This year is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. TOM WILLETTS finds out more about south east London's involvement and the campaign to end it.

FROM the 1560s, south east Londoners were involved in the forced transportation of people from Africa to the West Indies.

The merchant Sir John Hawkins, who lived in the Treasurer's House at the Royal Dockyard, Deptford, led the first expedition across the Atlantic as part of the emerging slave trade in 1562.

Hundreds of ships left ports in London - including Greenwich - for west Africa filled with cloth, guns, ironware and alcohol to be traded for slaves.

The ships then took the slaves, who were forced to live below deck in appalling conditions, to the West Indies.

They were then forced to work on plantations of sugar and tobacco.

On the final leg of the voyage, these crops were shipped to London with slave traders and manufacturers making huge profits.

Sir Francis Baring, whose family founded Barings Bank, had interests in slave trade companies and Baring Road, Grove Park, is named after him.

The Royal Dockyard in Deptford was a major port where slave ships would dock, while captains and merchants who had profited on the trade lived in luxurious mansions.

Thomas King owned the slave trade company Camden, Calvert and King and lived in a mansion on Dartmouth Grove, Shooters Hill.

The company was the largest in London and at one stage owned 20 per cent of the slave ships which sailed from London to Africa.

John Angerstein, founder of Lloyd's of London, owned a slave estate in Grenada and built Woodlands House, Mycenae Road, Blackheath, now home to Woodlands Art Gallery.

In addition, the Pett family owned a business which built numerous slave ships in Deptford.

The woodland which provided trees to build the ships was named after the family.

It is known today as Petts Wood.

But south east London was also involved in the campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.

The roots of abolition stretch back to an oak tree in the grounds of the Holwood Estate, Keston, which was home of William Pitt the Younger, prime minister from 1783 to 1801.

He regularly met politician William Wilberforce in the grounds beneath a giant oak tree to talk politics.

In 1788, Wilberforce wrote in his diary: "At length, I well remember after a conversation with Mr Pitt in the open air at the root of an old tree at Holwood, just above the steep descent into the vale of Keston, I resolved to give notice on a fit occasion in the House of Commons of my intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave trade."

After the Wilberforce Oak blew down in a fierce storm in 1999, it was commemorated by a stone bench and a plaque to mark a very positive moment in south east London history.