Links between historic places, colonialism and slavery revealed

Connections between 93 historic places and colonialism and historic slavery have been revealed by the National Trust today, for the first time.

The report, co-authored by the University of Leicester’s Professor Corinne Fowler, evidences a wide variety of connections with the British Empire.

The report, commissioned by the trust last September, is part of a broader commitment to ensuring links to colonialism and historic slavery are properly represented, shared and interpreted as part of a broader narrative at relevant National Trust places.

Professor Corinne Fowler, Director of Colonial Countryside: National Trust Houses Reinterpreted at the University of Leicester said:

“The National Trust is to be congratulated for its commitment to telling the full history of its properties, and I am proud to have been part of this important work.

This interim report into the colonial links of its historic houses provides fascinating new insights into the heritage sites that we thought we knew.”

Some National Trust properties were once home to colonial administrators such as William Blathwayt of Dyrham Park (near Bath) in the 17th Century.

Professor Fowler also directs a project called Colonial Countryside: National Trust Houses Reinterpreted (Arts Council and Heritage Lottery). Colonial Countryside is a child-led history and writing project which aims to make country houses’ colonial links widely known.

The report includes information about National Trust houses with transatlantic slavery connections. Some of these are relatively well-known, such as Speke Hall (near Liverpool) and Penrhyn Castle (near Bangor), whilst other entries detail little-known information about compensation awarded to slave-owners or wealth that was inherited through marriage to the daughters of men who owned sugar plantations worked by enslaved people.

Some of the collections open up the histories of African, Chinese and Indian people in the English and Welsh countryside in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Drawing on evidence including the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project and the Trust’s own sources, the report also aims to provide greater clarity about the relationship between the historic sources of wealth linked to colonialism and historic slavery, and buildings and collections in the care of the National Trust. It documents the way that significant National Trust buildings are linked to the abolition of slavery and campaigns against colonial oppression.

Dr Tarnya Cooper, the National Trust’s Curatorial and Collections Director, said:

“The buildings in the care of the National Trust reflect many different periods and a range of British and global histories, - social, industrial, political and cultural.

A significant number of those in our care have links to the colonisation of different parts of the world, and some to historic slavery. Colonialism and slavery were central to the national economy from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Around a third of the properties now in our care have direct connections to wider colonial histories, often in a way that’s reflected in collections, materials and records that are visible at those places.

As a heritage charity it’s our job to research, interpret and openly share full and up-to-date information about our places. This includes information about colonialism and slavery where it is relevant. This is part of caring for our properties in a historically responsible and academically robust way. The work helps us all understand what's gone before; now and for future generations.”