Harewood House Slavery Papers To Be Conserved At Borthwick Archives

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 09 November 2007
detail of some decayed paper with handwriting

The Lascelles papers are badly damaged but provide a valuable historical tie to the dark trade in African slaves. Courtesy the University of York

Papers spanning the period 1730-1830 that reveal a family's connection to the Transatlantic Slave Trade have been acquired by the University of York.

The Lascelles were one of the most prominent families of Yorkshire in the 18th and 19th centuries, residing at the grand Harewood House. Their fortune, like many of the country’s gentry, is historically tied to that dark trade across the Atlantic in African slaves.

Parts of this heritage may have been lost forever, had thousands of papers stored in a bureau not been discovered during an inventory of the house. The papers were decomposing in a tin chest next to a coke boiler, and are now in need of serious repair work after being deposited at the University of York Borthwick Archives by Lord Harewood.

Step in conservators at the Borthwick Insitute, who are starting work on the papers thanks to a grant of £44,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Conservator Trevor Cooper and student Catherine Dand will be aiming to carry out remedial work on the 200-year-old documents, badly damaged because of the paper and ink’s high acid content.

18th century poster about The Hon. H. Lascelle and the abolition of the slave trade

This poster attempts to detach the Lascelles' reputation from the slave trade. Courtesy the University of York

“In their present state, nobody can use these papers,” said Chris Webb, Keeper of Archives at the Borthwick. “But once repaired they will be available to everybody – all the documents will be available in the search room at the Borthwick, while a proportion will be put online.”

The papers were shipped over from the West Indies after the slave trade was abolished, and the bulk of them stored at accountancy firm Wilkinson and Gaviler in London. The offices were destroyed during the Blitz, leaving only the papers hidden away at Harewood House to give clues to the Lascelles’ slavery connection.

“I see this as a wonderful opportunity to get some experience towards my qualification as a conservator," added Chris. "What we are trying to do is stop the process of decay. It’s incredibly interesting work.”

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