Slavery and the British Country House

Issue date: 19 November 2009

UWE New Academic Building, London School of Economics
Saturday 21 November 2009

The University of the West of England has teamed up with English Heritage and the National Trust for a one day conference, 'Slavery and the British Country House', will be held at the New Academic Building at the London School of Economics on Saturday 21 November 2009.

UWE's Department of History in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities has helped to fund the conference and organisation has been supported by Madge Dresser, a UWE historian and expert on the History of the Slave Trade.

Madge Dresser said, “This important partnership will give researchers an excellent opportunity to meet and consider outcomes from the issues raised during the bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery two years ago. This is an area of research for which UWE has become renowned and follows on from our involvement in many key events in the city about this subject over recent years.”

During the Bicentenary of the Parliamentary Abolition of the British Transatlantic Slave Trade in 2007, many new research questions were raised about the effect of the British slave trade and the development of Caribbean plantations worked by enslaved Africans on Britain. What impact – if any – did wealth generated from these activities have on British society in general and the ruling elite more specifically? Was there evidence to demonstrate any link between slavery-generated wealth and the development of the arts and culture embodied in the British country house? Were there influences in the design of British houses and estates that link them to Caribbean properties? What evidence is there of the presence of enslaved Africans in British country houses?

A one-day conference – Slavery and the British Country House – seeks to address these questions. In the past, discussion has been frustrated by a lack of access to the evidence, but in recent years many different research projects have investigated the ways in which Britain was affected by the slave trade and the acquisition of Caribbean and American plantation colonies. Some have focussed on an individual country house or estate, others look more broadly at the economic history of the period from the 17th century to the 19th century when the slave trade and plantation wealth were important to the British economy.

The conference aims to present the latest research in this field so that the complex questions surrounding slavery and slave-generated wealth can be addressed more effectively by all those involved in presenting historic houses to the public. For instance, English Heritage will present new research on the significance of links to the slave trade and its abolition at four of the properties in its care: Brodsworth Hall, Bolsover Castle, Marble Hill House and Northington Grange. The resulting conference papers will later be published by English Heritage.

Slavery and the British Country House is a joint venture between English Heritage, The National Trust and the University of the West of England. The partners are grateful to the Economic History Society for additional grant support.

Dr Simon Thurley, CEO, English Heritage, said “English Heritage works to broaden understanding and engagement with the historic environment. We are delighted to be in partnership with colleagues from UWE and NT to promote the better understanding of this important area of research.”


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