A slave owner in central London

THE TALL GREY GRANITE drinking fountain that stands on the southeast corner of London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields is no longer in use. The inscription carved on its base reads:

“In memory of Philip Twells. Barrister at law of Lincolns Inn and sometime Member of Parliament for the City of London. 8 May A.D. 1880”

Born the son of a banker John Twells (1776-1866), Philip (1808-1880) attended Oxford University and then was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1834. His father was a partner in the private bank of Spooner Attwood & Co. In 1863, that bank was taken over by Barclay, Bevan & Tritton & Co, a precursor of the modern Barclays Bank. It was then that Philip became a partner in the enlarged banking concern. He was MP for the City of London from 1874 to 1880.

A website (www.layersoflondon.org/map/records/philip-twells-mp-banker-and-slave-owner-of-stoke-newington-church-street) recorded that Philip Twells owned 252 slaves in Jamaica, and added:

“The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 had made the ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire although servitude was replaced by ‘apprenticeship’ for at least five years. The 1837 Slave Compensation Act provided compensation to owners for the loss of their business assets.”

Another website (http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/46210) noted that Philip Twells was:

“Awarded part of the compensation for the Islington estate in St Mary Jamaica with his brother Rev. John Twells …”

The slave-owner compensation awarded to Philip was £4207, which is worth well in excess of £300,000 in today’s money. On his death, Pholip left a substantial fortune to his wife.

The fountain commemorating Twells in Lincoln’s Inn Fields was a gift of his widow, and was erected in 1882. Sadly, this memorial to a former owner of slaves can no longer refresh the passer-by. However, during weekdays, food and drinks can be obtained at a café in the middle of Lincolns Inn Fields. And while you are in the area, do not miss seeing the magnificent Sir John Soane’s Museum on the north side of the Fields.

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