A project to identify the colonial links to National Trust stately homes inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement received £160,000 in taxpayers’ and lottery money.
The project linked almost 100 National Trust properties to British colonialism and the slave trade, including Winston Churchill’s former home Chartwell House, Powis Castle, once owned by Clive of India, and the Bath Assembly Rooms.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has been written to by the Common Sense group of Conservative MPs demanding that he investigates why the grant was given. The funding from the Arts Council also comes under Mr Dowden’s remit.
In the letter, the group claimed the funding of the project – spearheaded by a literature professor from the University of Leicester – demonstrated that ‘powerful left wing interests’ were suppressing ‘conservative cultural initiatives.’
In a statement given to the Daily Express, the National Lottery Heritage Fund explained that the project was first-and-foremost an education programme for young people to explore the colonial history behind the Trust’s houses.
Lottery grant rules specifically prevent it from funding so-called ‘political projects’.
The project linked almost 100 National Trust properties to British colonialism and the slave trade, including Winston Churchill’s former home Chartwell House (pictured)
The National Trust has already been criticised by the group and many of its members for the ‘Colonial Countryside: Reinterpreting English Country Houses’ project that came at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.
The project was largely drawn up by Corinne Fowler, Professor of PostColonial literature at the University of Leicester, who also wrote the book ‘Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connections’.
Speaking in July, National Trust bosses vowed to let visitors know about the ‘uncomfortable’ history of the stately homes following a 10 year study, that found a third of the National Trust’s 300 gardens had slavery links.
But a number of conservative figures have demanded that the National Trust loses access to government funds, and hundreds of people have reportedly cancelled their membership in protest of the project.
In a letter addressed to Mr Dowden, the Common Sense group – made up of more than 60 Conservative MPs and chaired by former children’s minister Sir John Hayes – described the report as ‘ideologically motivated endeavour.’
The project was ‘designed to revalue Britain’s heritage and rewrite our history,’ they said, adding that it had ’caused such offence, and has led to many resignations from the Trust and dismay among volunteers.’
It added that the former owners of the properties ‘who bequeathed them to the Trust, have been smeared by accusations and insults.’
Clive of India’s home Powis Castle (pictured) is a National Trust property. The divisive imperialist is hailed by some for securing 200 years of British rule in India, but his personal enrichment made from plundering the region made him a controversial figure
Pictured: The National Trust-run Bath Assembly Rooms that have also been linked to slavery
The group specifically condemned the project’s use of ‘child advisory boards’ made up of primary school students to ‘reverse mentor’ staff and volunteers, calling the practice ‘particularly unwise and, arguably, unethical too.’
The group claimed ‘powerful left-wing interests have demonstrated ruthless effectiveness in the suppression of even nominally conservative cultural initiatives,’
It also called for an end to public funding of ‘radical projects which disparage our nation and despise the history of its people. It is abhorrent that hard working patriots are funding the enormously damaging, unpatriotic pet-projects of well-heeled academics.’
In response, the National Lottery Heritage Fund acknowledged to the Daily Express that the University of Leicester was awarded the £99,600.
‘This three-year education programme for young people was designed to help them explore country houses’ Caribbean and East India Company connections, from trade in Caribbean rum, tea and salt to slave ownership,’ it said.
Corinne Fowler, a historian at the University of Leicester, who wrote the book Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connections, is the leader of the National Trust academics
Nine historians are working with 100 primary school children to study each National Trust property and its connections to slavery. The project aims to ‘inspire a new generation of young advocates for talking about colonial history’.
However, the trust has also faced accusations of bias over the make-up of its team of historians, with the Common Sense Group also questioning Professor Fowler over the publication of her highly controversial book.
The book contains her ‘own stories and poems written in response to the research she has undertaken and the material objects she has encountered,’ which the University of Leicester has forwarded to the Government in a bid to secure an extra £350,000 worth of funding.
The MPs demanded that this request for funding is denied by the Government.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has been written to by the Common Sense group of Conservative MPs demanding that he investigates why the grant was given for the project
Another member of the team, Katie Donington, researches transatlantic slavery and created a video for the Museum of London Docklands last year highlighting the colonial history of a statue of the slave owner Robert Milligan.
She has also shared articles about the toppling of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.
One of the ones she shared said: ‘The statue is symbolic of a history which has entrenched inequality. Dismantling the statue should be a first step in understanding and dismantling structural racism. I don’t think it should be reinstated.’
A third member, Marian Gwyn, is a heritage consultant on the team, and specialises on how ‘assets and artefacts are connected to colonial atrocity’, according to her website.
A fourth previously announced ‘full solidarity’ with Cambridge professor Priyamvada Gopal for her ‘long-standing research in anti-colonial resistance struggles’.
One of the properties being looked at is Buckland Abbey, the Devon home of Sir Francis Drake.
It is listed in the review because the explorer ‘depended on the help of an African circumnavigator named Diego to make successful voyages and take possession of substantial riches’.
The backgrounds of members of the investigation have led to criticism.
Katie Donington (left) researches transatlantic slavery and created a video for the Museum of London Docklands last year highlighting the colonial history of a statue of the slave owner Robert Milligan. Marian Gwyn (right) is a heritage consultant on the team, and specialises on how ‘assets and artefacts are connected to colonial atrocity’, according to her website
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told the Times: ‘It’s about time that the National Trust got their own great house in order. The vast majority of the public are just losing confidence in their management and direction.
‘This confirms our worst fears that they’ve been overtaken by divisive Black Lives Matter supporters. In what way do they feel that is attractive to the average person who wants to visit a National Trust property?’
A National Trust spokeswoman said it ‘has high standards when it comes to political impartiality among its employees including in their social media output’.
She added: ‘We often work with independent people who bring a range of expertise and their own perspectives.
‘Colonial Countryside is a creative writing project where children can explore aspects of history and make their own responses.
‘National Trust staff worked alongside academics, including those from the University of Leicester, to enable them to explore National Trust properties.’
Some of the National Trust properties being reviewed by ‘biased’ academics, including Buckland Abbey, the Devon home of Sir Francis Drake
One of the properties being looked at is Buckland Abbey, the Devon home of Sir Francis Drake
Buckland was originally a Cistercian abbey founded in 1278 by Amicia, Countess of Devon and was a daughter house of Quarr Abbey, on the Isle of Wight.
It remained an abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.
In 1541 Henry sold Buckland to Sir Richard Grenville who, working with his son Roger, began to convert the abbey into a residence.
Roger died in 1545, leaving a son, also named Richard Grenville, who completed the conversion. He eventually sold Buckland to Drake in 1581.
Drake lived in the house for 15 years, as did many of his descendants until 1946, when it was sold to a local landowner, Arthur Rodd, who presented the property to the National Trust in 1948.
The abbey has been open to the public since 1951. It was given to the National Trust in 2010
William Blaythwayt built this large mansion house for himself at Dyrham Park near Bristol
The mansion was created in the 17th century by William Blathwayt.
William Blathwayt was an English diplomat, public official and Whig politician who sat in the English and British House of Commons between 1685 and 1710.
He established the War Office as a department of the British Government and played an important part in administering the colonies of North America.
Blaythwayt built a large mansion house for himself at Dyrham Park near Bristol, which he decorated with numerous Dutch Old Masters and sumptuous fabrics and furnishings.
His descendants sold a large part of his art collection in 1765, but some have been purchased back or remain at Dyrham Park.
Owned by the Pennant family, the trust claims that Penrhyn is an example of how wealth derived from slavery shaped the built environment of Wales
Built in the early 19th century, its architecture, opulent interiors and fine art collection lean on a long history of sugar and slate fortunes, social unrest and the longest-running industrial dispute in British history, according to the National Trust.
Owned by the Pennant family, the trust claims that Penrhyn is an example of how wealth derived from slavery shaped the built environment of Wales.
A staunch anti-abolitionist, Richard Pennant’s fortune – acquired from sugar plantations in Jamaica that used enslaved labour – funded roads, railways, schools, hotels, workers’ houses, churches and farms in North Wales.
The Penrhyn Slate Quarry and Port Penrhyn, established by the Pennants, dominated the Welsh slate industry for almost 150 years.
Kedleston Hall in Kedleston, Derbyshire is the inherited home of the Curzon family
Kedleston Hall is a ‘temple to the arts’ designed by the architect Robert Adam.
It was commissioned in the 1750s by Nathaniel Curzon whose ancestors had resided at Kedleston since the 12th century.
It was inherited George Nathaniel Curzon, Viceroy of India between 1899 and 1905.
It houses objects he amassed during his travels in South Asia and the Middle East, and in his role imposing British rule in India.
His ‘Eastern Museum’ displays religious, military and domestic objects, arranged from the perspective of the coloniser, along with ceremonial gifts.