Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Slavery, Stately Homes and Country Houses in the South-West


‘The stately homes of England
How beautiful they stand
To prove the upper classes
Still have the upper hand’

Forget the satire contained within the lyrics of the song as a whole,
These four lines contain the quintessential cultural messages
About being born to rule,
About hierarchy, aristocracy, blue blood, lineage and ‘Heritage’:
Grandeur, wealth, stability, beauty, power, art, culture, landscaped gardens,
Arcadia, follies, the classics, aesthetics, elegance, manners, the Grand Tour,
The Augustan Age of Elegance,
The Age of Enlightenment -
This is the overt heritage of the English Stately Home.

But what of the covert heritage of some of these august piles –

Plantations, sugar, tobacco, the triangular trade, slaving,
Slavery, slavery compensation, colonial office in the West Indies,
A concealed Keynsian multiplier effect, a hidden Venn diagram link …
Or innocent coincidence on the journey
From the counting house to the country house …

So where might you visit in our area on a radical pilgrimage,
So as to make a walk of studied counter-heritage memorialization,
Deconstruction and re-interpretation -

Here followeth a list taken from Madge Dresser’s chapter,
Slavery and West Country Houses,
From the English Heritage publication Slavery and the British Country House,
This list starts in the north of Gloucestershire and takes an erratic southerly line,
Down through Bristol and into Somerset,
With a post script detour west beyond the Severn and the Bristol Channel:

Wallsworth Hall, Badgeworth Court, Quedgeley House, Barrington Park, Frampton Court, Lypiatt Park, Cirencester Park, Newark Park, Ozleworth Park,
Badminton House, Dodington House, Dyrham Park, Cleeve Hill House,
Oldbury Court, Henbury Great House, Kingsweston House,
Ham Green House, Leigh Court, Wraxall Court, Tyntesfield, Belmont,
Wraxall House, Naish House, Clevedon Court, Charlton House,
Ashton Court, Tracey Park, The Cedars (near Wells),
Hadspen House, King Weston House, Court House, Earnshill, Coker Court,
 and now west over the river,
Lydney Park, Tutshill House (near Chepstow), Piercefield (near Chepstow).

Also think about Brentry House (now called Repton Hall), Bristol,
Reflect on the revered landscape designer, Humphrey Repton,
Reflect on the cult of the picturesque, the cult of the Sublime,
The Romantic Imagination, the fashion for the Gothick,
The Shakespearian trope of this ‘sceptred isle’,
The lyrical self-contained world of the stately home,

Think about Goldney House in Clifton,
Where as Roger H Leech put it, with support from M Leone:
The setting out of these elite falling gardens can be seen as forming part of the process called ‘Georgianisation’, in this instance the ‘ideology of naturalising the hierarchical conditions of social life through landscape architecture’.

And that means we have to leave the insular world of the stately home,
Within this ‘sceptred isle’, and think about The Tempest,
Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban,
Especially the representation of poor Caliban,

For ‘heritage’, like ‘charity’, does not always begin at home.

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