Posted in Kafevend Blog
During an amble around the seaside town of Clevedon, I came across an old tower sitting on the hill above the marine lake. Perched on the hillside looking out over the Bristol Channel, a plaque revealed that it was part of the legacy of the Finzel family. The tower had been used as a lookout to see trading vessels from the West Indies, loaded with sugar, making their way in to Bristol.
Conrad Finzel Sr. was born in 1793 in Germany. He was reputedly a refugee and deserter of Napoleon's army, fleeing to London to escape the war on the continent. In Bristol in 1836, he established a sugar refinery along with his son, Conrad Jr.- despite a fire laying waste to the factory in 1846, he spent large amounts of money to rebuild it, and in the 1870s it was the largest in the country.
Conrad Sr. was known as a great philanthropist, ensuring his hundreds of workers received a good wage, along with making donations to places like orphanages, set up by like minded individuals who wished to aid the large numbers of people in desperate situations. This was a stark and thankfully positive contrast to the recent history of Bristol as one of the leading exponents of the slave trade, forming one of the three points in the triangular trade route that became established- the abolition of slavery act in England had only been passed three years prior to Conrad establishing his factory.
However, slavery still existed in the form of an "apprenticeship", where slaves were forced to return and work on the plantations and provide some 40 hours worth of free labour before finally receiving payment. Resistance brought this practice to an end in 1838. Whilst not explicitly slavery, the use of indentured servants also proved contentious, given the ill treatment received by some from their employers who exploited them as cheap labour and a replacement for the slaves they had lost.