Frequently asked questions

On this page we will try to respond to some of the questions and comments that were raised during our conversations with members of the local community and the online survey.

What is the connection of Olaudah Equiano to Cambridge?

We have been asked what connection Equiano had to Cambridge. 

In 1792 Equiano married Susan Cullen, from Fordham. They married and made their home in Soham, and had two daughters, Anna Maria (born 16 October 1793) and Joanna (born 11 April 1795).

Susannah died on 21 February 1796, and was buried at Soham, her gravestone in Soham bearing the inscription ‘Susannah Vassa, Wife of Gustavus the African, aged 34 years’. Equiano died in London on 31 March 1797 (his burial place is not known).

Anna Maria, died a few months after her father, on 21 July 1797, at the age of four and is buried at St. Andrew’s Church in Chesterton, there is a memorial to her on the church wall (to the left of the entrance).

Children visit to lay flowers at her memorial on ‘Vassa Day’ – which is held on the Sunday closest to Anna Maria’s death in July.
Clarkson and Wilberforce, other prominent abolitionists, are honoured in Cambridge. We feel that this proposal redresses an imbalance of knowledge and power. It creates an opportunity to ensure that he is made known acknowledged and given due honour for his remarkable life and contribution to our history

Why are you not using the name Gustavus Vassa?

We have been asked why we have not chosen the name Vassa for the bridge as it is the name he gave his daughter and is easier to say. 

We decided on Equiano for several reasons:

– He is most widely known by that name, locally, nationally and internationally. A local school has a year group named after Equiano.

– It is the name used by the Equiano Society.

– Equiano is the name he chose to use when he was able to i.e. as an author. He was probably required to use the name Vassa for legal purposes e.g. marriage, as this was the name on his papers releasing him from slavery. In those days he was still at serious risk of re-enslavement if he could not prove his identity.

– Equiano was introduced to the National Curriculum in September 2022 and his story will be taught at GCSE key stage 4 under that name.

Isn’t this just virtue signalling or trivialisation?

It has been suggested that this proposal is virtue signalling. We know that renaming a bridge is a very small gesture and on its own would be meaningless. However the process of developing the project is helping us to make links within the community and raise awareness of the many legacies of slavery and the ongoing racism that remains in our society today. 

“Of course naming the bridge is a drop in the ocean … but it will cause ripples as we continue to share his name and bring this hidden history of Olaudah Equiano to life . Celebrating the Black Heritage that is part of all our story, and the richness of Cambridge  town – Chesterton – too.” Hilary Cox Condren, County Councillor for Arbury.

We have also been accused of trivialisation in naming an “old and ugly bridge” after Equiano. Again we would say that if this was all we were doing it might be seen as trivialisation but we believe that the bridge is a worthy memorial and symbolic in linking communities and providing space for conversations and connections to be made.