Slavery and colonial links to three Norfolk National Trust halls revealed

Blickling Hall. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Blickling Hall. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The links of three of Norfolk’s most popular stately homes to slavery and colonialism have been unveiled in a new report - but the research also shows the history of Blickling, Felbrigg and Oxburgh halls is far from one-sided.

Oxburgh Hall. Photo: IAN BURT

Oxburgh Hall. Photo: IAN BURT - Credit: Ian Burt

The National Trust has released a report into 93 of its properties, highlighting connections to plantation owners and those who were paid compensation for enslaved people freed through abolition, as well as those who profited from the slave trade.

The survey also documents those National Trust properties belonging to people who were involved in the abolition movement or the fight against colonial oppression.

Dr Tarnya Cooper, the trust’s curatorial and collections director said: “The buildings in the care of the National Trust reflect many different periods and a range of British and global histories - social, industrial, political and cultural.

“A significant number of those in our care have links to the colonisation of different parts of the world, and some to historic slavery.

Felbrigg Hall. Picture: Archant

Felbrigg Hall. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant © 2013

“Colonialism and slavery were central to the national economy from the 17th to the 19th centuries.”

Blickling Hall was inherited by William Schomberg Robert Kerr, 8th Marquess of Lothian (1832–70), whose grandfather, Charles

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Chetwynd-Talbot, was executor and trustee of two Jamaican plantations. He received £4,660 for 543 slaves after slavery was abolished.

Another of Blickling’s former owners, Philip Henry Kerr (1882–1940) was a member of the South African government, and became secretary of the Rhodes Trust in 1925, which was funded by Cecil John Rhodes, an advocate of colonial expansion.

From 1931 to 1932, Kerr was Under-Secretary of State for India, and later hosted Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964), a pro-independence activist and politician, and his daughter, Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi (1917–84), at Blickling.

Both served terms as Prime Minister of India following independence in 1947.

An owner of Felbrigg, William Windham III (1750–1810), was a long-serving MP and contemporary of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce (1759–1833).

Although initially a supporter of abolition, by the time Windham was appointed secretary for war and the colonies in 1806, he believed abolition would result in Britain’s economic ruin. He clashed with Wilberforce during parliamentary debates and was one of only 16 MPs to vote against the Abolition Bill in 1807 (it received 283 votes in favour).

Wilberforce visited Felbrigg in 1822, some 12 years after the death of his adversary, and recalled that while Windham ‘had many of the true characteristics of a hero...he had one great fault as a statesman, he hated the popular side of any question - I had a melancholy proof of it in the instance of the slave trade”.

Felix Bedingfeld (1808–84), son of Sir Richard Bedingfeld, 5th Baronet (1767–1829) of Oxburgh Hall, trained as a barrister and served for much of his career as a British government colonial official in the West Indies.

In 1833, he became legal advisor to Monserrat and oversaw the implementation of the Slavery Abolition Act (1833). Bedingfeld recorded his experiences in a diary, in which he details his dealings with the six plantations on the island.

He purchased the Amershams Estate in 1833 and, three years later, received compensation of £1,024 for the 61 enslaved people who worked there.

Dr Cooper said it was the National Trust’s job - as a heritage charity - to research, interpret and openly share full and up-to-date information about its properties.

She said: “This report is the fullest account to date of the links between places now in the care of the National Trust and colonialism and historic slavery.”

The research has been used to update online information and will be used to help the trust review visitor information and displays at properties.

The report draws on the Trust’s own archives and external evidence such as the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project run by University College London.