Reflections On My Work Experience

By: Elizabeth Evans

Hi, my name is Elizabeth Evans and I am a fifteen year old student at Sydenham School in Lewisham. I have been doing work experience at UCL for the past week and a half, in the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project.

I really enjoyed work experience at the LBS project and it helped me gain knowledge both about ‘the world of work’ and about an interesting period in British history. There were, of course, some rather boring tasks such as correcting a thousand one-hundred-and-eighty-year-old spelling mistakes in Afrikaans. However, the overwhelming majority of it was extremely interesting; for example, I had the opportunity to transcribe some letters from 1801 at the Senate House Library. It was strange to see slave-owners’ attitudes towards the enslaved people they ‘owned’. I read three manuscripts: a letter detailing a female enslaved person’s request for her and her children’s freedom, a letter explaining to an absentee British slave-owner that some of his enslaved people had been sold, and a detailed account of two plantations.[1] I found the second letter particularly thought-provoking because it really drove home the status of enslaved people as property – the writer of the letter, Thomas Lane (1754-1824)[2], was saying that he had sold ten slaves recently, because he had seen that prices were going down, and he wanted to sell them before their value became even lower, as he would scarcely get a quarter of the amount he had sold them for soon enough. It sounded like when people talk about house prices, and when the market is good or bad for buying or selling, and it was really odd to think that they were actually talking about real people simply as commodities to be bought and sold at different times.

As well as this, I had to add people to the database by finding their names mentioned in connection with other claims, and research these people using websites like Ancestry.com to find out as much as I could about them. To get used to researching people in this way, I started by compiling a family tree of my own, starting with my great-grandmother, Vera Irene Cope, and researching her parents and grandparents and so on. Then, when I was used to researching people in this way, I moved on to research that was more relevant to the project.

Work experience was extremely fun and it was definitely an incredible opportunity. I found that I had more freedom than I have at school, to arrange my own breaks and go wherever I wanted for lunch, and to allocate my time according to my own preference as opposed to what my timetable told me to do. It was perhaps less realistic than it could be, as I worked a reasonably short day and needed almost no prior knowledge of any of the things I was researching – but then I wasn’t getting paid either. I think that, if you are fortunate enough to get a good work experience placement, you can have a really great time – so students in all of the years at school should consider what kinds of work experience they may be interested in doing.

[1] Senate House Library MS 523
[2] Thomas Lane was a London solicitor who had inherited Newton’s plantation in Barbados from his brother John in 1794. Thomas’s son Richard Lane was awarded compensation for 262 enslaved people on Newton’s in 1836.