93 National Trust properties have links to historic slavery and colonialism - according to a new report

Tuesday, 22nd September 2020, 4:13 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd September 2020, 4:13 pm
Chartwell in Kent is one of the properties featured in the report (Photo: Peter King/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Chartwell in Kent is one of the properties featured in the report (Photo: Peter King/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The National Trust has published research revealing the links that a number of its properties have with colonialism and slavery.

The report, published on Tuesday 22 September, lists 93 properties and places - around a third of the National Trust's portfolio - which have a link to slavery or colonialism in some form.

The trust says the report, commissioned a year ago, is the beginning of a process to better understand history that is often “complex, nuanced and messy."

Some of the locations on the list include Lundy Island in Devon, where convicts were forced to undertake unpaid labour, and former Prime Minister Winston Churchill's Chartwell country estate, due to the PM's opposition to self-governance in India and political roles.

Raising awareness of the complexity of history

The list also features 29 places that have links to successful compensation claims for slave ownership after abolition.

In 1833, Britain used 40 per cent of its national budget to buy freedom for all slaves in the Empire. Britain borrowed such a large sum of money for the Slavery Abolition Act that it wasn’t paid off until 2015 - a revelation that was met with outrage when it emerged.

Tarnya Cooper, curatorial and collections director, told The Guardian the report marked the Trust's steps into understanding the links their properties have with slavery and colonialism and start to “integrate that into our narrative. It is also to raise awareness about the complexity of history in relation to place.”

She added, “In the past we’ve told probably really straightforward stories, possibly from one particular direction. We want to be able to tell more nuanced stories so that we can provide open, honest, accurate and fair assessments of places without feeling anxiety that ‘Gosh … is that the right thing to be saying?’ In some ways the report is to provide greater confidence about talking about history.

“We are not doing anything more than present the historical facts and data. Not everyone feels comfortable talking about this,” she said. But the Trust felt it was important for “people to draw their own conclusions and make their own minds up about things."

No drop-off in membership

The report also highlights the individual histories of former owners of properties, such as Richard Watt (1724-96) who owned Speke Hall, Merseyside.

Watt traded in slave-produced sugar and rum, as well as purchasing a slave ship in 1793 that trafficked 549 people from Africa to Jamaica, killing 10 on the journey alone.

While there was talk on social media over the summer of the report causing an exodus of unhappy members, Cooper revealed figures do not show a significant drop-off.

“It’s curious,” she said.

“I’m sure some people have but we haven’t noticed a massive drop-off in membership. There was chatter online but we just haven’t seen that. Most of our members join because they care about history and beauty and heritage and they are interested in this work. They want us to do it responsibly.”