How a renowned artist uncovered the link between Jamaica and Haigh Hall

Ripton Lindsay
Ripton Lindsay

A renowned artist will take Wiganers through his incredible personal journey and into forgotten chapters of the story of a borough landmark and those who lived there.

Musician and dancer Ripton Lindsay will speak at Wigan Parish Church about how his life is intertwined with the aristocratic Crawford family who lived at Haigh Hall.

Since he began to learn about his family’s story when he was young in Jamaica he has gone on an extraordinary quest to uncover the past of his ancestors and has revealed his connection to Alexander Lindsay, the 23rd Earl of Crawford.

In doing so he has unearthed a remarkable tale connecting the borough and its much-loved grade-II listed landmark to the darker stories of Jamaica under the rule of the British Empire and a key site of slavery.

However, Ripton is adamant that the evening of words and music at the parish church will not be one about blame or anger but about reconciliation, of coming to terms with the difficult lessons of the past and moving to a greater understanding of British history.

Ripton said: “I can remember the day and what time it was when I first heard the name of Alexander Lindsay from my uncle.

“It was September 1989, about 7.30 or 8pm. My uncle was sitting on a bench and I just went to chat to him. He gave me an overview of certain things.

“When I started finding out things I was angry. But I was nurtured by my family and that got rid of some of the anger. I decided I had to travel to the UK to find out my ancestral history.

“We’re all victims in this situation. The advantage I have is I understand both sides, I know the pros and cons. That’s what I’m trying to look at to move forward.

“I can’t change the world but I can contribute and I think I have a few answers.

“It’s not just about the slave trade, it’s about finding peace and reconciliation. I want to use my story.

“Britain, and England in particular, was the biggest investor in the slave trade, but people try to sweep it under the carpet, nobody wants to talk about it. There’s no way of moving forward doing that.

“My story is a bit different to a lot of what is going on. A lot of people are talking about compensation but I’m not talking about that or asking for apologies. For me it’s about everybody acknowledging the past and moving forward, that’s my aim.”

Ripton says he is not nervous bringing this chapter of Wigan’s history to an audience in the borough, telling of two encounters he had with local people the first time he visited.

He said: “I’m looking forward to it. I’m an honorary Wiganer.

“The first time I came no-one knew me. I went to the chapel and it was closed, but this old chap thought I was a tourist and started talking to me.

“I explained about the Crawfords and Lindsays and when he had finished listening he said: ‘The people of Wigan must know about this’. I’ve never forgotten that.

“The first time I went to Haigh Hall there was no-one on the premises and it was quite dilapidated. A cab had taken me there and I told the driver he could go but he said he would wait for me. We chatted on the way back and when I went to pay him he refused, saying it was my journey and he hoped I found what I was looking for.

“The saddest thing for me is that I never took those men’s names.”

The evening will discuss the life and times of Lord Crawford, who married Elizabeth Bradshaigh Dalrymple, built Haigh Hall and invested heavily in Wigan’s coal mining and engineering works.

However, at the turn of the century he was also governor of Jamaica, playing a leading role in the Second Maroon Revolution, a series of events which would leave a deep impact on the island. His time in the Caribbean also helped him amass his great fortune.

Ripton will discuss the aristocrat’s Scottish childhood, his military and political career in Jamaica and his life in Wigan and stressed he wants to understand Lord Crawford in the context of his time, saying there is much about the man he admires and respects as well as the elements of his life he finds more problematic.

The night will also feature Ripton speaking about his personal links to the Lindsays, but he was keen to keep that under wraps until the event itself.

The evening will also feature acoustic music by Mim Suleiman, an acclaimed artist from Zanzibar.

Rev Will Gibbons, the Rector of Wigan, is delighted to be hosting what promises to be a thought-provoking event at the historic place of worship in the town centre.

He said: “This is Ripton’s first attempt to get his story out there.

“He has visited Wigan a number of times and says there are three places that are significant to him: Haigh Hall, Wigan Parish Church and the Crawford Chapel in particular, and Wigan Hall.

“The part of his story that resonates with me is that it’s about reconciliation and recognising what happened. Haigh Hall and the wealth of the estate came through slavery and exploitation, and Ripton is looking to face that truth but talk about how we can find peace. I think it’s a timely message.”

The event at Wigan Parish Church is on November 15 at 6.50pm, with doors at 6.15pm. Entry is free.