Written by 07:58 World

A Culture War Erupted Over U.K. Stately Homes. Who Won?

A painting in Dyrham House, a grand mansion in southwest England, offers a panoramic view of the port of Bridgetown, Barbados, with sugar plantations dotted along a hillside.

In another room are two carved figures depicting kneeling Black men, holding scallop shells overhead. They are chained at the ankles and neck.

These works belonged to William Blathwayt, who owned Dyrham in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and, as Britain’s auditor general of plantation revenues, oversaw the profits that rolled in from the colonies.

Explaining the history of a place like Dyrham can be contentious, as the National Trust, the nearly 130-year-old charity that manages many of Britain’s prized historic homes, has found out.

After the organization revamped its displays to highlight the links between dozens of its properties and the exploitation and slavery of the colonial era, it drew the wrath of some right-wing columnists and academics, who accused the trust of being “woke,” suggested that it was presenting an “anti-British” view of history, and began a campaign to roll back some of the changes.

The ensuing battle — which has echoes of the heated debate over Confederate monuments in the United States — has played out for three years on social media and in right-wing newspapers in Britain.


Last modified: 3 July 2024