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Discover Kent's links to colonialism, after National Trust publish report linking properties with historic slavery


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A report released by the National Trust has 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."

Knole Park's history has been researched by National Trust. Picture: Melissa Hirst, National Trust
Knole Park's history has been researched by National Trust. Picture: Melissa Hirst, National Trust

Whilst some of the revelations can be surprising, many historians hope research like this will make people think more closely about the detail of our country's past.

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."

He added: "The National Trust’s ongoing examination of the ways in which their properties are connected to slavery and colonialism is not a witch hunt - it is instead an honest and necessary attempt to bring Britain’s murky past into clearer view, and one that is long overdue."

A spokesperson from the National Trust said: "The legacies of slavery and colonialism are reflected in the nation’s places, buildings and collections, including those looked after by the National Trust, and we are committed to uncovering, exploring and sharing these histories at the places we care for."

Apples in the orchard at Chartwell
Apples in the orchard at Chartwell

Chartwell

Kent's most recognised link to colonialism is Chartwell, near Westerham, the home of Sir Winston Churchill.

The two-time Prime Minister was one of the longest-serving figures in the history of British politics, leading the country through the Second World War.

Prior to becoming PM he was Secretary of States for the Colonies in 1921.

Although he is widely celebrated for his role in the war effort, some historians have commented on the 'controversial and complex' life he led.

Winston Churchill when he was at The Kent County Show held at that time in Mote Park, Maidstone. Picture: Ann Gilbert and Derek Moore
Winston Churchill when he was at The Kent County Show held at that time in Mote Park, Maidstone. Picture: Ann Gilbert and Derek Moore

When India was due to be granted Dominion status through the Government of India Act 1935, Churchill broke with his party leadership to campaign against the bill passing.

He did not support the bill because he feared it meant it would lead to the British Empire losing the country.

India was not granted it's own autonomous status until the Indian Independence Act 1947 was passed.

Churchill is also often criticised for his role in the Bengal famine of 1943, at a time when Britain still possessed India.

The Japanese occupation of Burma resulted in the eastern-Indian region suffering from a horrendous famine where more than three million people are believed to have died.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

According to some historians, Churchill's inaction to supply the country with wheat and asking them to continue to export rice to feed other countries during the war helped fuel the tragedy.

Churchill lived in Chartwell from 1922 until his death in 1965.

Owletts

A country house near Cobham was home to a leading architect of the British Empire, in part responsible for designing the imperial capital of Delhi.

Educated at Tonbridge School, Sir Herbert Baker lived in and died in Owletts, but spent years of his life around the world helping to fashion the buildings used by the British Empire to rule the colonial territories.

Sir Herbert Baker. Picture: Wiki Commons
Sir Herbert Baker. Picture: Wiki Commons

Spending two decades in South Africa, he designed various official government buildings and homes for people including the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, Cecil John Rhodes.

He then moved to India and co-designed many of the most recognisable structures, including the Secretariat Building and Parliament House, both on New Delhi.

Baker received a knighthood, before dying in 1946.

Knole

For six centuries, Knole House and the surrounding 100-acre land, near Sevenoaks, has played an integral part in British history.

The Sackvilles have lived in Knole for hundreds of years
The Sackvilles have lived in Knole for hundreds of years

The National Trust explain that from an old manor house, it was built and extended by the Archbishops of Canterbury after 1456.

It landed in the hands of the Royals in the Tudor era, as Henry VIII used the grounds for hunting - it also became the home of his daughter Mary whist he divorced her mother Catherine of Aragon.

In 1609 the 3rd Earl of Dorset, Richard Sackville, inherited Knole House.

Putting the approximately 400 rooms to use, his household and servants numbered more than a hundred people.

Two of the staff, John Morockoe and Grace Robinson, were either servants or enslaved, being referred to as 'Blackamoors' on a Great Hall seating plan from 1613.

The park is famous for its deer
The park is famous for its deer

From there onwards the Sackville family have a long history of colonialism.

The 4th Earl of Dorset, Edward, became Governor of the Somers Island Company, which controlled the island territory of Bermuda, one of the most valuable exports being the cedar boxes used to transport tobacco.

Years later, in 1839 Mary Sackville, whole inherited Knole, married William Pitt Amherst, who previously served as Governor General of India.

New Romney

Whilst not a specific property, an incredibly wealthy member of Parliament representing a small town close to the coast was deeply involved in the slave trade in the 19th century.

Dawkins-Pennant was MP for New Romney in the 18th century. Picture: Wiki Commons
Dawkins-Pennant was MP for New Romney in the 18th century. Picture: Wiki Commons

During his time as MP for New Romney between 1820 and 1830, George Hay Dawkins-Pennant consistently opposed the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire.

His family owned sugar plantations in Jamaica throughout the 17th century, and had hundreds of enslaved people working for them.

According to the National Trust, in 1835 Dawkins-Pennant received more than £14,000 in compensation for the loss of 764 enslaved people on his family's four Jamaican plantations.

Despite representing New Romney, Dawkins-Pennant spent much of his life at Penrhyn Castle in Bangor, Wales, which is now a National Trust property.

West Farleigh Hall

West Farleigh Hall. Picture: Wiki Commons
West Farleigh Hall. Picture: Wiki Commons

An 18th century country house near Maidstone was purchased in 1774 by William Philip Perrin, a wealthy landowner.

Perrin owned five sugar plantations in Jamaica, with 135 enslaved people working for him.

Scholars have since found business exchanges between Perrin and other people discussing the human cargo being shipped to the West Indies.

Perrin was deeply involved in the slave trade, during a time when the equivalent of millions of pounds were being exchanged to buy and sell slaves across the world.

He died in 1820 and the property, which is not looked after by the National Trust, was sold to a lawyer and baronet by the name of Sir William FitzHerbert, who also owned a number of sugar and coffee plantations in Jamaica and Barbados.

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