The Longleat Tragedy: A Harsh Reminder of the Slave Trade ‘Some’ Would Rather Forget

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Hey friends!

It’s been a while. I’ve missed this! I promised my loved ones I’d resist the urge to blog until after I’d submitted my dissertation. Fingers crossed I’ll have my masters in the bag by spring 2016. Much has happened since my last post, and while I’d love to spill all, I’ve chosen to speak about what is arguably the most pressing matter. It’s permeated my soul and plagued my mind so ferociously…in the end you’ll understand why.

In August, I went to Longleat Safari Park with a friend (a shared birthday treat). We decided to visit the stately home, where I stumbled across the harrowing statues pictured above. Unlike many other exhibits, they were not accompanied by any information (although it’s not hard to see what they are).

I felt so uncomfortable that I had to leave. I emailed Longleat House and before making assumptions, I asked  if they could clarify what the statues represent and why unlike their other exhibits, they did not have a blurb attached. A month later, there was no response, so I contacted them again and said if they fail to respond, I’ll be taking this story to press. The next day, I received a very long, very detailed text about the art history- the quality of the art, the artist himself…but nothing that would answer my question. So I replied, thanking them for their response, but letting them know it did not resolve matters and that I was (and still am)  concerned.

I mentioned that these statues seemingly mock the trauma slaves had endured. They may not be a reflection of the current owner’s views on slavery (as Longleat’s marketing team attempted to assure me), but they have been displayed proudly at the top of the banisters, and if they are to be exhibited, their history and the connotations attached should be acknowledged.

Subsequently, marketing director Alex Llyod (alex.lloyd@longleat.co.uk) responded to my concerns with the following: As a private historic house, which is open to the public, we seek to tell our story – the story of the House, the family who built it and still live here, the collections they have accrued as well as the history of the park and the wider estate. As such, we don’t intend to move the pieces at the current time. Nor do we intend to actively display information on the broader socio-political history of the guéridons. We are not a museum with a significant collection of pieces which facilitate dedicated interpretation on the history of Britain’s colonial past. Nor are we one of the many English country houses built by owners who made their fortunes through the slave trade and plantation ownership. 

I am sure you are aware that there are museums dedicated to telling the story of Britain’s colonial past and the history of the slave trade or who have dedicated much thought to revealing this aspect of the collection they hold – International Slavery Museum (National Museums Liverpool), Museum of Docklands, Museum of London, British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum. Nearby Bristol museums understandably tell this story – it is the city’s own story. In addition, the story of the more than a hundred  country houses built or improved through income derived from slave ownership or from the slave trade, as revealed by recent research, has been told in an English Heritage publication  Slavery and the British Country House, Madge Dresser and Andrew Hann (eds.), published 31 July 2013.

With regard to the house tour, the new guided tours of the upper floors will be trialled over the next 5 weeks. These tours will not be a lecture from the guide. They will be interactive tours inviting the group to comment on what they are being shown, or indeed, what they’re not being shown.  We will invite them to comment on anything they see, even if the guide isn’t talking about it as a matter of course. We will always aim to answer visitor questions and to refer them to reference materials or alternative information sources such as the book above.

I hope that this goes some way to answering your questions. I have to say that I do find your threatening approach rather difficult to respond to.

I’ve made a point of not editing or paraphrasing Llyod’s message, so that you too can see it for what it is. A condescending, dismissive, highly insulting rant. Child’s play. Provoking. Manipulative. Ignorant. Spiteful. Pitiful. An unfortunate reflection of a suppressive society that tells us we should ‘just forget about it’ even if we still benefit from this multifaceted  holocaust. Consequently, a tragedy.

Longleat House is famously known as one of the first stately homes to open its doors to the public (pilotguides.com). And despite attempts to dismiss my enquiries, an afternoon search led me to Marriage and Violence: The Early Modern Legacy – a book primarily speaking of the arguably systemic flaws in marriage,  but in well researched discourse, Author Frances E. Dolan hints at the ill treatment, particularly of the women house slaves at Longleat. The World They Made Together notes Thomas Grantham’s links to Longleat House. Thomas Grantham is famous for his work in the tobacco trade and his ownership of slaves.

Some articles describe the above literature as sensationalised, arguably conceptual, hearsay or inspired.

However, even if the stately home achieved success through other means, my question has still not been answered. Why are these statues presented so explicitly, so insensitively, but without apology or explanation?  How can the people of Longleat not see the offence or trauma they cause especially when it’s brought to light by a paying customer?

Bad customer service, insensitivity, ignorance, prejudice or a combination of all. One thing is for sure. The denial of such a bleak and violent part of history, should not be brushed off or handled with the ‘Alex Lllyod’ approach.

Much love,
Nadia x

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