Surrey’s Black History and links with Magna Carta

Phillis Wheatley featured on The Jurors chair 5, Runnymede (Courtesy of Surrey Arts)

Phillis Wheatley featured on The Jurors chair 5, Runnymede (Courtesy of Surrey Arts)

An artwork by Hew Locke to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, Surrey, touches on the injustice of slavery and the importance of Black History. The Jurors artwork was commissioned by Surrey County Council and the National Trust and comprises twelve intricately worked bronze chairs representing concepts of law and key moments in the struggle for freedom, rule of law and equal rights. The Jurors is not a memorial, but rather an artwork that aims to examine the changing and ongoing significance and influences of Magna Carta.

Close-up detail of Phillis Wheatley on The Jurors chair 5, Runnymede (Photograph: Carole Garrard; SHC ref PX/56/124)

Close-up detail of Phillis Wheatley on The Jurors chair 5, Runnymede (Photograph: Carole Garrard; SHC ref PX/56/124)

Phillis Wheatley is featured on one of The Jurors chairs because she was the first published African American woman (1773). Her story is combined with that of Mary Prince (1788-1888), the first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to the British parliament in 1828, and the first black woman to write and publish an autobiography (1831). Both Phillis and Mary were writing at a time when it was claimed that slaves and former slaves were not competent to write. In the dedication to the artwork is included a versification of phrases from a letter written by Phillis Wheatley to the Indian Presbyterian minister Reverend Samson Occum – ‘for in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call love of Freedom; it is impatient of oppression, and pants for Deliverance’.

Find out more about the chair (number 5) dedicated to Phillis Wheatley on the Art at Runnymede website http://artatrunnymede.com/magna-carta-phillis-wheatley/

Zong featured on The Jurors chair 11, Runnymede (Courtesy of Surrey Arts)

Zong featured on The Jurors chair 11, Runnymede (Courtesy of Surrey Arts)

The injustice of slavery is represented in the artwork at Runnymede by the inclusion of a chair dedicated to the slave ship Zong. In 1781, 133 slaves, diseased and malnourished from overcrowding, were thrown overboard from the ship and the owners filed an insurance claim for the loss of their human ‘merchandise’. The insurers refused to settle the claim and the resulting legal case caused public outcry. The Zong was one of the biggest legal cases in the history of the Atlantic Slave trade and helped highlight the ill treatment of slaves to a wider public light. The Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice, ruled against the ship owners which in turn compelled many people to support the abolition of the slave trade.

Find out more about the chair (number 11) dedicated to Zong here http://artatrunnymede.com/magna-carta-zong/

Nelson Mandela’s prison cell door featured on the back of The Jurors chair 7, Runnymede (Courtesy of Surrey Arts)

Nelson Mandela’s prison cell door featured on the back of The Jurors chair 7, Runnymede (Courtesy of Surrey Arts)

Representing a modern day story of injustice against black people, The Jurors artwork also features a chair depicting the prison door of Nelson Mandela’s cell at Robben Island, where he was incarcerated for 27 years during the apartheid regime.

Find out more about the chair dedicated to Nelson Mandela (number 7) here http://artatrunnymede.com/magna-carta-nelson-mandela/

(Compiled from information supplied by the Art at Runnymede official website http://artatrunnymede.com/)

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