Plans for lasting memorial to former Peterborough Dean known as father of slave abolishment

Plans for a lasting memorial to a former Dean of Peterborough Cathedral who was known as the father of slave abolishment will be put to the city’s honours committee.

Friday, 19th June 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 19th June 2020, 6:23 am
The grave slab remembering 18th century anti-slavery campaigner Peter Peckard. EMN-201106-154048001

Dean Peter Peckard is widely known as the ‘Father of the Abolition Movement’ and inspired the likes of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson with his sermons and pamphlets to bring about an end to the British slave trade.

He is buried in the New Building at the east end of the cathedral under a grey slab simply stating ‘Peter Peckard, Dean of this Church and Master of Magdalen College, Cambridge. Died December 8th 1797 Aged 80’.

His contribution to the abolishment of the slave trade has been highlighted as part of the Black Lives Matter movement over recent weeks, and now there plans for a public recognition of his work.

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Councillor John Holdich, leader of Peterborough City Council, said: “Most people will not know the name Peter Peckard, nor that he was one of the leading figures behind the movement to abolish the slave trade. He was one of the first to speak out about the horrors of the slave trade and educated many people about the realities of the practice through his sermons and pamphlets. In fact it was one of his sermons, ‘Am I not a man and a brother’, that became the slogan for the abolition movement.

“Dean Peckard is buried in Peterborough Cathedral and there is a grave slab which people can view. However, I will be asking the council’s Honours Panel to consider how we might create a lasting memorial to him in our city to recognise and celebrate his life and the huge contribution that he made.”

Peterborough MP Paul Bristow backed the calls, and said: “Peter Peckard was clearly a historically influential man and as a former Dean of Peterborough Cathedral it would be entirely right for our City to recognise his impact and his work to end slavery.

“Instead of trying to airbrush our history, let’s celebrate those like Peter Peckard and his legacy.”

North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara said Dean Peckard was one of Peterborough’s greatest heroes. He said: “It is welcome news that more and more people are becoming aware of the work of Dean Peter Peckard, one of Peterborough’s greatest heroes who played such an important role in the abolitionist movement.

“The efforts of Dean Peckard have far less recognition than they deserve – his impassioned and forthright campaigning inspired a generation, and within ten years of his death his followers had abolished the slave trade.

“He was and remains both a local and national hero, and it is very encouraging to hear that Peterborough Cathedral is considering plans to give greater recognition to the Dean and his efforts.”

Peterborough Cathedral is already working on plans to ‘enhance the interpretation near to his grave stone, highlighting both his importance and the issues he addressed.’

A annual lecture in his name is held by the cathedral, although it has been postponed this year due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College Cambridge and former Archbishop of Canterbury, gave a talk on the work of Peter Peckard and its relevance to today’s society when he visited the city two years ago.

Peckard’s life spanned much of the 18th century. Born in Welbourn, near Sleaford, he served as a military chaplain for the Grenadier Guards in Germany and was a fellow of Corpus Christi College in Oxford and then Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

In the 1770s he wrote a series of influential sermons and pamphlets including the anonymously entitled ‘Am I not a Man and a Brother?’ on the arguments against the evils of slavery.

The title and image on its front page became iconic and even used on china produced by Josiah Wedgewood promoting the anti-slavery cause.

He became concerned after the reports of a slave ship in the Caribbean whose captain threw overboard approximately 130 slaves. Despite widespread horror in England, the captain was not prosecuted, as slaves were equated to livestock.

Peckard became Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University three years later and set a prize essay title for students to attempt on the topic, “Is it lawful to enslave human beings against their will?”

Young student Thomas Clarkson was declared the winner of the competition, leading to his work to overthrow the evil of slavery in England.

Peckard continued to write on the issue, providing the slogan for the abolitionist movement.

Having served as vicar in parishes around the city, he became Dean of Peterborough Cathedral in 1792 dying five years later, fifteen years before the Slave Trade was outlawed in 1807.