The stately homes built on the back of slaves

Some of our most prized estates were bought with compensation paid to former slave owners after abolition

Some of Britain's most illustrious stately homes were built or bought with money reaped from slavery, it can be revealed. More than 100 country houses and estates across the country benefited from the millions of pounds given in compensation to slave owners in the 19th century.

The IoS revealed last week that when slave ownership was abolished by Britain in 1833 the government paid out a total of £20m – the equivalent of £16.5bn today – to compensate thousands of wealthy families for their loss of "property".

Now historical records have been released showing that many of those who received the windfalls ploughed at least some of the cash into buying, building or refurbishing some of the greatest properties in the British countryside.

A number of the homes have since been lost to the ravages of time or destroyed in one of the world wars. But many are still standing and have either been taken over by the National Trust or remain in private ownership.

Among the homes linked to the slave compensation payouts is Blairquhan Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland, which was used as a substitute location for Balmoral Castle in the Oscar-winning film The Queen.

Others include West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire, where scenes from Downton Abbey have been shot, and Rookery Hall in Cheshire, the venue where David and Victoria Beckham sealed their engagement in 1997.

And some have now passed into the hands of a new elite, including the billionaire inventor of the cyclone vacuum cleaner, Sir James Dyson, and the property tycoon Nick Leslau, who appeared on the Channel 4 programme The Secret Millionaire.

Others remain under the ownership of aristocratic families, most famously Harewood House, which is the family seat of the Earl and Countess of Harewood, whose ancestors had strong ties to the slave trade.

But, according to Nick Draper, an academic from University College London, the financial benefits channelled to country piles through slavery compensation varied widely.

Dr Draper, who helped to compile an internet database of the compensation records, which was launched last Wednesday, added: "It's important to differ- entiate between the kind of connections that existed between slavery and the British country house.

"Some of the country houses clearly are built by the proceeds of slavery in a very direct way. Others are occupied by slave-owning families for a limited period."

At the same time, Andrew Hann, senior properties historian at English Heritage, said the database left little doubt that a certain percentage of Britain's country homes were financed by money funnelled into the UK from slavery.

He said: "It shows that certainly some country houses were built and refurbished with the proceeds of slavery, and particularly of slave compensation, which provided a substantial influx of capital for landowners in that period.

"But these records are only the tip of the iceberg because you've got the ongoing benefits with the proceeds of slavery circulating in these country houses for centuries earlier.

"The database shows who had slave-related property at the time of emancipation, but some landowners had moved out of slavery by the time it was abolished."

One of the estates included in the database, which would later be named Alton Towers, was owned by Charles Chetwynd-Talbot, the 2nd Earl of Talbot, who received £4,660 – equivalent to £3.4m today when calculated using an index of average earnings – for the 543 slaves he owned.

It has since been developed into a major theme park and is now owned by Mr Leslau, the entrepreneur, who, it is estimated, is worth around £200m.

Dodington Park in Gloucestershire was once the property of Sir Christopher Bethell-Codrington, who received £29,863 – equal to £21m in modern terms – for 1,916 slaves, according to the records.

In 2003, the 300-acre estate was bought by the businessman Sir James Dyson for a reported £20m.

Sir David Hunter Blair acquired Blairquhan Castle in 1798 and he, too, received a large compensation payout of £3,591, equivalent to £2.6m today, for 198 slaves he laid claim to on a Jamaican plantation.

Over the generations, the castle has passed down the family to its current owner, Sir Patrick Hunter Blair. The Grade I-listed Harewood House is still owned by the Lascelles family, who amassed much of their wealth from the slave trade.

The compensation records show that the second Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, received £26,307, which is equivalent to £19m today, for 1,277 slaves.

Dr Hann said that, while the links of Britain's county homes to slave ownership may vary, it is still important that they are historically documented.

"Those linkages have long been hidden from view because it's not in the interests of the owners to promote them publicly," he said.

"We don't want to suggest that country homes have been built completely off the back of slavery, but, from another perspective, we must not try to conceal an important aspect of the way a country house is founded."

Additional reporting by Zachary Norman and Louise Fitzgerald

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine