Teaching idea/enquiry: What links do English country estates and stately homes have with the slave trade? Many country estates and stately homes that were built or extended in the 18th century would have probably been financed, at least in part, by money made from the slave trade. See: The growth of country estates Background Information.
Pupils may be familiar with large estates and houses in their area, but not have considered the sources of their wealth.
Suggested Teacher Led Activities (starter)
Arrange a visit to a stately home.
Ask pupils to spot any of the following:
- furniture or floorboards made out of mahogany or other hardwoods
- people of African origin in paintings
- tea sets, punch bowls and sugar bowls/nippers
- pictures or porcelain with tropical scenes and fruits
- fabrics dyed in rich blues and reds
- typical Georgian architectural styles (such as columns and symmetry – see Georgian Housing)
- Palladian architectural features, especially temples and follies in the grounds
Is there any evidence to link the house or the families to the history of the slave trade?
Do the dates of the house correspond to those of the transatlantic slave trade?
- if a visit is not possible, research properties on the web
- use Sites of Memory as a starting point
- which properties, if any, make their links to the slave trade explicit?
- stretch pupils by asking them to rewrite marketing texts/leaflets for properties pointing out the links to the transatlantic slave trade
- support pupils by directing them to properties with obvious links such as Harewood House or Penrhyn Castle
Suggested Pupil Activities (Main)
Build up a case study with your pupils around The Duke of Montagu (family home Boughton House, Kettering)
John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu 1690-1749:
- He failed to colonise St. Lucia and St. Vincent in the West Indies for George I at a personal cost of £40,000.
- He had little interest in the house at Boughton but was nicknamed 'John the Planter' because of his passion for planting avenues of trees (at one time 70 miles long).
- He helped set up the Foundling Hospital in London for abandoned children.
- He financed the education of two men of African origin in Britain – Ignatius Sancho and Francis Williams. (Sancho became a well known writer, actor and musician and influential abolitionist; Francis Williams, born in Kingston Jamaica, became the first known person of African descent to be educated at Cambridge University).
- Montagu was a practical joker and would invite people to his country estates and squirt water at them in the garden or put itching powder in their beds.
In groups use the evidence from the case study to debate which of the following statements is best supported:
- The Duke of Montagu was a man who supported the slave trade and used money he made to invest in himself and his country estates.
- The Duke of Montagu was a man who cared about others and used his wealth and position for their benefit.
Stretch pupils to create a web page or poster for one house/family with known links to the transatlantic slave trade (either pro- or anti-slavery,see Background Information).
Suggested Discussion (Plenary)
- Ask pupils to take on different points of view: a servant, an enslaved African, a gardener, the owners, a child in the family etc.
- What were the advantages and disadvantages of investing wealth in houses and estates from each point of view?
- What are many of the country estates used for today?
Pupils can find out more about Ignatius Sancho and Francis Williams
All pupils must: appreciate the grandeur and wealth of stately homes; draw broad links to the history of the transatlantic slave trade (and may have the misconception that all money made at that time was a result of the trade).
Most pupils should: learn that some people made great fortunes through the transatlantic slave trade and invested it in country estates and houses; know that imported items (such as mahogany and dyes) were used in the interiors of those houses; appreciate that money and status were sometimes also used to benefit others.
Some pupils could: connect individual family wealth and inheritance with country estates and stately homes; evaluate evidence and look at different interpretations of history from different points of view; find out about Africans who succeeded in Britain.