English Heritage To Reveal Slavery Links To Historic Houses

By Caroline Lewis | 25 October 2006
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Shows an old poster declaring a meeting about the abolition of slavery.

English Heritage is to research the hidden histories of its properties. © National Maritime Museum, London

Culture Minister David Lammy MP has announced that English Heritage is making a new commitment to researching and flagging up the connections between historic properties in its care and the transatlantic slave trade.

He joined representatives from the heritage organisation on October 25 2006 at Kenwood House in Hampstead to make the announcement. Stately Kenwood was once home to a young woman of dual heritage who was brought up as part of the family of Lord Mansfield. Mansfield, a politician and judge, won significant legal victories for abolitionists in England in the late 18th century.

The project means that formal descriptions of listed buildings will be reviewed to acknowledge historic links to slavery and the abolitionist movement. All English Heritage properties from the relevant era, 1600 to 1840, will be investigated for their links to the slave trade in a research programme that could take almost two years.

“History must be honest and fair,” said Maria Adebowale, English Heritage Commissioner. “The history of slavery needs to be properly recognised for the human misery it caused and the extent to which this appalling trade was used to improve state and individual wealth.”

“The past can be painful but English Heritage is committed to reflecting the rich history of all people in England,” she said. “The definition of heritage has rightly widened over the years but there has never been a better time to look at whose history still needs to be better represented by the heritage sector.”

Shows a photograph of the exterior of Kenwood House, a neo-classic mansion.

Kenwood was remodelled by Robert Adam (1764-1779), who transformed it into a majestic villa for the judge Lord Mansfield. © English Heritage

The new information should reveal the fuller story of England’s history, and provide guidance on sites whose social history is even greater than architectural history. Both this project and several others planned by English Heritage for next year mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 2007.

“I am delighted that English Heritage is showing such commitment to events commemorating the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade,” said David Lammy, who sits on the Government Advisory Group on 2007. “The projects announced today will help explore the narratives behind parts of our built environment that have remained hidden for too long.”

“I am also particularly pleased to be taking part in the Your Place Or Mine conference in Manchester,” he continued, “and am determined that we should use the bicentenary next year to challenge the way we do business and the way that we engage with communities. Not just by opening doors, but welcoming people in and asking them what they want to see and how they want to experience it.”

a photograph of a man wearing spectacles

David Lammy MP. © 24 Hour Museum

English Heritage goes public with its plans in advance of a national debate asking people – in particular minority communities – if they feel that their heritage is represented. The debate will be launched at a conference hosted by English Heritage and the National Trust, entitled Your Place Or Mine? Engaging New Audiences With Heritage on November 2.

The two-day conference at Manchester Town Hall will explore whose story is being told by the heritage sector, challenge traditional ways of presenting heritage and ask whether the definition of heritage could be wider. It will offer hundreds of people from community, cultural and heritage organisations the chance to influence policy, swap ideas on reaching wider audiences and champion the work being done that involves local communities in the historic environment.

“The definition of heritage is beginning to widen and become about ordinary people – the places and buildings that are significant to them and their own past," said Ms Adebowale. "Now heritage has begun to be enriched by ideas like identity and a sense of place.”

“We hope that events like this can help alter the viewpoints from which historic stories are told – so that we can best represent all the strands of this country’s history and heritage. It’s time for people to have their say and tell heritage bodies what’s important to them.”

Shows a sepia photo of African child slaves on board a boat

Slaves on board a ship bound for America. © The Public Records Office

Speakers at the conference will include singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Baroness Lola Young, while the public are invited to register their views on what heritage means to them and how it should be celebrated by leaving a message on the History Matters campaign website, www.historymatters.org.uk.

“The challenge for many in the sector,” said Simon Murray, Director of Operations for the National Trust, “is how to appeal to new audiences, stretch the boundaries of traditional views of heritage and take time to cement these new relationships – though achieving this with limited budgets and busy staff can be tough. But it is worth it, especially if we want heritage organisations to flourish with fresh ideas and new groups of enthusiastic supporters.”

“This conference provides just the opportunity we need to share ideas and look towards a way forward for the sector.”

An exhibition at Kenwood House in May 2007 will reveal the story of Lord Mansfield and his niece, Dido.

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