William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce

“Certain things are impossible, but we will do them anyway.”

Who was William Wilberforce?

British politician, philanthropist and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.

The Institute is named after William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who led the parliamentary campaign against the slave trade and is generally recognised as the ‘father’ of the British abolitionist movement.

Wilberforce was successively MP for Hull and Yorkshire, and was born in Hull’s High Street, next door to the Wilberforce Institute.

We are justifiably proud of these associations and collectively we work to continue Wilberforce’s legacy, producing world-class research that informs modern campaigns to eradicate forced labour and human trafficking, both at home and abroad.

Our history

The Wilberforce Institute is based in Oriel Chambers, in the heart of Hull’s historic Old Town, and aims to follow in the footsteps of the city’s most famous son, William Wilberforce, who was born next door.

Transforming the three-storey property, designed by the renowned Victorian architect William Botterill, into a research institute was a major undertaking between the University and the local city council, with financial help from Yorkshire Forward, the European Regional Development Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

We opened our doors in 2006, ahead of the bicentenary of the Slave Trade Abolition Act 1807, for which Wilberforce had fought so hard.

But despite the act, and the later Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, approved in the year of Wilberforce’s death, the fight to eradicate slavery remains as relevant as ever.

The Wilberforce Institute is a unique centre of research into historical slavery and leads the fight against contemporary exploitation, winning the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2016. Our work is led by director, Professor Trevor Burnard, working closely with institute staff and research associates.

We work with governments, NGOs, communities, businesses and other organisations to inform policy and practice – locally, nationally and internationally – in our ongoing work to raise awareness of slavery and to root it out wherever it appears.

You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know. William Wilberforce