Large country houses in UK built with money looted or fortunes earned in colonial India are the focus of a new report by the National Trust, which owns and manages hundreds of historic houses, forts, castles and sylvan public spaces.
At least 50 such properties in England and Wales are linked to the East India Company, whose employees earned fortunes in India and returned home to build large houses and live in splendour. Such returning wealthy individuals were called ‘nabobs’, who also wielded political power in Westminster in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The trust has identified 93 properties linked to slavery and colonialism during the British Empire. The research is part of historical reviews initiated by several government departments and organisations in the wake of the Black Lives Matter campaign.
The National Trust’s properties are a popular tourist attraction, with tens of thousands of domestic and international visitors flocking its castles, forts, archaeological and industrial monuments and parks, but this is the first time it has acknowledged their links to slavery and colonialism.
Among the India-linked properties are two associated with Robert Clive, the first governor of Bengal presidency: his house in Claremont, Sussex, purchased from wealth he made in India and the Powis Castle in Wales, which has a large collection of Indian items.
Writes Lucy Porten of the National Trust: “At Claremont, purchased with the wealth he (Clive) had made in India, he built a new house, intended to be his main residence and to display the treasures he had amassed. In the early 1770s, Clive had begun acquiring Old Master pictures, which were intended for the Great Room at Claremont”.
“At the time of his death, the house, unfinished and unfurnished, was a repository for his various collections, including that of ‘Indian Curiosities’ (still unpacked at that point). Robert’s son, Edward (1754–1839), would become 1st Earl of Powis, following his marriage to Lady Henrietta Herbert (1758–1830) in 1784, and Governor of Madras in 1798”.
“Their amalgamated collections, containing some 1,000 objects from about 1600 to the 1830s, are now displayed at Powis Castle and include ivories, textiles, statues of Hindu gods, ornamental silver and gold, weapons and ceremonial armour from India and East Asia.”
Other India-linked properties include Lord Curzon’s Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire; former governor of Madras Ronald d’Arcy Fife’s Nunnington Hall in Yorkshire; the home of Francis Syke (one of the ‘nabobs’), Basildon Park, Berkshire; and Rudyard Kipling’s home Bateman’s in east Sussex.
The trust said the research is part of its commitment to ensuring links to colonialism and historic slavery are properly represented, shared and interpreted as part of a broader narrative at relevant places it owns and manages.
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. Colonialism and slavery were central to the national economy from the 17th to the 19th centuries”.
One of the largest landowners in Britain, the National Trust was founded in 1895. It acquired its holdings by various means, including gifts from former owners. Engaged in heritage conservation, its work is underpinned by the National Trust Act of 1907.