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Historic England report highlights Kent's links with the transatlantic slave trade

A sweeping report into the nation's links to the transatlantic slavery economy has identified a number of connections with Kent.

The research carried out for Historic England, a public body tasked with preserving buildings and monuments, mentions Mote House in Maidstone as a property linked to a family with sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

Mote House in Maidstone. Picture: Golley Slater
Mote House in Maidstone. Picture: Golley Slater

Many other links to this dark chapter in our national story emerged as a result of the county's maritime and industrial heritage.

Entitled The Transatlantic Slave Economy and England's Built Environment, the report notes how vessels constructed in shipyards at Folkestone and Gravesend were engaged directly in Atlantic slavery or in shipping goods produced by enslaved labour.

Erith, historically part of Kent but now in London, was once a busy port on the south bank of the Thames and was used to import goods from Britain’s new colonies, such as spices, textiles and tea.

Mote House, which is a Grade II listed building, is a large square mansion built for the Earl of Romney between 1793 and 1801.

The Historic England report says it was rebuilt by Charles Marsham, a Member of Parliament and 1st Earl of Romney, who was the sole heir of his father Robert’s sugar plantations on St Kitts, known as ‘Romney’s’.

Ships built at Chatham Dockyard took part in anti-slavery patrols. Picture: Alan Watkins
Ships built at Chatham Dockyard took part in anti-slavery patrols. Picture: Alan Watkins

Today the building is at the centre of Audley Mote House retirement village, converted into exquisite apartments, The Romney Restaurant, a swimming pool and health club.

The research into the nation's slavery links also finds that in the 19th century ships built at dockyards in Sheerness and Chatham were also employed on anti-slavery patrols off the West African coast.

A spokesman for Historic England said: "In early 2020, we commissioned an audit which brings together previous research into the tangible traces of the transatlantic slave trade in England’s built environment, mostly carried out over the last thirty years by universities and community groups.

"The audit has also identified gaps in knowledge and makes suggestions for future research. This knowledge will absolutely not be used to delist structures, but it will be used to enhance the National Heritage List for England and tell a fuller story of England's rich and complex history.

"As a separate piece of work in November we published our Inclusion, Diversity and Equality Strategy following two years of development and consultation. It reaffirms our commitment to delivering our work in a way that benefits a broader range of people, places and communities which better represent the diversity of England and our rich heritage.

'It is vital that we engage in a constant process of re-examining and re-evaluating the past...'

"Heritage is for everyone and we want our work to ensure that a diverse range of people are able to connect with, participate in and enjoy the historic environment."

In September a report released by the National Trust revealed properties across the UK in their care with links to the slave trade, including some in Kent.

The organisation is keen to show people how closely intertwined our history is with colonialism, encouraging us to come to terms with the "sometimes-uncomfortable role that Britain, and Britons, have played in global history since the 16th century."

Charlie Hall, historian and lecturer from the University of Kent, said: "History is not merely the academic study of the past, it also informs how we think and act in the present day; a quick glance at the ways in which the British Empire and the Second World War have featured so heavily in the Brexit debates or the response to Covid-19 offer abundant proof of this.

"As this is the case, it is vital that we engage in a constant process of re-examining and re-evaluating the past, not only so we can learn the right lessons but also to ensure that certain voices, formerly marginalised or even erased, are restored to the historical record."

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