CROOME COURT’S stunning gardens and halls attract visitors from across Worcestershire and beyond.

Anyone who has visited will know that it is home to some stunning collections and artefacts, such as a collection of Vincennes, Sevres and Meissen porcelain and examples of George III furniture.

The National Trust property is loaded with history and was once home to a range of notable characters such as the 6th Earl of Coventry, Maria Gunning and Barbara St John.

However, not every aspect of the property’s history is positive and the property is just one of many National Trust sites with links to colonialism and racism.

The National Trust has been very open about its collections and buildings and the involvement they had in racism and colonialism, publishing a full report entitled ‘Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery last September.

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It is estimated that from the late 1600s to the early 1900s, one-sixth of Britain’s country houses were purchased by merchants whose fortunes depended on colonial trade.

The National Trust wrote: “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.

“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 sixteenth century or even earlier.”

While The National Trust acknowledge their buildings’ links to colonialism and slavery, they say this shouldn’t deter people from visiting.

They are actively working to improve diversity in the workplace and doing everything they can to tackle modern slavery, ruling that it has no place in their Trust sites in the modern day.

A National Trust spokesperson said: “As a heritage charity it’s our job to research, interpret and openly share full and up-to-date information about our places.

“The legacies of slavery and colonialism are reflected in the nation’s places, buildings and collections, including those looked after by the National Trust, and we are committed to uncovering, exploring and sharing these histories at the places we care for.

“The report is an overview of current research into these connections which we want to share as part of our commitment to tell inclusive stories that reflect the whole of society.”

Croome Court’s historic link to colonialism and slavery

Croome Court is just one of more than 100 properties including in the report that was built and maintained at least in part with the proceeds of slavery and empire.

According to the National Trust’s research, the slavery and colonialism links are mainly by marriage and family links.

In 1715, the 4th Earl of Coventry, Gilbert Coventry (c.1668–1719),  married Anne Master (1691–1788).

She was the daughter of Sir Streynsham Master (1640–1724)- and this marital link is where the building’s link to colonialism was thought to have started.

For those who don’t know, the East India Company (EIC) led a complex global trading network for over 250 years.

 It was founded to develop trading opportunities in India, South East Asia and China and to compete with Dutch, and later French, East India companies.

Before the company dissolved in 1874, it played a part in illegally exporting opium to China in exchange for Chinese goods and also played a part in the international slave trade.

Sir Streynsham Master had joined the East India Company in 1659 and in 1677 became Governor of Fort St George, Madras.  

In 1836, George William married Harriet Anne Cockerell (1812–42).

Her father, Sir Charles Cockerell, 1st Baronet (1755–1837), was an official of the East India Company and even rose above the ranks to the position of Postmaster General (1784–92).

He co-owned several plantations and aided in the transportation of slaves from India to Mauritius.

In 1821, William Coventry (1797–1877), married Mary Laing (d.1892) in Jamaica.

Mary was the daughter of James Laing ( c.1765–1827), who (together with his partners) owned, or was associated with 48 plantations which relied on slave labour.

The largest plantation was Jamaica’s Goshen Estate in St Ann which held over 450 enslaved people who worked the plantation farm for sugar.

Croome Court’s link to slavery doesn’t end there as Anna Maria Coventry (1766–1837), daughter-in-law of the 6th Earl, also played a part in the slave trade.

 In 1835, she received monetary compensation for six enslaved people on Clifford Cottage Estate, St Ann, Jamaica; she also inherited this Clifford Cottage Estate from her brother.

Charles John Coventry (1867–1929), son of George William, 9th Earl (1838–1930), served in the Matebele War (1893) which pitted the British South Africa Company against the Ndebele (Matabele) Kingdom in Zimbabwe.

Charles also took part in the Jameson Raid into the Transvaal (1896) and the West African Frontier force (1898–9).

National Trust buildings in the West Midlands with links to colonialism and racism

Croome Court isn’t the only National Trust building with links to slavery.

Here are some other buildings in the West Midlands that historians have linked to colonialism and racism in the past:

  • Belton House
  • Berrington Hall
  • Calke Abbey
  • Charlecote Park
  • Coughton Court
  • Croft Castle
  • Croome Court
  • Dudmaston
  • Hardwick Hall
  • Kedleston Hall
  • Lyveden
  • Shugborough
  • Sudbury Hall
  • Tattershall Castle