Newbury Town Council is pleased to announce the unveiling of its sixteenth blue plaque, to the Rev. James Bicheno who was Baptist Minister of Newbury 1780-1807, and a leading Newbury campaigner against the trade in slaves from Africa to the West Indies. He organised two petitions against the trade, to be presented to Parliament in 1788 and 1792, in the names of the Mayor, Aldermen, Burgesses, and inhabitants of Newbury.
The plaque will be unveiled at 1pm on Wednesday 27th July, by the Mayor of Newbury, Cllr Gary Norman. It will be located on the gate post of Greenham House, the premises of Newbury Gardens Day Nursery in Greenham Road. From about 1796 to 1811, Greenham House was the site of a boarding school for boys, run by Rev. Bicheno in addition to his pastoral duties.
Rev. Bicheno’s second petition in 1792 was signed by 333 people, led by the Mayor Joseph Toomer and the Rev. Bicheno, and was one of 500 such petitions.
It was presented to Parliament by the two MP’s for Berkshire (Newbury not having an MP at that time), Winchcombe Henry Howard Hartley and George Vansittart. Winchcombe Henry Howard Hartley was the great, great, great, great grandfather of Willie Hartley Russell MVO, until recently the High Sheriff of Berkshire.
James Bicheno was born in Cambridgeshire in 1752 and admitted to the Cambridge Baptist community in 1774. After training at the Bristol Baptist College, he was ordained in 1778. His son, James Ebenezer Bicheno (1785-1851), was an amateur botanist and colonial administrator, becoming Governor of Tasmania. Further details of Bicheno’s life can be found on the Newbury Town Council website.
Following the nation-wide campaigning in which James Bicheno played his part, the slave trade was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1807 and slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833.
Cllr Nigel Foot, Vice Chairperson of the Town Council Heritage Working Group, said:
“James Bicheno was a highly respected member of Newbury Society. During his time in America as a young man, he had first hand experience of slavery and that had given him experience of slavery and made him a fervent campaigner against the slave trade in later life.
The Town Council is very grateful to Newbury Gardens Day Nursery for agreeing to host the plaque, and to the Bristol Baptist College Library for valuable historical information and Rev.
Bicheno’s portrait. We would also like to thank the Newbury Society for a generous donation to the cost of the plaque, and Mr Willie Hartley Russell MVO for his support”.