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Campaigners Make an Impact in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire

William Wilberforce: Hull

William Wilberforce was born in 1759 in Hull, East Yorkshire. He graduated from university in Cambridge with the intention of following a political career and became Member of Parliament for Hull in 1780, aged 21. He became Member of Parliament for Yorkshire in 1784 and devoted most of his life and parliamentary career to the abolition of the British Slave Trade.

He was a lifelong friend of William Pitt, who later became Prime Minister. With the backing of Pitt, Wilberforce became leader of The Society for the Abolition of Slavery, whose members included Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharpe. Together they campaigned for almost twenty years to bring an end to British involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The abolition campaign made them many enemies, especially among those who had made huge profits from the slave trade.

Wilberforce used his political position as a spokesperson for the Abolition Movement and was the first Member or Parliament to raise the issue in the House of Commons. His Abolition Bill was finally passed by parliament in 1807, but his battle to change the law was not an easy one. Wilberforce tried and failed several times before the Bill was finally passed.


Although Wilberforce achieved the Suppression of the Slave Trade, with the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Bill,  he remained concerned that many people were still held in slavery and carried on his campaign until the bill outlawing slavery in Britain and all its colonies was passed in 1833 - just days before he died.

Wilberforce also devoted himself to other causes and campaigns such as the limiting of the hours children should work. Like his contemporary, Elizabeth Fry, he also fought for prison reforms, and he was also passionate about policing, education, healthcare, gambling. He appealed for amendments to the Poor Law (to improve the conditions for the poor) and in 1796 became a founding member of the ‘Society for the Bettering Condition and Increasing Comforts of the Poor’. This organisation worked to reform Parish Relief and Workhouses for the poor and improve their general living conditions.


Wilberforce was also one of the founding members of the RSPCA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

Wilberforce was also instrumental in forming the Proclamation Society which was dedicated to promoting virtue in public life. Their aim was to make the idea of humanitarianism popular. It is estimated that almost 70 separate causes were significantly advanced by Wilberforce's involvement.


Find out more about William Wilberforce on My Learning

If you would like to learn more about how we can use the Campaign! Make an Impact model to inspire change today, please contact Hull Museum Education on 01482 318733

Map link: Wilberforce House Museum, Hull, the birthplace of William Wilberforce»

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