North Devon in 100 Objects 42

42. A Fragment of Holy Trinity Church

This piece of stone came from the pinnacle of Holy Trinity church tower, which was struck by lightning on Whit Sunday, 1890. At that time the church was less than 50 years old.

In 1842 John James Scott was the curate at Pilton Church, and thought that Barnstaple’s growing population needed another parish church. In response to his campaign, Charles Roberts generously presented the town with a field on which to build and work began in 1843.  Holy Trinity Church was consecrated by the Bishop of Exeter on the 22nd June, 1845.

The church was designed by the architect David Mackintosh, and the cost of the building (around £10,000) was paid by Scott himself. Where did he get the money for such a grand project?

In 1842 Scott was only 35. His father had died in 1811, and as eldest son Scott inherited most of his wealth, which derived from slave plantations in Jamaica. From Scott senior’s will, we know that he had several illegitimate mixed heritage children who remained in Jamaica: they were granted small sums of money by their father, a tiny fraction of the wealth his legitimate, white family retained. When the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act finally outlawed slavery in British dominions Scott received large amounts of compensation for the loss of his “assets”.

The building of the Holy Trinity Church is a legacy of the civic expansion of Barnstaple in the 19th century, but also a physical reminder of the wealth accumulated in Britain from enslaved labour thousands of miles away, which changed the fabric of our society forever.

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