Colonial Countryside? Disenchantment?

Disenchantment: The Picturesque Cotswolds and ‘Colonial Countryside’
A Walk in the Park

David Olusoga: ‘Few acts of collective forgetting have been as thorough and as successful as the erasing of slavery from Britain’s “island story”.’

The following descriptions from the internet describe the beauty of Cirencester Park. There is no mention of something else … more of that, later.

Disenchantment: The Picturesque Cotswolds and ‘Colonial Countryside’
A Walk in the Park

David Olusoga: ‘Few acts of collective forgetting have been as thorough and as successful as the erasing of slavery from Britain’s “island story”.’

The following descriptions from the internet describe the beauty of Cirencester Park. There is no mention of something else … more of that, later.

  1. ‘Cirencester Park is a superb example of a forest-style garden, occupying 3,000 acres branching out from Cirencester. The park is privately owned, but it is open to the public free of charge, by kind permission of the owner, Lord Bathurst..’
  2. ‘Cirencester Park and Estate: At the end of Park Street you cannot help but notice a very tall hedge, the tallest yew hedge in the world. This marks the beginning of the precincts of the Bathurst estate, or Cirencester Park … Provided that you are out of the park by 5pm, you can walk through the park from Cirencester to Sapperton, watching the church, in direct line with the avenue, gradually recede into the distance. THE ESTATE: The park is essentially an early 18th century creation, the great era of English landscaping, the result of a collaboration between the 1st Earl Bathurst and the poet and landscaper, Alexander Pope, who was a frequent visitor to Cirencester
  3. “Perfect Cotswold countryside wander.”
  4. ‘Alexander Pope, a fellow Tory and leading figure in London gardening and architectural circles, was a good friend of the 1st Earl and a frequent visitor to Cirencester. Bathurst and Pope became collaborators and together they planned the pinnacle of Bathurst’s life’s work – the creation of a sublime landscaped park … Lord Bathurst was a great believer in seasonal colour, something that is standard in gardening design today, but was rare and expensive to achieve in the 18th century. He spent a great deal of time and trouble choosing the species of trees to be planted and it is thanks to his extraordinary foresight that the park still boasts some of the most stunning vistas in England. Lord Bathurst was an early proponent of the Gothick Revival style …

That Missing Something Else

The church at Sapperton is outwardly modest and yew tree shadowed,
But inside is a huge rococo stone effigy to Sir Robert Atkyns
(Once of this Frome valley parish at Pinbury Park);
His father owned and lived at Sapperton Manor,
‘A very grand building, rather overpowering’,
According to Alan Pilbeam in Gloucestershire 300 Yeas Ago.

A 1712 picture of the house and grounds is engrossing:
It shows umpteen bays, finials, gables, chimneys and trees,
And a vast estate of sylvan straight-line avenues,
Progressively receding into far distant vanishing point.

A bowling green stands in the foreground of this landscaped geometry,
With three diminutive figures triangulated in leisured sport –
Their pose captured forever like a draughtsman’s contract.
And as these figures went about their contracted play,
Sir Robert completed The Ancient and Present State of Glostershire
Before dying of dysentery – his book published posthumously.

The house was demolished some twenty years later,
But you can walk to its ghosts down the track by the side of the church:
‘A grassy mound of rubble below the church marks its former site …
The unusually flat surface beside the mound was the bowling green’ –
We descended to this spot to recreate and limn the bowlers’ triangle,
In a draughtsman’s liminal contact, contracted through time,
Surveyed with scales of justice.

The Sapperton estate was acquired by the Bathursts
(Patrician beneficiaries of the profits of slavery),
Who promptly demolished the grand house
(The Age of Elegance and Reason),
And though Alexander Pope might wander through this valley,
Augustan couplet praise, two a penny,
As surveyors completed their triangulations …

Slaving ship from Bristol,
The Middle Passage to the West Indies,
And a healthy profit back across the Atlantic …

Meant a different triangle …

Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Bathurst

‘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!’

That Missing Something Else

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) 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

‘The stately homes of England
How beautiful they stand
To prove the upper classes
Still have the upper hand’

Grandeur, wealth, stability, beauty, power, art, culture, landscaped gardens,
Arcadia, follies, the classics, aesthetics, elegance, manners, the Grand Tour,
The Augustan Age of Elegance,
The Age of Enlightenment –
This is the overt heritage of the English Stately Home.

But what of the covert heritage of some of these august piles –

Plantations, sugar, tobacco,
The triangular trade,
Slavery compensation,
Colonial office in the West Indies,
A concealed Keynsian multiplier effect,
A hidden Venn diagram link …
Or innocent coincidence on the journey
From the counting house to the country house …

So let us walk together, with our map.
To reflect on the cult of the picturesque …
Alexander Pope,
A triangular cultural trope:


Cult of the Sublime,
The Romantic Imagination,
The fashion for the Gothick,
The Shakespearian trope of this ‘sceptred isle’,
The lyrical self-contained world of the stately home,

Think about Goldney House in Clifton,
Where as Roger H Leech put it, wih M Leone:
“The setting out of these elite falling gardens can be seen as forming part of the process called ‘Georgianisation’, in this instance the ‘ideology of naturalising the hierarchical conditions of social life through landscape architecture’.

And that means we have to leave the insular world of the stately home,
Within this ‘sceptred isle’,
And think about The Tempest,
Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban,
Especially the representation of poor Caliban,

For ‘heritage’, like ‘charity’, does not always begin at home.

Thoughts derived from a reading of
Creating Memorials Building Identities The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic
(Alan Price Liverpool University Press 2012)

Doors of No Return,
Historic, documented, liminal places,
Not gone with the wind, but both visible and invisible,
Spaces and places in the black Atlantic archipelago
With messages and mementoes from the slaving past,
Open doors to the truth –
But we too have landscapes that require re-reading,
Reinterpretations that acknowledge a history
That might be interwoven with the triangular trade,
But whose messages are obscured or buried –
The home of Stroud Scarlet, for example;

So how do we create a counter-narrative?
That is,
“A performative counter-narrative, what we might call a ‘guerrilla memory’”,
Or “Lieux de memoire, sites of history, torn away from the moment of history” (Pierre Nora),
Memorialisation that moves beyond ‘obsessional empiricism’
and ‘the fetishisation of surviving historical documents and sources’,
To a counter-heritage, a counter-memorialisation.
Sea Doggerel
21st Century Shadow

and Bristol fashion’:
Stroud Scarlet and trade expansion,
Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, Benin, Angola, Gambia.

of No Return:
Atlantic Middle Passage,
Nevis, Barbados, Jamaica,
Virginia, Haiti, South Carolina.
Fill the hold with sugar, cotton, tobacco –
Still casting a ship-shape triangular shadow.

The Thames and Severn Canal History and Guide by David Viner

The first Earl Bathurst was an early supporter of the canal idea,
to link the Severn and the Thames,
imagining the union of the two great rivers
on his estate;
Cirencester Park would see a
‘Marriage … which would be the
Admiration of Posterity’,
wrote Alexander Pope.

Bunce Island in Sierra Leone was once an early British slaving headquarters: ‘In exchange for slaves and other valuable commodities the British offered glass beads, bundles of cloth, gunpowder, European metal goods, tobacco pipes, bottles of liquor and European weapons. Until a few years ago the ground was … littered with tiny glass beads and fragments of pottery … Most of these grim souvenirs have been hoovered up by tourists … but many more relics of the trade lie beneath the soil, along with iron nails used to attach shackles and chains to African arms …’ Black and British A Forgotten History – David Olusoga

The Thames and Severn Canal History and Guide by David Viner

‘The prosperity of the Stroud woollen industry between 1690 and 1760’
also stimulated proposals for the canal.
(This also coincided with the Bristol boom-time for slaving profits
– how much of that cloth that was bartered
for slaves in Sierra Leone and beyond
came from Stroudwater,
I wonder.
We are allowed to wonder.)

The placid waters of the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames and Severn Canal; the rustic banks of the Severn, and the meads by the Thames, all deceive the senses. Our senses should be alarmed, like Scrooge with Marley, with apparitions of coats of arms, purses, chains, links, cash boxes, keys, ledgers, deeds and padlocks. And spectral sharks might appear to leap from the bloodied inland waters. Think of that at Bathurst Meadow Lock.

Finally, terra firma and permissive rights of way:

From 1967: Near the Round Tower, Cirencester Park S0 998026
‘A row of deserted cottages stands near the Ewepens, on the ‘Bisley Path’, the former main road from Cirencester to Bisley and Painswick, and Gloucester. At this point the road branched off for Minchinhampton and Coates, through what is now Cirencester Park … ‘this road became the private property of Earl Bathurst’ in 1818.

Property is Theft: a Masque
‘Town and Gown’
In Cirencester;
And in the shire:
‘Smock and Crown’.

Despite the high walls, we are allowed to walk the estate …
(The post-modernist illusion of equality;
Marcuse’s ‘Repressive Tolerance’;
Gramsci’s cultural hegemony;
The ‘we’re all in it together’ illusion.)


David Olusoga: ‘Few acts of collective forgetting have been as thorough and as successful as the erasing of slavery from Britain’s “island story”.’

Thanks to Mark Hewlett for the above photos and below comments.

3 thoughts on “Colonial Countryside? Disenchantment?”

  1. Stuart
    I would just like to say how much I enjoyed the walk yesterday.
    The straight line walk from Ciren to Sapperton and to St Kenelm’s was particularly thought provoking.
    More pics and comments to follow.


  2. The wood carvings in the church are Jacobean and are from the banqueting hall in the old mansion, demolished by the first earl Bathurst in 1730. He donated them to the church.

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