250th anniversary of the baptism of Quobna Ottobah Cugoano
The Cardozo Kindersley workshop have produced this rough-hewn slate plaque to mark the 250th anniversary of Quobna Ottobah Cugoano’s baptism. The permissions process has been completed, and the design, materials and rationales are accepted by the Diocese of London and the Contested Heritage committee of the Church Buildings Council.
Rough-hewn slate was selected for this plaque for several reasons. The memorial plaque marking the baptism of William Blake, a contemporary of Cugoano, stands nearby which is also of slate. For Cugoano’s plaque, the rough-hewn character of the slate connotes the jagged intervention into his life that being kidnapped into slavery and shipped around the world to be sold as commodity represented. As this is the first plaque in any church to bear Cugoano’s name, and there is no known gravestone or birth register on which his name is written, the lettering is strong, clear and stark against this surface. The carved slate is both in keeping with the overall character of the other memorials in the church in terms of size and materials, but it will also stand out and carry a power befitting the writer and his work. The lettering is less calligraphic than that on some of the other memorials and will emphasise the bold, uncompromising nature of his writing, as he outlines his theologically-driven arguments in denouncing the evil of the transatlantic chattel slave trade.
The funding for this stone has come from a legacy from Ilse Boas 1925-2019. A member of St James’s congregation for over 25 years, Ilse died in 2019 aged 94. She had come to Britain on the kindertransport from Nazi Germany in 1939 aged 14, and all of her family were murdered in the Holocaust. Ilse started a new life in the UK, and was a prominent and active member of St James’s congregation. Ilse was outspoken, and fiercely defensive of the cause of many refugees, particularly Palestinians displaced since 1948.
It is Ilse’s legacy, left to St James’s, that has been used to create the plaque for Quobna Ottobah Cugoano. For this girl, who left Berlin alone in 1939, and as an adult describing herself as ‘once upon a time, a refugee’, supporting people who had been displaced, trafficked, removed, was a priority. Her long association with St James’s and her work to support others who were forced from their homes makes her legacy particularly appropriate for this project. She wrote that ‘St James’s has become “my community” instead of the family which I no longer have – haven’t really had since 1939’.