Blue plaque to reveal more about one of Gloucester’s most famous historic figures

A blue plaque commemorating the life of influential evangelist, George Whitefield, has been updated to give a more rounded account of his life story.

The sign that sits on the wall of the De Crypt School off Southgate Street, is dedicated to Whitefield who attended the school and refers to his preaching in America where he travelled widely and established an orphanage.

However, following a review of the city’s monuments and statues carried out by Gloucester City Council and a commitment to providing a more balanced view of the city’s links to the transatlantic slave trade, more information has been added.

It now includes Whitefield’s support for slavery which he campaigned to be relegalised in the American state of Georgia and mentions that he owned a plantation which helped fund an orphanage he’d set up to teach young boys.

Born in the Bell Inn on Southgate Street in 1714, his life is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of Gloucester, which encourages visitors to look at all aspects, both good and bad, of the life of one of Gloucester’s most famous historic figures.

After studying at Oxford University, Whitefield was ordained in Gloucester Cathedral in 1736. He became a noted public speaker and preacher and went on to become one of the most well-known evangelists of his age preaching to huge audiences in both Britain and America.

Despite initially advocating for better treatment of people who were enslaved, he later promoted the economic benefits of legalising of slavery in Georgia, which at that time had outlawed the use of enslaved labour.

He also bought two plantations to finance his orphanage.

Since the 2022 review into the city statues and monuments the council has pledged to do more to reveal Gloucester’s hidden history and how the city benefitted from the slave trade.

Cllr Richard Cook, Leader of Gloucester City Council, said: “It’s a small but important and symbolic step to better reflect the historical accuracy of George Whitefield’s legacy. The more we know about our past, the easier is it to understand how it has affected the lives of others, both then and now. We are committed to ensuring that our history is open and honest and grateful to the trustees of Discover DeCrypt, St Mary de Crypt Church, the Diocese of Gloucester and the Civic Trust for their willingness to shed light on this particular aspect.”

The Rector of St Mary de Crypt Church, Rev Canon Nikki Arthy, said: “It has been good to work with Gloucester City Council and the Civic Trust on the wording of this new plaque taking into account the advice of the Church Buildings Council. Systemic failures of the past and present can only be addressed when we learn more about our history. Discover DeCrypt continues to reaffirm a commitment to racial justice seeking to respect, honour and care for all people.”

Rupert Walters, Chair of the Gloucester Commission to Review Race Relations, said: “There are several monuments and plaques within Gloucester, that celebrates individuals that were involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. When working with the Race and Equality Commission to better understand race relations in the city, there was an overwhelming impression that we should take this opportunity to educate rather than remove or conceal the truth behind the memorials.”  

Tradition and Legacy: A Spotlight on George Whitefield runs until Sunday, 8 October and is being held in the Overmantel Gallery, first floor of the Museum of Gloucester.