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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > December 2015 > Letters


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SLAVE STRONGHOLDS While William Wilberforce campaigned to end the terrible trade, medieval castles held slaves on the West African coast




I bought your July issue last week – yes, it takes a long time to reach Australia! – and I think I have an interesting addendum to add to the article on William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade (Amazing Grace, The Reel Story, July 2015).

“How anachronistic it seemed to have castles on a tropical beach surrounded by palm trees”

In 1953, I was among one of the civil engineers building a 55-mile railway through the rainforests of what was then the Gold Coast (which is now in Ghana). Most Sundays – our day off – many of us would head down to the coast for a day on the beach. Imagine our surprise to see a medieval castle by the small town of Cape Coast. This was only one of many castles along the West African coast, which were designed to hold slaves while awaiting the arrival of the ships that would transport them to the Caribbean. The ‘poshest’ castle was on the beach outside of the capital, Accra. This was Fort Christiansborg, or Osu Castle, built by the Danes. When we were there, it was the home of the Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke. Cape Coast Castle was built by the British and I remember another near Takoradi called Elmina Castle, built by the Portuguese and converted to a police academy. No doubt there were many others all the way to present-day Liberia. How anachronistic it seemed to have castles, with towers, battlements and cannon, on a tropical beach surrounded by palm trees!

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