These days, Park Street is a quiet residential street on the northern slopes of Georgian Bath, leading out of the north west corner of rather more fashionable St James’ Square. It’s a mix of entire terraced houses built from the local Bath stone, standing shoulder to shoulder with others that have been divided into sometimes rather shabby flats. With no off-street parking available, the street is lined with cars, while plastic waste boxes and recycling bags often festoon the railings.
In the 1830s, at least three of the houses in Park Street (Nos 9, 26 and 34) were owned or occupied by individuals who lodged claims for compensation following the abolition of slavery in 1833. This post is about Nathaniel Wells (1779-1852), an established member of Georgian high society who died at No 9 Park Street and is remembered in St Arvan’s Church in south Wales, but who was of mixed race African/Welsh heritage.
Nathaniel was the son of William Wells, originally from Cardiff, who moved to St Kitts in about 1749 and became owner of three sugar plantations, the largest of which was ‘Vambells’. Nathaniel’s mother was Juggy, one of William’s enslaved house servants, who took the name Joardine Wells on manumission (the act of a slave owner in freeing his or her slaves). William had at least six illegitimate children, as well as legitimate daughters, but Nathaniel was his only son and inherited the bulk of William’s estate – three sugar plantations and money estimated at £120,000 – on his death in 1794 when Nathaniel was about 15 years old.
Nathaniel was educated in England and at the age of about 23 in 1802 he paid £90,000 for Piercefield estate near Chepstow, Monmouthshire. Despite his African/mixed race heritage he became an integral part of Monmouthshire society, becoming a Justice of the Peace in 1806 and High Sheriff of Monmouthshire in 1818. He served as church warden at St Arvan’s from 1804 to 1843 and together with the Duke of Beaufort paid for improvements to the building .
On 13 February 1837, Nathaniel was awarded £1400 9s 7d in relation to 86 enslaved persons on the Fahies and Ortons sugar estates in Saint Paul Capesterre, on the north western end of St Kitts. The claim was contested but awarded.
Nathaniel died at 9 Park Street, Bath on 13 May 1852. His memorial incription in St Arvan’s reads: “Sacred to the memory of Nathaniel Wells of Piercefield, Esq, a Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant of the county of Monmouth, who died at Bath May 13th, 1852, aged 72 years. Also of Esther, widow of the above, who died on the 1st day of June, 1871, aged 67 years. R.I.P.” Esther was his second wife.
I am grateful to Roger Evans for the information that Wells was buried in the graveyard of Bath’s fashionable church, St Swithin’s, Walcot on 20 May 1852: Roger notes that the plot (392) is unmarked due to a clearance of the headstones at some time.
Piercefield estate is now the home of Chepstow Racecourse. The house is derelict and abandoned.
UCL Database: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/25474
J. A. H. Evans, ‘Wells, Nathaniel (1779–1852)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)