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22nd August 2023

A new exhibition commemorating the 250th anniversary of one of the world’s most beloved hymns ‘Amazing Grace’ is to go on display at Wilberforce House Museum.

On display from Wednesday 23 August and to mark the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade, the touring exhibition will tell the story of former slave ship captain, Reverend John Newton, writer and composer of Amazing Grace, the curate-in-charge at St Peter & St Paul’s church in Olney, Buckinghamshire.

John Newton

Composed by the Reverend John Newton in the weeks leading up to his New Year’s Day service at St Peter & St Paul Church on 1 January 1773, the hymn in various different musical styles has gone on to inspire countless people and has even become known in America as the nation’s “spiritual anthem”.

Newton sailed and worked on five voyages trafficking people from Africa to the Caribbean before converting to the abolitionist cause. It was his personal experiences that he later put to use for the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. He became a keen abolitionist and associate of Hull’s own William Wilberforce. Although Hull wasn’t directly in the slave trade in the same way ports like Liverpool and Bristol were, the port town benefitted from this trafficking of people through the import of many products produced by enslaved people, such as tropical hardwoods and cotton.

Amazing Grace exhibition on display from 23 August

Councillor Rob Pritchard, Portfolio Holder for Culture and Leisure, said: “Amazing Grace is one of most recognised hymns.

“The exhibition will cover the history of John Newton, his conversion to the anti-slavery cause and the writing, development and history of the famous hymn Amazing Grace, still sung today by a wide variety of musicians and choirs.”

Robin Diaper, Curator of Maritime and Social History said: “Slavery is part of our extensive maritime heritage, and this exhibition is just part of addressing that. We are extremely grateful to all the amazing musicians and choirs who helped us to produce the final recording of this iconic song.”

Funded by Hull Maritime, this exhibition will also include a specially commissioned film in Hull, showcasing a diverse range of local choirs, singers and musicians performing the hymn Amazing Grace. This film will also be used online on 23 August 2023 to mark the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

The exhibition has been curated by Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney, Buckinghamshire and will be on display until 5 November.