Walking in Wilberforce’s footsteps

On 14 March 2020 we were extremely blessed to be able to go ahead with our Wilberforce Walk – the last event hosted by the Diocese of Rochester before lockdown. We completed a a circular walk from Keston to Downe and back via the Wilberforce Oak, where William Wilberforce sat when he decided to pursue the abolitionist campaign in 1788. The Rt Revd Simon Burton-Jones, Bishop of Tonbridge gave an inspiring talk on modern slavery and what makes a successful anti-slavery campaigner at Keston Parish Church before we set off.

At the Wilberforce Oak we lay down some flowers for the victims of modern slavery and a local singer, Peter, very kindly led us in some freedom songs, including Amazing Grace by John Newton, Moses, Go Down as published by the Fisk Jubilee Singers and I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas. John Newton was a slave, then later the captain of a slave ship before becoming an abolitionist at the time he wrote the hymn. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were mostly freed slaves who toured extensively, introducing the world to spirituals and raising funds to build a University. They even sang for Queen Victoria. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free was an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 1960s.

In Downe we had a picnic lunch at the village hall and our fabulous volunteer, Helen, gave a talk about historical slavery in Kent and what we can learn from the early abolitionists in our fight against modern slavery today. Amongst others, she talked about the Testonites, an influential group of English abolitionists named after Teston in Kent, where they began to meet at Barham Court, home of Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham, in the early 1780s. They included Rev James Ramsay, Thomas Clarkson and Hannah More.

There were also Messy Crafts at Downe, which were enjoyed by children and adults alike.

I would like to say a special thank you to Rev Carol Morrison and Rev John Musson for opening Keston Parish Church and St Mary, Downe to us, for their advice and support and for their talks and prayers on the day.

Finally, please read and listen to these two wonderful talks from the day – one given by the Bishop of Tonbridge and one given by Helen:



To quote Bishop Simon:

The passive citizen responds by thinking they cannot understand it and there is nothing they can do to influence outcomes […] The active citizen sees the complexity of the slave trade as a problem to be solved. They know they can’t do it alone, but are aware of the power of crowds to source solutions.

To quote Helen:

What this is all about, as we’re looking at modern slavery, is how a tiny handful of deeply committed people changed the world.

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