Harewood House near Leeds is famed for its Chippendale furniture collection, such as an ormolu-mounted antique mahogany pedestal desk purchased in 1796.
However, the human price of the Harewood collection may have been far higher, as recently released historical records reveal the house is one of many with an intricate connection with the British slave trade.
Slavery was abolished in Great Britain in 1833, following which the Government paid £20m – equivalent to £16.5bn in today’s money – to wealthy slave owners to compensate for their “lost property”. This money was used, in part, to fund more than 100 of Britain’s greatest country estates. However, many 18th century properties were funded from the proceeds of slavery itself. Such is the case with Harewood, whose first owner was Edwin Lascelles, later 1st Earl of Harewood. He was able to build his grand country mansion between 1759 and 1771, after his family made a fortune in the West Indies.
Harewood is still the Lascelles family seat today, although in other cases the link to slavery has been broken. Dodington Park in Gloucestershire was once owned by Sir Christopher Bethell-Codrington, who received almost £30,000 following the loss of his slaves. Today, it is occupied by vacuum cleaner tycoon Sir James Dyson. West Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire, has a similarly inglorious past but is today managed by the National Trust.
There is no need to worry about human rights when buying a Chippendale Revival antique balloon back dining chair or Victorian mahogany pedestal desk from a Lancashire antiques dealer – they were made long after slavery was abolished.
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