It is day two of October Squares, and also Black History Month. So I thought I’d take you for a walk in the grounds of Stourhead in Wiltshire. It is rather marvellous, and at this time of year a family favourite for walks. The estate and current house was created by Henry Hoare I, of Hoare Bank. He was known as ‘Good Henry’ of the Hoare family, and it was he that named the estate Stourhead in the 18th century. The garden, house and estate remained in the care of the Hoare family until 1947, at which point it passed into the hands of the National Trust.
Some of you are probably wondering, and the answer is yes! Stourhead is one of the 93 National Trust properties that has connections to slavery and colonialism.
The Hoare Bank, which Henry Hoare I led, invested in the South Sea Company, a public-private partnership that had the monopoly on supplying slaves to islands in the ‘South Seas’ and ‘South America’. In just 64 voyages the South Sea Company transported 34,000 enslaved African people to the Spanish colonies. ‘Good Henry’ was clearly not as good as his descendants would like us to think, although he was good at finance. Most investors in the Company lost their money during the infamous South Sea Bubble in 1720, however the Hoare family and their bank made their money during this crisis as they bought stock in the company when the price was low, and sold when the price rose. So not the kindest family or business.
Knowing the story doesn’t put me off visiting Stourhead, it has simply added to my understanding of the history and legacies of our country houses. I want to know the full story, not just the bits that look good in costume dramas. For far too many years we have allowed our history and interpretation of country houses to be limited or even worse ‘airbrushed’. Consequently the servants tales, the history of black presence in the UK, and the sources of the wealth have been ignored. Finally though these tangible legacies of British colonisation are being properly researched, and our shared stories are being told from multiple perspectives. It can only be a positive step forward, and one we should all take kindly to.