The Church of England is to investigate possible slave trade links to an 18th-century endowment that has grown into a £9.2bn investment fund supporting parishes and cathedrals across the country.
Queen Anne’s Bounty, a sum of money set aside to augment the incomes of poor clergy in 1704, could present a “reputational risk”, said the annual report of the Church Commissioners, the body that manages C of E assets.
The report says: “Long-established endowment funds may give rise to a reputational risk linked to the possibility of their original source, or early investment of funds, having slave trade connections. This could be the case for the original Queen Anne’s Bounty and Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ funds.”
In 1948, Queen Anne’s Bounty was amalgamated with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to form the Church Commissioners.
Queen Anne invested in the slave trade, holding 22.5% of stock in the South Sea Company, which was responsible for the transportation of about 64,000 African slaves between 1715 and 1731.
A spokesperson for the Church Commissioners said: “Like many organisations, we are looking into our past and have commissioned external research into the origins of our predecessor bodies, Queen Anne’s Bounty and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
“We are doing this work of our own volition to better understand where our funding came from and to see if our predecessor bodies had links to or received profits from the historic transatlantic slave trade. That research is under way.”
The outcome of the research will be published, the spokesperson said.
“With regards to our current funds, we manage these ethically and responsibly, in line with our Christian values. This includes holding companies to account on issues such as racial justice, diversity and modern slavery.”
The C of E is also reviewing thousands of monuments in churches and cathedrals that contain historical references to slavery and colonialism.
The commissioners’ annual report showed a return of 10.4% on its investments in 2020, resulting in a £500m increase to £9.2bn.
The strong performance had enabled the commissioners to increase their financial support to C of E dioceses, cathedrals and churches during the Covid pandemic, the report said.
The C of E’s income has fallen significantly over the past 15 months, as church collections and income from cathedral entrance fees, cafes and gift shops have plummeted.
The commissioners and the Archbishops’ Council, a C of E charity, provided £75m of cash support, a £35m fund for dioceses and a £20m fund for cathedrals.
Gareth Mostyn, the chief executive of the Church Commissioners, said: “We were pleased to be able … to reinforce our support for dioceses, cathedrals and churches during 2020, which was such a difficult year in so many ways. The financial support we quickly put in place helped the church to weather the sudden and unexpected financial storm.”