July 20, 2021

Alex Renton: Blood Legacy (1839)

How does a person reckon with a disturbing episode in their family’s past? For the journalist and historian Alex Renton, this question became acute five years ago when he realised the extent of his family’s involvement with slavery. In his book, Blood Legacy, Renton decided to confront this history head-on.

As Renton describes in this episode, his approach is unusual in a British society that either avoids the subject of slavery, or prefers to recast the story in the celebratory terms of William Wilberforce and the Abolition Movement.

The reality, however, is not so comfortable. Renton takes us back to the 1830s, to the very moment slavery was abolished across the British Empire. He explains that during this time pragmatism was at play as well as principle, and that while very many families lost their slaves, they also became spectacularly rich.

Alex Renton is a campaigning journalist working on poverty, development, the environment, food culture and food policy. He has won awards for investigative journalism, war reporting and food writing.

Blood Legacy: Reckoning with a Family’s Story of Slavery is an account of his own family’s involvement in slavery during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

More about this episode and the subject matter it engages with will be shortly be available on website tttpodcast.com.

Show notes

Scene One: August 1st 1838, Falmouth, Jamaica. William Knibb and his congregation meet to bury a coffin containing a whip, chains and an iron punishment collar. An inscription by the burial reads: 'Colonial Slavery died 31st July 1838, aged 276.'

Scene Two: August 28th 1839, Ayrshire, Scotland. The Eglinton Tournament begins.

Scene Three: 1839, Rochdale. The founders of the Anti-Corn Law League, Richard Cobden and John Bright deliver their first speeches in what would become one of the most successful campaigns of the 19th century. The trade reforms they campaigned for would destroy the sugar island economies and put most of the newly liberated people out of work and into desperate poverty for the next 50 years.


Presenter: Artemis Irvine

Guest: Alex Renton

Production: Maria Nolan

Podcast partner: Colorgraph

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