Slavery is still alive and well

PUBLISHED: 11:57 12 January 2007 | UPDATED: 22:30 28 May 2010

Nobody knew the answer and the politest reply I got was Search me! My experiment had been to stand outside the Post Office in Wisbech and ask 10 passers-by what the Clarkson Memorial was. We ll be hearing a lot about it during the coming year for this i

Nobody knew the answer and the politest reply I got was "Search me!"

My experiment had been to stand outside the Post Office in Wisbech and ask 10 passers-by what the Clarkson Memorial was.

We'll be hearing a lot about it during the coming year for this is the 200th anniversary of the passing by Parliament of the Abolition of Slavery Act.

The man who got the credit was the MP for Hull, William Wilberforce. He may have been the Parliamentary spokesman but the donkey work was done by local lad Thomas Clarkson.

Born in Wisbech in 1760, he went to Cambridge University, won an essay competition there by writing about slavery and in 1787, 220 years ago this year, formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

That evil trade in humans consisted of capturing Africans in their homelands, shipping them like cattle across the Atlantic and selling them as slaves in the Americas.

Clarkson's efforts may have made the trade illegal. It still went on - very close to home.

In Victorian times, men brought into March from the north and from Ireland to work the railways were forced to live in tied 'cottages' - the terraced houses still seen in the north of the town.

Reasonable conditions, you say, but their working conditions meant the railway effectively owned them. If they stepped out of line, they and their families were homeless.

Even today, slavery thrives here in the Fens - Clarkson's own patch.

Whatever we like to think, there are gang masters working outside the law. Uncontrolled agencies working in Eastern Europe offer local men jobs in Fenland and tell them they can repay their fare when they start work for rural gang masters.

Once here, some are told their fare was well over £5,000. They may be paid the minimum wage but the agency or gang master deducts not only the 'fare' but also a sizable amount by way of 'commission'.

It is not surprising therefore that a few of our local 'guests' supplement their income by working as male prostitutes in King's Lynn where (perhaps surprisingly) there seems to be a demand for such services.

It would be good to think that we honour Clarkson in this bicentenary year by finally stamping out slavery.

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