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Monument to Sir Thomas Clarkson, 10 Metres South West of Church of St Mary, Playford

Description: Monument to Sir Thomas Clarkson, 10 Metres South West of Church of St Mary

Grade: II
Date Listed: 25 January 1985
English Heritage Building ID: 285971

OS Grid Reference: TM2175348074
OS Grid Coordinates: 621753, 248074
Latitude/Longitude: 52.0866, 1.2353

Location: Church Road, Playford, Suffolk IP6 9DS

Locality: Playford
Local Authority: Suffolk Coastal District Council
County: Suffolk
Country: England
Postcode: IP6 9DS

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Listing Text



This list entry has been amended as part of the Bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition Act.

Commemorative monument, 1857. Designed by George Biddell Airy. 10 metres south west of the Church of St Mary (q.v.). A plain obelisk of Aberdeen granite in two pieces, standing about five metres high, on a square plinth of four steps. About halfway up the obelisk, a band of darker granite, with inscriptions on each of the four sides. On the north side: 'DURING THIRTY YEARS / A RESIDENT OF THIS PARISH'; east side: 'THOMAS CLARKSON / THE FRIEND OF SLAVES'; south side: INTERRED IN THIS CHURCHYARD / NEAR THE CHANCEL DOOR'; west side: 'DIED AT PLAYFORD HALL / SEPT 26TH 1846 AGED 85 YEARS'. Lower down, on the east side, the words: 'ERECTED 1857 / BY A FEW SURVIVING FRIENDS'.

HISTORY: Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) was pivotal to the British campaign to end the slave trade and slavery. At Cambridge, in 1785, Clarkson wrote the winning Latin prize essay for which the set topic was 'Anne liceat invitos in servitutem dare' ('Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?'). Research into the Atlantic slave trade left him appalled, and he resolved to devote himself to seeing 'these calamities to their end'. In 1787 he joined with Granville Sharp and others to form the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and in the same year, Clarkson was instrumental in persuading William Wilberforce to represent the cause in Parliament. Clarkson undertook to travel the country raising support, and seeking out evidence about the slave trade to put before Parliament. This he did, visiting slave ports great and small, inspecting slave ships, and talking to seamen, doctors, slave captains and merchants. He became a celebrated national figure, but also made bitter enemies. In 1788, Parliament appointed a select committee to examine the slave trade, for which Clarkson organised witnesses and material evidence, including the horrific diagram of the arrangement of slaves below decks on the ship named the 'Brookes'. It was largely due to Clarkson's efforts that on 25 March 1807 the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade at last received royal assent.

During the 1790s, his health at risk, Clarkson went into temporary retirement from the campaign. After a period farming in Cumberland, Clarkson married Catherine Buck, and from 1806-16 the couple lived in Catherine's native Bury St Edmunds. In 1816 they moved to Playford Hall (q.v.), given to Clarkson by the 5th Earl of Bristol, 'at a very modest rent. To express my respect for his character, and my sense of his service to the poor Africans.' Clarkson undertook extensive repairs to the house, and threw himself into his responsibilities as squire of Playford; the 340-acre farm prospered. The Clarksons acted as hosts to leading abolitionists, both English and American. In 1821 Marie-Louise, widow of Henri Christophe (1767-1820), hero of the Haitian revolt of 1791-1804 and self-crowned but then deposed King of northern Haiti, took refuge at Playford with their two daughters. At Playford Clarkson wrote many books and pamphlets, mostly on the subject of slavery; Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the house in 1853 as a place of pilgrimage, and remembered being shown 'the room where for years, many of his most important labours had been conducted... I could not but feel that the place was hallowed'. Clarkson also spent much time away, campaigning. In 1823 he was one of the founding members of the Anti-Slavery Society, and following the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833, Clarkson helped bring about the end of enforced apprenticeship of former slaves in the West Indies. Clarkson died at Playford Hall on 26 September 1846; one of his last visitors was the American abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass. Catherine Clarkson remained at Playford Hall until her death in 1856.

Thomas Clarkson was buried at St Mary's Church, Playford, with his only child, Thomas (1796-1837); they were later joined by Catherine Clarkson, and by their grandson, also Thomas. The plot is contained by iron railings with commemorative marble plaques; these were restored by the Clarkson family in 1982. Clarkson had been ordained into the Church of England but had strong Quaker sympathies; in deference to the Quaker belief that elaborate memorials were unnecessary, his grave was given no tombstone, Catherine Clarkson defying complaints over 'how unhandsomely I have disposed of my Husband's body!' It is thought to be for this reason that Clarkson was not immediately honoured with a monument in Westminster Abbey. The Playford obelisk was erected in 1857, a subscription having been arranged by George (later Sir George) Biddell Airy, the Astronomer Royal, whose uncle, Arthur Biddell, had been a friend and neighbour of Clarkson, and who as a boy had been tutored in classics by the great abolitionist. The obelisk was made to Airy's design. Some years later, a memorial was erected in the church by Mary Clarkson, Clarkson's niece and daughter-in-law, commemorating Thomas and Catherine Clarkson, together with their son and grandson. There are monuments to Clarkson at Wisbech (q.v.), and at High Cross, Thundridge, in Cambridgeshire (q.v.). In 1996, to mark his sesquicentenary, a tablet was placed in Westminster Abbey close to the Wilberforce tomb.

SOURCES: Dictionary of National Biography; Ellen Gibson Wilson, Thomas Clarkson: A Biography (1989); A. Hochschild, Bury the Chains (2005, 2006); J. Oldfield, 'Chords of Freedom', (2007)

The monument to Thomas Clarkson is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Plain but striking granite obelisk designed by George Biddell Airy, Astronomer Royal
* The monument is of special historical interest, having been erected to commemorate Thomas Clarkson, one of the foremost heroes of the abolition movement
* The setting of the obelisk is especially fitting, being in the churchyard at Playford. Clarkson lived at Playford for 30 years, and is buried in the churchyard; the church and churchyard contain other memorials to him and his family.


This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.