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24 September 2014

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You are in: Leeds > abolition > Slavery and Harewood House

Harewood House

Harewood House

Slavery and Harewood House

Simon Smith explains the history behind the construction of the spectacular Harewood House near Leeds.

Harewood House was built for Barbadian-born landowner, Edwin Lascelles (1713-95), to designs by architects John Carr and Robert Adam.

At the time of its construction (1759-71), Edwin owned neither slaves nor plantations. The wealth underpinning the Palladian splendour, however, derived from an immense West India fortune created by his father, Henry Lascelles (1690-1753), whose net-assets at death probably totaled £408,784 (approximately £52 million in today’s prices). Henry’s slave ownership was limited to one plantation (Guinea estate, Barbados, sold off in 1758), although he did participate in the slave trade, setting up a syndicate  investing £41,200 (equivalent to about £4.5 million) in slaving between 1736 and 1744.

Yet in the case of the Lascelles, it was wealth that brought about an involvement in slavery, rather than slavery generating wealth. Henry earned his fortune primarily through unscrupulous exploitation of his positions as Barbadian customs collector (1715-33) and government-appointed contractor to supply troops stationed in the Caribbean with provisions during the Wars of Jenkins' Ear (1739-42) and Austrian Succession (1742-8). He also used his skills as a merchant to establish a London commission house, importing sugar for sale to the city’s refiners. Profits from these activities were invested in English land, London securities, and loans to West India planters.

Henry divided his fortune in such a way as to leave son Daniel Lascelles (1714-84) as head of his business interests. Edwin, in contrast, was groomed to play the role of aspiring aristocrat. A Cambridge University education was followed by a Grand Tour of Europe. After earning an honourable discharge for his role in the defeat of the Jacobites (1745), Edwin entered parliament as MP for Scarborough and by 1748 was installed as Lord of the Manor of Harewood. 

Dynastic accident

Had it not been for dynastic accident, the future Earls of Harewood would most likely have severed their connections with slavery completely. But Daniel Lascelles died (heirless) in 1784, followed by youngest brother Henry (1716-86). 

Furthermore, as a result of financial problems aggravated by the War of the American Revolution (1776-83), Edwin suddenly acquired an immense portfolio of West Indian property as planters began defaulting on loans and surrendering plantations to their creditors. In just 14 years, between 1773 and 1787, more than 27,000 acres and  2,947 slaves were acquired, worth £293,000 (about £28.3 million).

This total included 22 working plantations on the islands of Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, and Tobago. Ties to the West Indies were strengthened still further following Edwin’s own death (again childless). The estate was inherited by another Barbadian-born family member, Edward Lascelles (1740-1820), 1st Earl Harewood.

After 1788, the owners of Harewood steadily reduced their interests in the Caribbean. By the time of Emancipation (1833), however, the Lascelles still owned six estates in Barbados and Jamaica, consisting of 3,264 acres and 1,277 slaves. Under the terms of the Parliamentary scheme to compensate planters for freed slaves, the 2nd Earl of Harewood received £23,309 in 1835-6 (approximately £1.9 million).

The Lascelles ranked among the top one percent of aristocratic slave-owning families of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Such was their overall wealth, however, that in 1800 slave plantations accounted for just 25 to 30 percent of investments and only between 21 and 36 percent of income.

Nevertheless, the 2nd Earl still lobbied strongly for the continuation of slavery, rallying a meeting held in 1832 with the cry that: ‘I, among others, am a sufferer; but I am not a sufferer equal to those who may have nothing but their West India property to depend upon. (Hear, hear)’ 


Very few records survive documenting material conditions endured by enslaved persons living on the Lascelles’ estates. Life expectancy at birth between 1817 and 1832 is estimated to have been no greater than 25 years (and probably only between 20 and 22 years).  Ninety percent of boys and girls surviving high infant and child mortality rates were working in field gangs by the age of 10; 60 percent by age seven. 

These figures are similar to other sugar estates in Barbados and Jamaica, but still represent a terrible waste of human life. Opportunities for overt resistance were limited in the Caribbean, particularly on the small island of Barbados, but slaves on Mount and Thicket estates participated in the uprising known as ‘Bussa’s Revolt’ in 1816.  Running away was also employed as an act of protest, along with other forms of disobedience. 

There is no direct evidence for the presence of black household servants at Harewood House. The records of the London commission house of Lascelles and Maxwell do, however, refer to a small number of domestic slaves accompanying planters on visits to England.  It is possible that further research may identify similar examples in the Lascelles’ own Yorkshire or London households.

S.D. Smith
University of York

(Note: Simon's article is provided in a private capacity. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the University of York.)

Comments on the article:

Angela Harewood:

I too am a Harewood born in Trinidad to Barbardian ancestors and am also researching my family tree. I have always believed that there was a historic connection to the Lascelles/Harewood dynasty. I have been told that their is a current inheritance/compensation claim pending and would like very much to link with this movement.


I am researching the Bickerdike family who lived at Harewood circa 1750. One of the grandsons went on to be a partner in a cotton mill in Lancaster. His son became a Captain at Liverpool, and his son went to Brazil to make steel. This sounds as if it all could be connected to the Slave trade!!


When I look at the grandeur of this house, I can feel the whip of the slave-drivers across the sunburnt backs of my people and can hear their cries echo from thence and beyond. The writer of this article is trying to justify the continued existence of this house by distancing it as far away as possible directly from slavery - and this is a respected academic? Lord help us all!


I am a descendant of Edward Lascelles 1st earl of Harewood who had  a son (Edward Francis LASCELLES-LLOYD born 1761) with Catherine Mary LLOYD of COEDMORE whom he married locally prior to going back to England to marry Anne CHALONER. My ancestor is though the eldest son of Edward Lascelles .... I am just wondering why it is not my uncle, Bob Lascelles- eldest son of the eldests sons - who is earl of Harewood :-)

Dan O'Brien:

It's the  proceeds of crime. These are shocking crimes... should all be confiscated and redistributed to black family descendants. At last the English are facing the truth of their past.

Mr X:

I am a Harewood living in Leeds, my uncle is Rev Canon Ivan Harewood who was at the centre of said interviews. In 1995 I started to research our family tree, spending weeks upon weeks in the Barbados archives. I traced back as far as 1799, where I saw the marriage certificate of my great-great-grandparents. My grandfather was born in 1863 on the Belle plantation (owned by the Lascelles family) His mother was a slave on the said estate. When I tried to find her husband, my great-grandfather, there were no details in any of the records for him. Now knowing the skin complexion of my grandfather, is it possible that his father could of been a white man from the Lascelles/Harewood estate? In all the questions that have been put to the present occupier of Harewood house, no one has put THE question to them, do they believe in their heart of hearts that their blood does not flow through our veins? Have they got black blood relatives living but a stone's throw away?

Alan Jackson:

Prior to the Abolition of Slavery Act 1833 the Earl of Harewood, on hearing of the atrocities inflicted on slaves by plantation owners, spoke earnestly to The Rev William Knibb in the House of Lords about the conditions on his estates in Jamaica.  William was able to assure him that his manager was a moral man. 
(Source Pp175-6 Memoir of William Knibb by John Howard Hinton (Houlston & Stoneman 1847)

Whereas William Wilberforce is known as a lead figure in the abolition of the slave trade on British ships, few now are aware of the great part played by William Knibb in the abolition of slavery itself throughout the British Empire fron Kettering, Northants, his missionary work in Jamaica, evidence before the Houses of Parliament and extensive travels throughout the UK, marked him out. It was during his cogent evidence to a Committee of the House of Lords that the meeting with the Earl of Harewood took place.

William Knibb's granddaughter Mary ('Minnie') Knibb Milbourne can be found on the 1881 Census in Leeds and in the same year married John Wrigley Willans, then Editor of The Leeds Mercury (a local newspaper).

Victor Shaw:

We know and feel the pain of our ancestors because we live the cause and effects every day.

Simon Smith replies:

Reply to Mr X: Do you know the name of your grandfather's mother? A search of a database of enslaved persons may turn up some information that could be of interest.

Reply to Alan Jackson: the attorneys in charge of the Harewood plantations on Jamaica were Lewis Cuthbert & Alexander MacLeod (1790s), Francis Graeme (c.1799-1817) and George William Hamilton (c.1817-). Perhaps William Knibb was referring to one of these individuals!?

General comment: The contribution made by the 18th Century Lascelles to the growth of the slave trade was indirect but nevertheless substantial. By guaranteeing the payment of slaves sold on credit by slave traders to West Indian planters, a major debt problem was overcome. Financial innovations, pioneered by London merchants such as Henry Lascelles (1690-1753), permitted the transatlantic slave trade to expand to new levels.

Peter Wood:

 Harewood house and its 3,000 acres should be sold and the money should be given to the poor of the world.

Juliette Gordon:

My maiden name is Harewood and I was born in Barbados. My Great-grandmother was also a Harewood, originally from St. Phillip and later moved to St. Michael.  I'm trying to find some of my roots as well.

Cynthia Harewood:

My name is also Harewood. My father was born in Cuba but his parents in Barbados. I have since lost both my parents but I really would like to research my family tree. My email address is if anyone is able to help.

Abigail Harewood:

I am also a Harewood who is searching for their family roots. My father was born in Barbados but I know little about his family.

Lillian Harewood:

Juliette, my great grandfather was a Harewood who  moved from St. Phillip to St Michael (St Barnabas)...I now live in the US but most of my family is still in Barbados. I would LOVE to be able to trace my roots beyond my grandparents....

Paul Szucs:

Though I don't agree with slavery, most of these islands would not of been brought into civilisation. So why should these great British houses be sold and the money shared to poor third world countries? Britain gives enough and continues to do so.

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last updated: 23/06/2008 at 13:06
created: 22/02/2007

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