Features Leytonstone

The untold Black history of Leytonstone House

Local historian Claire Weiss previews her forthcoming book which reveals that a prominent abolitionist lived in Leytonstone

Leytonstone House, Credit: Karl Weiss

Three local historians, Peter Ashan, Geoff Nicholls, and myself, are compiling a book which probes data on wall plaques at Leytonstone House and interpretation boards at the adjacent Tesco store referencing Leytonstone House occupants.

The exceptional building, one of the few such structures in today’s Waltham Forest to have avoided extensive 19th and 20th century housing developments, was sold in 1868 by the Buxtons as the future Bethnal Green Home for the juvenile poor and later, within living memory, it became the Leytonstone House Hospital. Today, a Grade 2 listed building, it is the office accommodation of a firm of chartered accountants.

Philip Sansom c.1805-10 by Sir Thomas Lawrence 1769-1830 ,Bequeathed by Miss Ellen Sansom 1894 Credit: Tate/ Creative Commons

In our research for the book we have uncovered that prominent abolitionist Philip Sansom made Leytonstone House his home from 1795 until his death in 1815. But Sansom’s residency is not displayed on the plaques. Our book, Slave Trade Abolition and Leytonstone House: the Sansoms, the Buxtons and Black History explores possible reasons for this, especially given that a large Sansom tomb stands in the graveyard of St Mary’s parish church in Leyton.

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Having identified a unique image of the 1866 visit by Aina Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies, an Egbado princess of the Yoruba people of west Africa, to Rachel and Thomas Fowell Buxton at Leytonstone House, the authors traced that her visit was connected with the Church Missionary Society, an organisation significantly supported by Buxton and whose links to Sierra Leone also gave rise to other Black visitors coming to Leytonstone.

Sarah (Sally) Bonetta Forbes (1843-1880) aka Princess Aina of Yoruba, former enslaved child, visitor to Leytonstone House in 1866.
Credit: Royal Collection Trust /copyright Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.

Noting that Sansom was financially successful in his Lombard Street bank ‘Messrs Harcourt, Blake, Sansom, Postlethwaite’ and held investments in the London Dock Company, the book shows that the slave economy was integrated into the City’s commercial and financial structure. For example, one-third of London dock investors were active in slave-trading connections.

In the Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society’s booklet Leyton in the year 1840, David Ian Chapman writes: “Where Whipps Cross Road joins the northern end of Leytonstone High Road stands to this day Leytonstone House. It is not known for certain when the house was built but is thought to be at least eighteenth century. ….. There is much confusion as to who actually lived there.”

Now we know.

Slave Trade Abolition and Leytonstone House: the Sansoms, the Buxtons and Black History will be published in late Spring

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