By James Walvin
Last updated 2011-02-17
Harewood House is one of the grandest of English stately homes and appears to be far removed from the world of enslavement. Work began on the house in 1759, and the house was inhabitable by 1771. Landscape gardener Lancelot 'Capability' Brown planned the magnificent gardens, and furniture maker Thomas Chippendale crafted the furniture for the house. It was soon filled with a treasury of paintings. Today it is home to Lord Harewood and his family, whose family name is Lascelles. The Lascelles emerged from minor gentry origins in North Yorkshire in the 17th century, but a century later their investment in sugar and enslaving Africans had made them extremely wealthy.
When the head of the family, Henry Lascelles, died in 1753 he left a fortune, which would be worth £28 million in today's money. The Lascelles had been merchants trading from London and Bristol to Barbados. They were also customs collectors in Barbados and suppliers to the Royal Navy across the Americas. They lent money to the planters, and when the planters could not repay, they took over their plantations and slaves, which had been used as collateral. The Lascelles became major slave owners, mainly in Barbados and Jamaica, but also other Caribbean islands. At emancipation in 1838, the family received £26,000 compensation for the freedom of their 1,277 slaves.
By this time, the Harewoods had entered the upper reaches of British aristocracy. The Lascelles/Harewoods offer a remarkable example of the personal wealth that was acquired with luck and good management through the Atlantic slave trade. They demonstrated their wealth in the form of a grand stately home in England.
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