discussion about how and specifically why they were wealthy: because of transatlantic slave trade. 

“The city has a memorial on the quayside to captured Africans which has been there for quite a while. Not everyone knows it’s there and why it’s there and we realised there was a huge lack of knowledge – including in our schools.  

Rev Leah continued: “We were anxious to avoid a situation where we create a new piece of art, no matter how worthy or excellent, but where nothing changes as a result. 

“On this basis, the first phase of what has become known as the ‘Facing the Past’ project with Arts Council funding, sought to engage people directly in schools and the community through artist-led workshops to reflect on the legacy of the past.  

“This phase produced a KS2 educational resource and launched a consultation with key stakeholders about what would be the best way of engaging with the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. 

“Meanwhile the second phase of the project, funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, delivered an education and creative arts-based exploration of this history.

The adult education element has included training for museum staff and volunteers across the city about modern day slavery, anti-racism and understanding how we talk about our race and identity.

“For children, a KS2 slave trade trail has been developed with primary teachers and an educational specialist and with the support of academics and historians. It was a multi-agency, involving local museums, schools, universities, the Priory, the city’s Black History Group and more. So far, 32 schools have completed a trail across the city and explored their history.” 

When children do the trail Rev Leah describes part of the route brings them to the Priory.  

While there they see a marker to John Satterthwaite who owned a plantation; learn about an enslaved woman, Frances Elizabeth Johnson, who was baptised there and see three candelabra donated to the priory – all of which were bought with some of the proceeds of the sale of another plantation and gifted to the Priory by its former owner.

Despite the bleak history of that period there are some glimmers of hope discussed in the video.  

For example, there are 58 records of baptisms of black Africans in the 18th century, with the film showing Rev Leah and Liz examining the very font where those baptisms took place.  

Rev Leah continues: “We don’t know the motivation of the slave owners (in getting those enslaved people baptised) but I like to think about baptism being about the grace of God. That means something far bigger than human motivations, while for me baptism is also about our identity as a child of God; being born again and having freedom in Christ.  

“The image of freedom is one of great hope and I pray there would have been some comfort in that for the black people who were baptised here.” 

In total, through research, the Priory has discovered 76 entries in its registers of black Africans who were baptised, married or who had funerals in the building. The next steps are about ensuring these people are not forgotten again; a task Rev Leah describes as ‘exciting’.   

The Priory-specific research which has brought these people to light was undertaken by historian Melinda Elder and a special exhibition and celebration of the end of phase two of this project is due to be hosted by the Priory at the end of November.  

Rev Leah concludes: “Just because we have abolished slavery it doesn’t mean racism is not still alive and very real still today.

So it’s exciting for the future that we can educate people, raising awareness and telling these long-forgotten stories while helping to create a future where we value every person and every story in our community.”

Summing up why the video (produced and edited by David Harris, Digital Resources Officer) is important for the DBE, Liz Agbettoh added: “Equity, Diversity and Justice (EDJ) is a central pillar of the Board of Education’s work with schools.  

“The Priory working in partnership with the community and academics is an excellent example of how, by understanding and acknowledging our past, we can have hope for a more optimistic future, where a commitment to EDJ is everybody’s business.” 

It seems Lancaster Priory and Lancaster as a city are only just getting started with ‘facing their past’; ensuring future generations understand what happened, to ensure it never happens again.

  • The ‘Facing the Past’ exhibition at the Judges Lodgings is explored in more detail in this video  
  • View a legacy film of the Heritage Lottery funded ‘Facing the Past: Phase 2’ project here.  
  • Explore and contribute to the archive at  

Captions for the above pictures, top to bottom:

Rev Leah Vasey-Saunders, Vicar of Lancaster and Liz Agbettoh, School Effectiveness Officer,  during recent filming at the Priory for the new video. Picture David Harris. 

The Lindow Rawlinson Memorial sprayed with the words 'Slave Trader' in red; a scene from the new video