National Trust accused of ‘bias’ over team investigating ties of properties to slave trade

 The National Trust has been accused of bias over the team of academics it hired to investigate the ties of its properties to the slave trade and empire. 

The Colonial Countryside project is looking at 11 country houses managed by the trust and investigating their links to Africa, the Caribbean and India

Nine historians are working with 100 primary school children to study each National Trust property and its connections to slavery. 

The project aims to ‘inspire a new generation of young advocates for talking about colonial history’.

However, the trust is facing accusations of bias over the make-up of its team of historians.   

Corinne Fowler, a historian at the University of Leicester, who wrote the book Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England's Colonial Connections, is the leader of the National Trust academics

Corinne Fowler, a historian at the University of Leicester, who wrote the book Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England's Colonial Connections, is the leader of the National Trust academics

Corinne Fowler, a historian at the University of Leicester, who wrote the book Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connections, is the leader of the National Trust academics

One of the properties being looked at is Buckland Abbey, the Devon home of Sir Francis Drake

One of the properties being looked at is Buckland Abbey, the Devon home of Sir Francis Drake

One of the properties being looked at is Buckland Abbey, the Devon home of Sir Francis Drake

The academics recruited to probe National Trust buildings for links to slavery 

A team of nine academics were recruited by the National Trust to look into 11 locations and their links with the slave trade. 

They are led by Corinne Fowler, a historian at the University of Leicester, who wrote the book Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connections. 

Another member of the team, Katie Donington, researches transatlantic slavery and created a video for the Museum of London Docklands last year highlighting the colonial history of a statue of the slave owner Robert Milligan.

A third member, Marian Gwyn, is a heritage consultant on the team, and specialises on how ‘assets and artefacts are connected to colonial atrocity’, according to her website.  

A fourth previously announced ‘full solidarity’ with Cambridge professor Priyamvada Gopal for her ‘long-standing research in anti-colonial resistance struggles’. 

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The academics are led by Corinne Fowler, a historian at the University of Leicester, who wrote the book Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connections. 

Another member of the team, Katie Donington, researches transatlantic slavery and created a video for the Museum of London Docklands last year highlighting the colonial history of a statue of the slave owner Robert Milligan.

She has also shared articles about the toppling of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

One of the ones she shared said: ‘The statue is symbolic of a history which has entrenched inequality. Dismantling the statue should be a first step in understanding and dismantling structural racism. I don’t think it should be reinstated.’

A third member, Marian Gwyn, is a heritage consultant on the team, and specialises on how ‘assets and artefacts are connected to colonial atrocity’, according to her website.  

A fourth previously announced ‘full solidarity’ with Cambridge professor Priyamvada Gopal for her ‘long-standing research in anti-colonial resistance struggles’. 

One of the properties being looked at is Buckland Abbey, the Devon home of Sir Francis Drake. 

It is listed in the review because the explorer ‘depended on the help of an African circumnavigator named Diego to make successful voyages and take possession of substantial riches’. 

The backgrounds of members of the investigation have led to criticism.

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told the Times: ‘It’s about time that the National Trust got their own great house in order. The vast majority of the public are just losing confidence in their management and direction. 

Katie Donington researches transatlantic slavery and created a video for the Museum of London Docklands last year highlighting the colonial history of a statue of the slave owner Robert Milligan

Katie Donington researches transatlantic slavery and created a video for the Museum of London Docklands last year highlighting the colonial history of a statue of the slave owner Robert Milligan

Marian Gwyn is a heritage consultant on the team, and specialises on how 'assets and artefacts are connected to colonial atrocity', according to her website

Marian Gwyn is a heritage consultant on the team, and specialises on how 'assets and artefacts are connected to colonial atrocity', according to her website

Katie Donington (left) researches transatlantic slavery and created a video for the Museum of London Docklands last year highlighting the colonial history of a statue of the slave owner Robert Milligan. Marian Gwyn (right) is a heritage consultant on the team, and specialises on how ‘assets and artefacts are connected to colonial atrocity’, according to her website

‘This confirms our worst fears that they’ve been overtaken by divisive Black Lives Matter supporters. In what way do they feel that is attractive to the average person who wants to visit a National Trust property?’

Buckland Abbey, the Devon home of Sir Francis Drake, targeted by ‘biased’ academics

Buckland was originally a Cistercian abbey founded in 1278 by Amicia, Countess of Devon and was a daughter house of Quarr Abbey, on the Isle of Wight. 

It remained an abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.

In 1541 Henry sold Buckland to Sir Richard Grenville who, working with his son Roger, began to convert the abbey into a residence.

Roger died in 1545, leaving a son, also named Richard Grenville, who completed the conversion. He eventually sold Buckland to Drake in 1581.

Drake lived in the house for 15 years, as did many of his descendants until 1946, when it was sold to a local landowner, Arthur Rodd, who presented the property to the National Trust in 1948.

The abbey has been open to the public since 1951. It was given to the National Trust in 2010

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A National Trust spokeswoman said it ‘has high standards when it comes to political impartiality among its employees including in their social media output’.

She added: ‘We often work with independent people who bring a range of expertise and their own perspectives. 

‘Colonial Countryside is a creative writing project where children can explore aspects of history and make their own responses. 

‘National Trust staff worked alongside academics, including those from the University of Leicester, to enable them to explore National Trust properties.’

It comes after the trust hired a strategic advisory firm headed by a former-Vote Leave boss in November in a bid to ‘de-woke-ify’ itself.

The trust was accused of ‘woke virtue signalling’ after it published a 115-page report on several of its properties links to colonialism and slavery earlier this year. 

In an apparent bid to save face, the trust hired strategic advisory firm Hanbury Strategy for fee understood to be worth tens of thousands.

The firm’s ‘about us page’ on its website states: ‘The world is changing. We can help you understand it, navigate it, shape it’.

The group’s co-founders are the Vote Leave campaign’s former communications director Paul Stephenson and David Cameron’s director of strategy Ameet Gill.

Its website states it works ‘at the intersection of business and politics’ and reads: ‘Whether you’re an investor who wants to measure political risk, a CEO facing a difficult communications challenge, or a political leader who wants to better understand public opinion, we bring unparalleled experience to your most complex and challenging problems.’

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