Slavery and a Cotswold Landscape

On re-reading The Country and the City by Raymond Williams

It must be thirtyish years since I read this, when my responses were all about William Cobbett, John Clare, enclosure, industrialization, urbanization, the fate of the peasantry and the rise of an urban working class. Any thoughts about the British Empire’s relationship with the landscape went mostly in the direction of war.

I didn’t think so much about slavery then – partly because Raymond Williams talked more about colonial affairs in general, rather than slavery per se. But it was also a zeitgeist thing – slavery and the English/British landscape were in different teaching boxes.

Times have changed and so has my reading of this book.

The page on Alexander Pope and the Epistle to Bathurst is a case in point. Pope was a frequent visitor to the Cirencester estate and took a keen interest in the gardens; his lines to the first Earl of Bathurst recommend, Williams says, a balance ‘between the extreme vices of miserliness and profligacy’ – ‘prudent productive investment, tempered by reasonable charity’.

‘The Sense to value Riches, with the Art
T’enjoy them, and the Virtue to impart,
Not meanly, nor ambitiously pursu’d,
Nor sunk by sloth, nor rais’d by servitude;
To balance Fortune by a just expence,
Join with Oeconomy, Magnificence;
With splendour, charity; with plenty; health;
Oh teach us BATHURST! yet unspoil’d by wealth!’

It’s no surprise that Pope doesn’t mention slavery, and Williams’ emphasis also meant that I didn’t think about it either.

The English Heritage publication Slavery and the British Country House, edited by Madge Dresser and Andrew Hann can put you right, however. Madge Dresser writes that ‘Commercial considerations as well as political ones may have reinforced the tendencies of private proprietors of stately homes to offer the public an even more deracialised version of their past history, when that history is offered at all. Take, for example, a grand country house belonging to the Bathurst family and one associated now more with horses than slavery.’

It’s true that the third Earl (a member of Lord Liverpool’s ‘Repressive Tory’ cabinet) tactically supported abolition by the 1820’s – and that’s what comes up on a Google search for ‘Bathurst and Slavery’. You don’t get a mention of Benjamin Bathurst’s late 17th century Deputy Governorship of the Leeward Islands, nor his Royal African Company’s position and shares. He died in 1704 and the house at Cirencester Park was built ten or so years later ‘for his son, Alan, the first Earl … the grounds designed with the help of Alexander Pope.’

The estate itself, is vast: when you wander through the Arts and Crafts village of Sapperton, or visit Coates, or Pinbury Park, or innocently follow the River Frome or search for the source of the Thames, try to connect this sequestered Cotswold pastoral with the Atlantic ocean and shark-shadowed ships on the Middle Passage to the plantations.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

T. S. Eliot

Saltford Brass Mills: Bath, Bristol and Slavery

Sea Dog Doggerel:
A 21st Century Shadow

And Bristol fashion’:
Thanks to the Saltford Brass Mill,
Brass transported to Bristol and then bound for
Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, Benin, Angola, Gambia.

Seeming innocence
Of brass pots and pans and domesticity:
Transformed by a voyage, exchange and barter,
Into chains, padlocks, handcuffs, slaves and expectant sharks.

The Door
Of No Return:
The Middle Passage,
Nevis, Barbados, Jamaica,
Virginia, Haiti, South Carolina.
Fill the hold with sugar, cotton, tobacco:
And then cast a ship-shape triangular shadow,
But not on the Saltford Brass Mill’s historical show.

No mention of this at all, on the Saltford Brass Mill’s website …


Richard White writes…

Greetings walkers and supporters!

A great little walk on Sunday out to Saltford.

This opens up the next stage of a longer walk or series of walks exploring the legacy of slavery. A walk out and back from Bath works with Saltford marking a good half way..or start/finish for those on the bus or driving. The historians working on the Saltford Brass Mill are clear that the Mills were producing goods for trading in West Africa. Check out this link:

Brassware – Saltford Brass Mill

The demand and destination for such items is evident from the following extract from the journal of Thomas Phillip, a member of the Royal Africa Company in the late …

I am intrigued by a thought that the woollen mills were possibly making cloth for the trade….and slowly a picture is emerging for me of a river flowing to Bristol and onwards carrying the work of the men and women of Wiltshire to be traded for the men and women of West Africa…..

A changing perspective on the legacy of slavery….we are all connected.

I wrote a quick blog entry here:

social media trail here:

I am really grateful for any thoughts or information from you to develop this and as ever please pass it on to anyone who you think may be interested. I hope you will join me on a future walk on foot or online.

The next first Sunday walk out is Sunday April 3, it will be an all day walk with an earlier start. I am planning to walk the entire stretch of the River Avon Navigation to Bristol, to see how this might connect to the Bristol slavery walk. More details to follow.

best wishes


Richard White

mob: 07717012790

tw: @walknowlive