Slavery abolitionists to be celebrated at University of Leicester event

Posted by ap507 at Sep 24, 2015 10:35 AM |
Poet Deborah Tyler-Bennett to read her work about two Leicester women who championed fight against slavery

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 24 September 2015

  • Free public event takes place at Attenborough Arts Centre on Saturday 26 September from 2pm-4pm

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The achievements of two 19th century Leicestershire women who championed a fight against slavery are to be celebrated at the University of Leicester.

Susanna Watts and Elizabeth Heyrick were outspoken advocates for the campaign to end slavery and played an active role in swaying public opinion in campaigns.

Now an event organised by the University of Leicester’s Centre for New Writing will celebrate the lives of the two women.  It takes place at the University’s Attenborough Arts Centre on Saturday 26 September from 2pm-3pm.  It is open to people of all ages and free.

Dr Felicity James, from the University’s School of English, said: “The Centre for New Writing launched a creative writing commission to celebrate these women’s achievements. The commission was won by the poet Deborah Tyler-Bennett – and the competition was so strong that we awarded another commission to the poet Jayne Stanton. They are both going to read their work about the women at an Everybody’s Reading event on 26 September, and Deborah will follow this with a creative writing workshop during Literary Leicester on 11 November. We’ve produced a poetry pamphlet celebrating the work which will be available at the event.

“These women contributed to many of the major debates concerning human - and indeed animal- rights in the late 18th and early 19th centuries: organising a boycott of slave-grown sugar in Leicester in 1824, composing bold feminist poetry, campaigning against bull-baiting, and writing the first guidebook to Leicester. Susanna Watts’ scrapbook, for example, is a wonderful resource, an embodiment of her creative interests and relationships, including pieces as diverse as her translation of Tasso, anagrams and rhymes of friendship, abolitionist material, family reminiscences and hymns.

“On a local level, Susanna Watts and Elizabeth Heyrick worked and wrote together within their community for the rights of workers in the hosiery industry and prisoners, as well as the poor and aged.

“Individually, they also produced many literary works, including the first guidebook for Leicester.”

Dr James is currently supervising a PhD by Rebecca Shuttleworth under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme, investigating 'Susanna Watts and Elizabeth Heyrick: Women's Writing in the Midlands, 1750-1850'. The second supervisor is Professor Roey Sweet from the University of Leicester School of Historical Studies and Jess Jenkins, archivist at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland. The PhD aims to reconstruct and understand the larger social circle of Heyrick and Watts, through their friendships, correspondence, and religious affiliations, with a particular focus on their abolitionist activities.

Dr James and Rebecca Shuttleworth are also featured speaking about the women and their achievements in a film about Rothley and abolitionism which is being made by a local organisation, Candy Arts, with Heritage Lottery funding. ‘Rothley, Slavery and Me’ is led by volunteers from the local community and focuses on the role Rothley, a village in Leicestershire, played in the abolition of the slave trade across the British Empire, as well as discovering more about key players in the movement such as Heyrick, Watts, Babington and Wilberforce.

The ‘Rothley, Slavery and Me’ project will enable local young people to discover the little known story of the village’s role in these historic events. The production company Candy Arts CIC will recruit 10 young participants from across the city to get involved and help develop their communication skills. Working with heritage professionals from Leicester City and County Library, these participants will gain a greater insight into this previously under-researched part of their history and then produce a film and website to share the story with a wider audience.

The abolitionist work of the women has already been celebrated in an exhibition at The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland and in two books by local historian Shirley Aucott, Elizabeth Heyrick 1769 to 1831: The Leicester Quaker Who Demanded the Immediate Emancipation of Slaves in the British Colonies (Leicester, 2007) and Susanna Watts 1768 - 1842. Author Of Leicester's First Guide, Abolitionist And Bluestocking (Leicester, 2004). More details about the women’s work may be found here.

More information on Candy Arts here:

More details on Dr James’s research:

Everybody’s Reading event:

Venue: Attenborough Arts Centre, University of Leicester, Lancaster Road, Leicester, LE1 7HA United Kingdom



For interviews contact: Dr Felicity James, Lecturer in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Literature, email:

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