Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Blood and Sugar - 'Deptford is a slaving town, is it not?'

'Blood and Sugar' by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (Pan, 2020) is essentially a murder mystery set in late eighteenth century Deptford - 1781 to be precise.  Without giving too much away of the plot, a slavery abolitionist is brutally killed and his friend sets out to investigate. He is obstructed in his enquiries by the local magistrate and by the West India lobby - the wealthy and powerful opponents of any changes to slavery, particular in the lucrative Caribbean sugar plantations.

'Deptford is a slaving town, is it not?' a character asks at the start of the novel, and over the course of the story it is shown that many do have an interest in the slave trade in one way or another. 

The author has done her local history research, correctly noting that 'the town comprised two separate settlements, joined by a road which cut through open field. Deptford Broadway was where the town's merchants lived... Deptford Strand lay nearly a mile to the north, on the banks of the River Thames, and comprised the Public  and Private Docks, the Navy Yard, and workers' housing'. Much of the action takes places in pubs and warehouses near the river front, but with forays into the wealthier houses of the Broadways where some slaves and former slaves work as domestic servants.

The full story of Deptford and slavery remains to be told, and even now there are some who would prefer that we pretend that the area's maritime history is just a lot of  unproblematic messing about on boats. This fictional work puts slavery front and centre, where it belongs.

See previously:

John Evelyn and slavery

Deptford's Runaway Slaves


Alan Burkitt-Gray said...

And Greenwich, too. Excellent book -- I read it in the lockdown summer of 2020. She has another book coming out shortly.

Transpontine said...

Yes it's definitely a page turner. There were a couple of plot turns I wasn't sure about, including the ending, but don't want to say more as that would be a spoiler!