Colonial Countryside

About the project

Colonial Countryside is a child-led writing and history project in partnership with Peepal Tree Press and the National Trust. The project assembles authors, historians and primary pupils to explore country houses’ Caribbean and East India Company connections. It commissions, resources and publishes new writing.

100 primary children have visited 11 National Trust houses. With the support of the writer SuAndi, the workshops enabled each child to produce new creative work to present to live, print and digital audiences. Peepal Tree will publish new books, including an illustrated book of commissioned writing and historical commentaries.

The project aims to make country houses’ colonial connections widely known. Colonial Countryside also helps the next generation of archivists, curators, historians and writers to gain expertise in the topic.

How is the National Trust connected to empire?

National Trust properties tell many stories about British imperial history. These include slave-ownership, colonial administrators, Caribbean rum, tea and salt, dowries funded by plantations, tiger- hunting, Indian suffragettes, East India Company men, Chinese wallpaper, black servants, African circumnavigators and black Tudors.

National Trust houses tell some unfamiliar colonial stories:Live turtles were shipped from Jamaica to Lord Penrhyn to make turtle soup

Lord Curzon of Kedleston Hall said that suffragettes made Englishmen a laughing stock in India.

Mahogany, used to make eighteenth-century furniture, was invariably produced by enslaved Africans.

William Blathwayt of Dyrham Park was the foremost colonial administrator of his day who regularly accepted expensive gifts in the hope of winning his influence.


Year one (2018): country house visits, writing workshops, publication of leaflets, research by 10 commissioned writers, children’s conference.

Year two (2019): public speaking workshops, Massive Online Open Course for writers and heritage professionals, exhibition preparation in National Trust houses.

Year three (2020): appearances at literature festivals and black history month events by children, historians and writers, launch of project books.

Years four and five (2021-2022): child advisory boards and project historians assist the National Trust with training, research and reinterpretation projects connected to the theme of colonial legacies.

Participating country houses

These houses reveal the following historical themes:

  • Exotic fruits grown in orangeries (Attingham Park; Calke Abbey)
  • Imperial domestic interiors (Basildon Park; Osterley Park; Attingham Park; Calke Abbey; Dunham Massey)
  • Artefacts from British colonies, such as slave-produced mahogany and Chinese wallpaper (Attingham Park; Basildon Park; Calke Abbey; Dunham Massey; Osterley Park; Penrhyn Castle)
  • Illegitimate children from the empire (Dunham Massey)
  • Slave-produced sugar wealth (Charlecote Park; Dyrham Park; Speke Hall; Penrhyn Castle)
  • Resident Indian princesses (Wightwick Manor)
  • Black servants and slaves (Charlecote Park; Sudbury Hall)East India Company links (Basildon Park; Osterley Park)
  • Francis Drake’s participation in slave trading and black Tudors (Buckland Abbey)
  • Owners who held colonial office (Dyrham Park)
  • Commemorations of naval victories in the Caribbean (Hanbury Hall; Sudbury Hall)
  • Paintings of black servants (Charlecote Park; Sudbury Hall)
  • Victorian plant hunters (Penrhyn Castle)

Participating schools

How to get involved

  • Teachers: Ask us about Colonial Countryside curriculum materials.
  • Pupils and parents: Tell a teacher you'd like to be involved. Volunteer for the project.
  • Historians: Join our team of historians or advise us on any aspect of the project.
  • Black History organisations: Invite us to speak at one of your events.
  • Literary Festival organisers: Invite our writers, children and historians to speak
  • Journalists: Cover our project on your show.

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