Wimpole Hall has been named in a report by the National Trust on their list of properties with links to colonialism and slavery.

Royston Crow: The Wimpole Estate. Picture: Phoebe TaplinThe Wimpole Estate. Picture: Phoebe Taplin (Image: Archant)

The document, entitled ‘Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery’, was commissioned by the trust and released this week. It details the links of 93 to colonialism and the slave trade.

The report says: “The National Trust has made a commitment to research, interpret and share the histories of slavery and the legacies of colonialism at the places we care for.

“Those histories are deeply interwoven into the material fabric of the British Isles – a significant number of the collections, houses, gardens and parklands in our care were created or remodelled as expressions of the taste and wealth, as well as power and privilege, that derived from colonial connections and in some cases from the trade in enslaved people.

“We believe that only by honestly and openly acknowledging and sharing those stories can we do justice to the true complexity of past, present and future, and the sometimes-uncomfortable role that Britain, and Britons, have played in global history since the 16th century or even earlier.”

The report gives an overview of the history of Wimpole Hall – which was left to the NT, along with its estate – in 1976.

The report states: “Sir Thomas Chicheley (1614–99) of Wimpole Hall married Sarah Russell (d.1654) in 1635. Sarah was the daughter of Sir William Russell, 1st Baronet of Chippenham (c.1575–1654), a politician and member of the Muscovy Company, director of the East India Company (1615–8) and treasurer of the Virginia Company (1622–3). Henrietta Cavendish Holles (1694–1755) inherited Wimpole in 1711, and in 1713 married Edward Harley (1689–1741), later 2nd Earl of Oxford and Mortimer. Edward’s father was Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer (1661–1724), who, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, established the South Sea Company in 1711 and was connected to plantations in Barbados, Antigua and Surinam.

“Their daughter, Margaret Cavendish Bentinck (1715–85), married William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland (1709–62). William’s father, Henry Bentinck, 1st Duke of Portland (1682–1726), was a trader in South Sea Company stock, a colonial governor and a plantation owner.

“In 1740, Wimpole was purchased by Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke (1690–1764) who served as Attorney General and later Lord Chancellor. During his time as Attorney General, he issued the 1729 ‘Yorke-Talbot Opinion’ with Charles Talbot (1685–1737), Solicitor General.

“They stated that runaway enslaved people coming to Great Britain or Ireland from the West Indies were not free, nor could they become free through baptism. This gave slavers the legal right to enforce their return to the plantations.

“Charles Yorke (1722–70), the 1st Earl’s son, served as an MP and legal counsel for the East India Company during the 1750s and was responsible for the ‘Pratt-Yorke Opinion’, upholding the rights to ownership of land acquired by the East India Company in India.”

The report concludes: “This report is an interim reflection of current research, and we will publish an updated edition of the report in Winter 2020, with updated versions incorporating new research and information following at six-month intervals thereafter.

“As of September 2020, the National Trust is in the process of setting up an independent external advisory group of heritage and academic experts, who will report back on the following: ‘How can the National Trust continue to explore and share the histories of slavery and colonialism in its properties and collections, and engage people in these histories?’ and ‘What are key actions, challenges and opportunities for the National Trust as an organisation in exploring the legacies of colonialism?’

“This expert advice and guidance will shape the future work of the National Trust and ensure that the ways in which we research and communicate the histories and stories we share is fair, relevant, accurate and approached in a sensitive and thoughtful way.”

To view the report in full go to https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/addressing-the-histories-of-slavery-and-colonialism-at-the-national-trust