Much of the narrative on the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire is framed by the actions of the white British campaigners – Josiah Wedgewood; Wilberforce, Thornton and the ‘Clapham Sect’ – with the voices and deeds of former slaves either pushed to the background or disregarded entirely.
However, in recent years the life and works of Olaudah Equiano has become better appreciated. Equiano was a former slave from the Kingdom of Benin, who lived in London as a free man and who published an autobiography that helped publicise the horrors of slavery and of the slave trade to Georgian society.
The closing of a small estate agent’s office in South West London is hardly big news (some might even raise a cheer), but the closure of the Edwin Evans office on Lavender Hill marks a break with a significant piece of Battersea history.
Because it was the original (Sir) Edwin Evans who bought, demolished and developed Battersea Rise House and its 22 acres of land on the north west corner of Clapham Common. His consortium paid £51,000 for the whole plot and parcelled off lots for development, with 475 houses being built on the land between 1908 and 1915.
Battersea Rise House from the Common, about 1900
Battersea Rise House dated from the early 18th century, but it came to prominence from 1792 when Henry Thornton, a wealthy banker, bought it and moved in with his cousin William Wilberforce.
Two of Thornton’s brothers owned villas on Clapham Common Southside and Thornton’s aim in buying Battersea Rise House and the land surrounding it was to create a community of like-minded (and high-minded) friends. Two substantial houses, Glenelg and Broomfield were built in the grounds, with Wilberforce moving into Broomfield House when he married in 1797.