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.

168 thoughts

      1. Ok, busy in work at the start of a new school year and still a prospect of more lockdowns and pupils having to learn from home 🙂

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      2. Thank you, it’s a little crazy at the moment. I’d say luckily enough I am in an office and not a teacher but the amount of admin at the moment trying to be prepared in case of more home learning seems to be increasing everyday but I suppose I should be grateful I still have a job.

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  1. Not sure I’ve ever been in the house at Stourhead, but I used to like visiting the grounds. Not as many flowers as many gardens, but such a lovely place to wander. Growing up, history lessons always presented us with these larger-than-life heroes and skipped the unsavory bits so we ended up with an entirely unrealistic understanding of how things worked and what people were really like. Hopefully, these days, it’s a little more honest, not that that seems to make much difference to a lot of people. They’d rather be misled. Here’s my first post for this month’s squares: https://grahamsisland.com/2020/10/02/spotted-coral-blenny-2/

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      1. Oh, I wouldn’t doubt it. Boris must be happy to have Trump around. It makes him seem somewhat competent by comparison!

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  2. I rarely visit stately homes other than if they have really nice gardens. I liked Stourhead in retrospect, but at the time I thought it had too few flowers. The National Trust is right to acknowledge properties with links to slavery, but I hope they do it in a meaningful way, and not with something that has little impact. When I last visited Manchester Art Gallery, they had invited a black artist to put colourful images of slaves beside paintings of scenes in wealthy households in one gallery as a way to inject their lives and experience. Her artwork was fresh and vibrant so I find it is her work I remember, not the old classics.

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    1. How interesting. I always think of you as the Gardening Queen but didn’t realise that flowers were so important to you. I find it the varieties of green in a garden that draw my eye – though of course I love the flowers too.

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  3. I love Stourhead, thanks for the reminder, Becky! I’m unlikely to post today as the block editor has descended on me, and I can’t work out how to post a photo

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    1. Go to wpadmin /posts/all posts and instead of clicking new post, go to the drop down button at the top of the screen where you can select classic editor. Or in the block editor you can use the classic block and add photos as usual.

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  4. The grounds are lovely, especially at this time of year I imagine. I tend not to go into the houses unless it’s a first time, the wealthy don’t interest me so much. And I also believe that we can’t change history, but we can learn from it and people should remember it wasn’t only white men involved in slave trade. I’d rather we concentrate on stopping what’s going on now with people trafficking and slave labour around the world.

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