Bishop James Jones joined Merseytravel to unveil a brand new commission by artist Stephen Broadbent dedicated to the memory of reformed slaver, former Tide Surveyor of Liverpool and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” – John Newton.
It is the first memorial to Newton, a former slave ship captain who found the faith and campaigned with MP William Wilberforce to abolish slavery, on this side of the Atlantic. Merseytravel commissioned the work as part of its public art programme.
Councillor Mark Dowd, Chair of Merseytravel, said: “The Pier Head has transformed in recent times and we are absolutely delighted to unveil this wonderful piece of art at our new Pier Head Ferry Terminal.”
Neil Scales, Merseytravel’s Chief Executive and Director General, said: “We are very proud of what we have achieved with the new terminal building, we are proud of our public art strategy and we are proud of this magnificent new installation, the only honour to John Newton in Europe. We are trying to give our facilities and infrastructure a unique and memorable quality. Travelling shouldn’t just be a journey, it should be an experience.”
Bishop James said, “I’d like to pay tribute to Neil Scales and the leadership of Merseytravel in creating this installation at the Pier Head. For many years, ever since I came to Liverpool, and knew the history of John Newton I have felt it was appropriate that there should be a memorial to this extraordinary man.
“John Newton commanded a slave ship and didn’t realise the inhumanity that he was guilty of. John Newton was the only slave ship commander to give evidence to the Parliamentary Commission that led to the abolition of the slave trade. On the streets of this city the battle was fought to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.
“So when we unveil this memorial for this universal anthem we do not do it lightly. By unveiling this tribute to this anthem we pledge ourselves to continue to strive against the racism in our society and throughout the world.”
Liverpool and NW-based artist and sculptor Stephen Broadbent, who specialises in public art, is well known internationally with numerous projects including the ‘Reconciliation Triangle,’ confronting the legacies of the slave trade. In Stephen’s words, the artwork celebrates the connection between the lyrics of Amazing Grace, written in 1772 by John Newton as part of a volume of hymns called the Olney Hymns in 1779.
Stephen added: “Creating this work has been a journey. As an artist you get taken into these worlds and the story of Amazing Grace is one that has travelled across three continents. The lyrics are John Newton’s and the melody came from the southern states of America.”
The artwork is comprised of three pierced steel plates which represent the three continents, Africa, America and Europe. They are connected by a glazed panel representing the Atlantic and etched with patterns of the former slave trading routes. The words and musical notes from ‘Amazing Grace’ flow through the artwork.