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Newcastle, Tyne & Wear

5 Summerhill Grove, Newcastle

Last Updated:

15 Jun 2020

Newcastle, Tyne & Wear

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Founded in 

19th Century

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The building has a blue plaque, celebrating Frederick Douglas and the Richardson's who paid for his freedom.

This article is part of the Black History Collection.

'Frederick Douglass was a former plantation slave from Maryland in the USA, who went on to became a national leader of the Abolitionist movement. From 1846 Douglass spent two years in Ireland and Great Britain, where he spoke against slavery, often to large audiences in churches and chapels. Abolitionist supporters, Anna and Henry Richardson, Quakers from Newcastle, raised £150 (about £17,000 in 2019 terms) to buy Douglass' freedom from his American owner Thomas Auld. For a time Douglas lived with the Richardsons in their house on Summerhill Grove, Newcastle. Douglass returned to the USA in 1847 and was soon publishing an abolitionist newspaper, the "North Star".' - Co-Curate

'There’s a round black plaque to the right of the doorway. Placed by the City of Newcastle upon Tyne, it’s dedicated to Frederick Douglass. It commemorates the time he stayed here with the Richardson family, who spearheaded the effort to ‘formally buy his freedom in 1846.’ This was the home of Anna and Henry Richardson. Anna, her husband Henry, and his sister Ellen were abolitionists who aided others who had escaped from slavery as well. In addition to welcoming Douglass into their home and raising the money to purchase his freedom, they did the same for Douglass’ abolitionist colleague, fellow self-liberated slave, and fellow author William Wells Brown.

The Richardsons’ and their fellow abolitionists’ payment to Hugh Auld for Douglass’ freedom was controversial. Many abolitionists and fellow self-liberated slaves believed that buying Douglass’ freedom was tantamount to participating in the slave trade and acted as a tacit recognition of the legitimacy of trafficing in human flesh, regardless of intentions. Abolitionist and fellow activist in the ‘Send Back the Money!’ campaign Henry C. Wright made these arguments in a strong letter of rebuke to Douglass for accepting these arrangements on his behalf. Douglass responded affectionately but firmly to Wright. As Douglass saw it, this payment was no different in kind to the payment of a ransom or handing over money to an armed robber. The fault was not with those who pay such forms of ransom, the fault was with those who extorted money so that their fellow human beings could enjoy the life and freedom they were naturally entitled to.

The Richardsons were a well-to-do Quaker family who dedicated themselves to all manner of religious and moral societies and causes including antislavery and temperance work, making goods available not produced through slave labor, education for poor and working-class children, and religious improvement. Anna also visited prisons to offer cheer, comfort, and spiritual support. The Richardsons and their extended family, women and men alike, took leading roles in the church; for example, Ellen was an Elder for a time until her failing eyesight made it too difficult to fulfill that role. In accordance with Quaker beliefs, the women of the family were well-educated and very active in religious and public life even as they were responsible for keeping a well-run family home. Though city directories list mostly male members of the Richardson family as prominent members of religious and moral societies, Jonathan Mood of the University of Durham describes Anna, Ellen, and other women in the family as generally even more involved, especially in the correspondence and day to day running of things.

Like many others who benefited from their good works and generosity, Douglass never forgot what the Richardson family had done for him. In 1860, he sent Ellen a copy of his second autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom, dedicating it to her as his ‘friend and benefactress.’

Read the full article about the fascinating travels of Frederick Douglas in Newcastle at

Listing Description (if available)

The first two editions of the Ordnance Survey can be seen above. The first edition further up is the 1864 edition, and shows Summerhill in its infancy only being a few decades old at the time. The green in the centre seems to be front gardens for the surrounding terraces.

The second edition has the area clearly labelled, along with the area being site of large Roman earthworks as it was along the site of Hadrian's Wall. The site was a small oasis enveloped by a generally working class area, hidden on a side street close to Westgate Road.


Portrait of Frederick Douglas, 1879. 1879 was long after the purchase of Frederick Douglas in order to set him free, but he occupied the property in Summerhill Grove for some time after his purchase. The photo was taken back in America, where he gained a substantial platform as an anti-abolitionist.

Retrieved from Co-Curate



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