Transcript of junior audio tour of Wilberforce House
Hello, welcome to Wilberforce House, Number 25, High Street. Home of the most famous man born in Hull, William Wilberforce. His name is well-known across the world because of his good work.
What was Wilberforce like? Well, you will see drawings, paintings and statues of him and even a waxwork figure as you walk round. So you can see what he looked like from a young boy to an old man. Here in the entrance hall is a portrait showing William at the age of 35. He was often poorly as a boy, he had poor eyesight and he was quite small even as a grown up. He was a kind and gentle man who wanted to help people.
Come and see for yourself inside the rooms of the Wilberforce family home, and at the same time you can take a look at the exhibition all about him and what he did and why people remember him. I shall point out some of the objects as we go round.
Remember, you can replay any part of this audio tour if you would like to listen to it again. Only play the next audio clip when you are ready to move on.
This house is now a museum and was redesigned and then re-opened on 25 March 2007, exactly 200 years after the slave trade was abolished.
William would have known every room of this house very well - like you do yours. He might have even played “Hide and Seek” in some of the rooms as it was his home. He was born here on 24 August 1759. He grew up here and returned here to visit his mother, Elizabeth, even when he had moved away to London. His grandfather was also called William. He bought this house in 1732. The Wilberforce family were well off. They were merchants, traders in wood and iron and cloth from overseas. William’s father, Robert Wilberforce, extended it and had this grand sweeping staircase put in, a year after young William was born. I wonder if William was ever tempted to slide down the banister?
He had a nursemaid who looked after him, so I don’t think he would have been allowed!
Face the staircase and now turn to your right and enter the room on your left.
Track 2: You are now in the “History of the House” gallery – coloured purple
You are now inside what was the front parlour. A living room. This room’s display tells you all about the history of the house, from when it was built, in about 1660. Some of the wood panelling is from that time. Look at the huge open fireplace. It was certainly the warmest room in the house. Imagine a roaring fire on a cold winter’s evening and the family gathering together to read or sew or play parlour games: William, his mother and father, his older sisters Elizabeth and Sally. His little sister Anne would be upstairs in the nursery, of course. William liked writing in his diary and reading out loud and telling funny stories. The family would make their own entertainment, you see. William was a good singer, too. There would be a kettle boiling on the fire. There was no electricity or gas in those days. But they did sit in here and drink tea, maybe sweetened with sugar or honey.
Can you recognise another painting of William Wilberforce in this room? It’s from a year earlier than the one in the entrance hall. It’s by the same artist. Not everyone in those days could afford to have their portrait painted, you know.
Look out of the window; did you notice the statue of Wilberforce as an old man when you came through the gateway and down the path? He will have looked down on many visitors to this house.
Look over to the left, can you see the Guildhall bell tower beyond it and above the modern roofs? Well, William’s grandfather was Mayor of Hull for a while and it was there that he had important meetings. Young William would have looked out of this same window and maybe said to himself
I wonder if I might myself, one day, lead an important public life, like grandfather, and help the people of Hull?
Well, he did. He became an M.P. or Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull at the age of just 21. He left home and moved to our capital city, London.
When you are ready, leave this room and go back into the entrance hall and cross into the introduction gallery (here you will find a large plan of the museum)
Track 3: You are now in the introduction gallery – coloured yellow
In 1784, Wilberforce was voted in as a Member of Parliament for the whole of Yorkshire and that was the important job he did for the next 28 years. He spoke up for people in Hull and Yorkshire and even for people as far away as Africa and the Americas.
How eventful a life mine has been.
William Wilberforce wrote in his diary just 3 days before he died in 1833. He was a granddad himself, by this time, 73 years old. He was buried in Westminster Abbey in London which was a great honour. This small marble statue of Wilberforce was completed that same year.
Now continue along into the William Wilberforce displays gallery – coloured blue. And stop at the Wilberforce family bible.
You will find the bible in a glass case on your right, just inside the doorway
Track 4: You are now in the William Wilberforce Displays gallery
This room is all about his eventful life. It was the drawing room of the house. The family would come in here after an evening meal and entertain their friends.
Many times I was called upon to recite poems which I had learned by heart, or sing for our guests.
The most important object of this display was at the heart of the home: the Family Bible. The names of members of the Wilberforce family, many years earlier, were kept in here. A family tree showing grandparents, great grandparents and even great, great grandparents! William’s mother took her son to church every Sunday where he would listen to bible stories: Holy Trinity Church, where he was christened.
Once he was old enough and strong enough, William walked to Hull Grammar School, close to Holy Trinity Church, every day with his satchel on his shoulder. He came home again for lunch. He liked school. His teacher, Joseph Milner, thought young William was a good pupil, too.
He used to stand me up on a table and made me read aloud to the other boys.
But then something very sad happened, when William was only 8 years old.
"My father died suddenly and for some months after my mother was poorly."
William was sent off to London to live in the care of his Aunt Hannah and Uncle William. He was excited about going to live in the big city. Once in London, William was sent off to boarding school. Not only did he have all his lessons there, he had to eat all his meals there as well and sleep there over night. He did not like his new school:
"I remember the things which we had for breakfast were so nasty, that I could not swallow without feeling sick.
William began to look forward very much to the school holidays!"
William’s Aunt and Uncle liked going to church too and so they took him to their local Methodist church, where William also enjoyed listening to bible stories.
William’s mother got better and was soon well enough to collect him and bring him back home to Hull. It was good to be back in his own bed! A little later, he went to Pocklington Grammar School, and at 17, he had done so well in his exams that he won a place at Cambridge University. He loved meeting people, making new friends with the other students and talking to them about lots of interesting things. One of his new friends, called William Pitt, was later to become the Prime Minister. They spent hours talking together about how they could help people.
Wilberforce left university and decided he wanted to go into politics and become a member of parliament: to change things for the better.
Now proceed to the painting above the fireplace
Can you see the famous large portrait of Wilberforce when he was 29? Notice the quill and the scrolls, a pen and paper. William liked writing. He was about to give a very important speech in parliament to try to abolish the slave trade, to stop it for good. He wrote his speech down, but he had such a good memory, he hardly needed to look at it. This was in the year 1789. Most of the members of parliament wanted to keep slavery, because the country would lose money if it stopped. Wilberforce had a fight on his hands. But he would fight with words not weapons. He believed that the pen was mightier than the sword. He was a gentle man.
When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House… it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task.
He needed the patience of a saint! He tried and tried for 18 years. He wouldn’t give up. He wanted an end to the slave trade. Finally in 1807, William Wilberforce won people over. He won his battle. The law was changed. The slave trade was abolished.
He was a wealthy and well dressed gentleman. Look at these two elegant, fashionable garments here on display. They were made to measure. I told you he was only a small man. William Wilberforce was just 5’4” tall. Once, when he spoke in York, he was described as a shrimp as he stood up on a table to speak to a huge angry audience, but as he spoke, he made them listen. Someone said, ‘He grew and grew until the shrimp became a whale!’
Facing the Wilberforce portrait, continue into the Wilberforce library to the right.
Track 6: You are now in the Wilberforce Library
This room was the counting house, which could be entered from a passage at the back of the house by the tradesmen. Remember this house was a workplace as well as a home.
It was full of big, heavy books with clerks busy keeping the accounts balanced. Money was always changing hands following the delivery of furs from Russia and timber from the Baltic States, all in our back yard, on the banks of the River Hull.
Can you spot William’s diary in his own handwriting, from 1814-1823. Can you read what he has written? Do you keep a diary?
Above the fireplace is an unfinished painting of Wilberforce. Does he look a kind and caring man? It will not surprise you to hear that Wilberforce was also an animal lover. He was a founder member of what became the RSPCA: The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
This life-size wax figure of William Wilberforce was created at Madame Tussauds in London and was presented to the city of Hull in 1933, one hundred years after his death. It shows him in his study, with an eye glass and a quill and with a candle almost burned down; he was now near the end of his extraordinary life.
You can see collections of poetry on the shelves, he loved reading the poems of poets such as William Cowper and there’s a little book on display over near the window that he gave as a present to his wife Barbara on their wedding day in 1797. It is called, ‘The Minstrel’. William and Barbara had six children: William, Barbara, Elizabeth, Robert Isaac, Samuel and Henry. William was a doting father and enjoyed nothing more than playing with his children!
If you would like to, please go back and have a closer look at some of the things on display in these two rooms.
When you are ready, make your way to the landing at the top of the staircase.
Standing on the landing at the top of the stairs, look up at the beautiful plasterwork on the ceiling with flowers and scrolls and grapes and the family crest showing a black eagle, up there above the window.
The huge painting is an imaginary ‘Scene on the West Coast of Africa’. At the time this picture was painted, Britain traded in people as if they were goods or objects. The owners who sold and bought the slaves were cruel to them. Wilberforce would not let it continue.
The Transatlantic slave trade, I tell you, is an evil trade. I will not rest until I have effected its abolition. I will bring it to an end, however long it takes.
Now facing the top of the stairs, turn left into the Slavery and West African Cultures galleries, - coloured orange – please keep to the right. Stop at the storytelling tree.
Track 8: You are now in the West African Cultures gallery
You are now inside what would have been a large bedroom when Wilberforce was a boy. The display in here is of West African culture; its customs, music and stories. Try on a mask. Beat a drum. Celebrate life. Be happy.
Sit here under the tree where African children would gather at the feet of their elders and listen to stories from generations past and they in turn would pass them onto their children.
If you would like to, please have a closer look at the wonderful things on display here and find out more about this exciting culture.
When you are ready, continue along into the Capture and Enslavement gallery.
Track 9: You are now in the Capture and Enslavement gallery
Imagine being captured and told you have to leave your home-life and family behind and then being sent off on a long journey to another country. How would that make you feel? That’s what happened to some of the people from West Africa. It was part of what was called the triangular slave trade.
Before you move on, you might like to have a closer look at some of the objects in here and find out more about what life was like as a slave.
When you are ready, turn right and enter the Triangular Trade gallery.
Track 10: You are now in the Triangular Trade gallery
How many sides has a triangle? That’s right, three.
On one side of the triangle, there were guns, ammunition, glass, pots and cloth sent, as a cargo, to West Africa from England by sea.
On the second side of the triangle, in exchange, African people were captured and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, as a cargo, to work most of the day and night in the West Indies to produce sugar and other crops.
On the third side of the triangle, sugar was transported across the North Atlantic, as a cargo, back to England to satisfy our sweet tooth.
Did people in England realise that? Some didn’t. Some did and didn’t care. Others did and stopped having sugar in their tea as a protest.
Once again, before you leave this room, why not have a closer look at the things on display here to find out more about this terrible trade.
When you are ready, continue into the Middle Passage gallery.
Track 11: You are now in the middle Passage gallery
Measure yourself against the space allowed for a boy or a girl onboard a slave ship. Imagine being kept in this small space, with no room to turn round for six to eight weeks! Have a look at the food that was given to those onboard – would you eat it?
Six or seven hundred Negroes, packed like a cargo of cattle in each ship that sails from West Africa across the Atlantic Ocean to the West Indies, chained together in pairs, crowded in the hold of the vessel, so close that there is not room to tread among them. They are frightened, diseased and distressed.
These miserable wretches, loaded with chains, are given a number, rather than addressed by their name. More than 1 in 7 die in the 8 week journey by sea from Africa to the West Indies. More die on shore or soon after commencing work harvesting the sugar cane. A human trade to satisfy Britain’s sweet tooth? I tell you, we are all equal in the eyes of God. This horrid slave trade must stop!
Spend some time in here imagining what life was like on board a slave ship.
When you are ready, continue down the corridor and into the Auction gallery.
Track 12: You are now in the Auction gallery
On arrival in the Caribbean, the slaves are roped together, parcelled up like sheep in a fold, inspected by prospective buyers, and then sold to the highest bidder!
Track 13: The window
Continue to the top of the stairs and turn right into a short corridor and stop and look out of this window as young William must have often done, down to the garden next to the River Hull; the highway of the day.
Oh, it was a hive of activity out here, with the foreman shouting instructions to men unloading the ships,) then the trundling of the cargoes on horse drawn wooden sledges into the warehouses. The weighing and the storing of timber from Norway, iron from Sweden, cloth from Russia. Oh how I wished I could join in. As a boy I was kept inside by my nursemaid, told that I was not strong enough for men’s work. I was left here, looking out, longingly.
Continue along into the Plantation Life Gallery.
Track 14: You are now in the Plantation Life gallery
You are now inside what was another bedroom. The display in here is of what life was like working on the plantations. Sugar came from sugar cane which had to be cut. It was hard work cutting the canes in the scorching heat of the tropical West Indies. The slave owners didn’t let the slaves rest and worked them for 12 to 16 hours a day and gave them very little food! They even used whips to keep them hard at work
Near the door you’ve just walked through is a display with samples of the crops that slaves helped to produce. Go over and smell the coffee tobacco and rum.
Now go over to the life size sugar cane sculpture and imagine having to work all day in the heat to cut the canes down!
Spend some time in here looking at the things on display and find out more about what life was like working on the sugar plantations.
When you are ready, and with the sculpture behind you, go through into the Resistance and Rebellion gallery.
Track 15: You are now in the Resistance and Rebellion gallery.
You are once more at the front of Wilberforce House and have come into what was known as ‘The Birth Room’. You see, William Wilberforce was born in here. The room was later used as the nursery when the Wilberforce children were growing up and they no doubt sang in here with their nursemaid. Nursery rhymes, like the treatment of the slaves, could be cruel, but at least nursery rhymes were only make-believe.
Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie,
When the pie was open the birds began to sing,
Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house, counting out his money.
The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden, hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!
Did you recognise in the rhyme the names of some of the rooms we’ve already been in? The ‘counting house’, with all the books. Remember? And ‘the parlour’ with the big open fireplace ? You can go out into ‘the garden’ later.
Do you like snowballing? I thought you might. In the winter of 1784, Wilberforce House was the target of a snowball attack by an angry mob who were not pleased that William had decided to be a Member of Parliament for Yorkshire instead of just for his hometown of Hull. William rushed to his old nursery window, in here, to win over the crowd and he eventually calmed them down.
After his father’s death, this became William’s mother’s bedroom. When she died, he returned from London for her funeral. He wrote in a letter to his wife Barbara:
"It was a solemn scene yesterday evening, to be in my mother’s room and see the bed where I was born and where my father and mother died and where she now lay in her coffin."
The display in here is of resistance and rebellion: stories of how some of the enslaved Africans were very brave and escaped from their owners.
Plantation owner put adverts in the newspapers asking people to look out for runaway slaves because they wanted them back!
The Royal Gazette, Kingston, Jamaica - ‘Run away from the subscriber: a short black fellow, about 5 feet 5 inches high, (just about my height) stout made and marked RS on both cheeks, formerly the property of Mr Richard Simmons. Reward £10!'
If you would like to, please stay and have a closer look at the display in this room.
When you are ready, leave this gallery and continue into the abolition campaign gallery – coloured blue. Stop at the fireplace.
Track 16: You are now in the Abolition Campaign gallery
The coat of arms over the fireplace is that of the Lister family who had the house built around 1660.
Take a seat by the window
The display in here is of the abolition campaign. Thomas Clarkson was the leader of the fight to stop slavery. He organised petitions to sign and he asked people to stop buying sugar. Many did. Can you see his portrait? In the picture, he has next to him some of the things that African people made and behind him on his mantelpiece are the statues of his abolitionist friends Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce, the man who would "paint a word picture" of the horrors of the slave trade in parliament. Wilberforce used the Liverpool slave ship model “Brookes” which you can see on display. This very model was passed round in the House of Commons.
Can you find the Wedgewood medallions made and distributed to supporters of the abolition campaign, with a kneeling slave asking the question: ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’
Olaudah Equiano was a former slave who worked hard to buy his freedom from his owner. He wrote a book about his life story and especially about what happened to him when he was a slave. A copy of his book is open on display here. You can see a picture of him on one of the pages – doesn’t he look grand! His book greatly helped the abolition campaign.
Thomas Clarkson carried with him, wherever he campaigned to stop the slave trade, a chest, like the one you see behind you on display. Lift the lids on the little compartments and see for yourself the spices and seeds and plants which he believed Britain could trade with from Africa, and still make money, instead of trading in human beings.
Once again before you leave this room why not have a closer look at the things on display in here and find out more about how Wilberforce and his friends worked hard to end slavery.
When you are ready, continue into the “After the campaign” gallery
Track 17: You are now in the “After the campaign” gallery
This was once a bedroom and could even have been William’s own as he grew up.
The display in this room is of the years after the slave trade was abolished - after 1807. The buying and selling and transporting of enslaved Africans stopped, but slavery itself was still going on in parts of America.
Can you see the book ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ by Harriet Beecher Stowe? It’s the story of Uncle Tom, a long suffering slave in the United States of America, who is loyal to his owner but the message is clear: Nobody should be owned. Following the bible, it was the second best selling book of the 1800s.
There was one last sorry chapter which must be told about this house. In order to help Wilberforce pay off the money owed by his eldest son. Wilberforce sadly realised: "This house in which I drew my first breath, though I cannot part with it without emotion, must be sold. I may hope to get £5000 to £6000!"
William Wilberforce died on 29 July 1833 in his London home, three days after the good news of the total abolition of slavery. He was finally, content. Hull Corporation bought Wilberforce House in 1903 for the people of Hull and its visitors. It is a good place to remember the great man and what he did.
Before you leave this room, spend a few moments finding out more about what happened after the slave trade ended.
When you are ready, make your way downstairs and across the entrance hall and passage into the “Modern Slavery and Human Rights” and “Legacies of Slavery” galleries – coloured green.
Track 18: You are now in the Human Rights” and “Legacies of Slavery” galleries
These rooms would have been a servants hall and a service room. The display in these two rooms looks at slavery today or at ‘Modern day Slavery’ and the fight against unfair trade.
William Wilberforce spent all his working life trying to end something he thought was wrong and fighting for people’s freedom. Take a good look around these galleries and decide for yourself – imagine if you were a modern day Wilberforce, what would you fight for?
Once you have completed the tour please return the audio guide* and then explore the gardens down towards the River Hull where an acceptable trade took place, the buying and selling of goods and not people.
Thank you for listening and for visiting Wilberforce House, the birthplace of Hull’s most famous son: William Wilberforce; a kind and gentle man.
*This audio file is also available to visitors who do not have their won MP3 player or who have not downloaded the files.
This transcript is also available as a downloadable PDF -