Black histories and the National Trust
Many of the places and collections we care for have connections to black histories, shaping both global history and inspiring future generations’ creativity. Find out more about the people behind these connections, including a Birmingham businessman, an African American artist and a Kenyan-born poet, novelist and civil servant.
Khadambi Asalache (1935–2006)
Khadambi Asalache was a poet, novelist, philosopher of mathematics and British civil servant. He was born in Kenya in 1935 and bought 575 Wandsworth Road, London, in 1981. Asalache spent 19 years decorating its interiors with hand-carved fretwork patterns and painted motifs inspired by traditional African houses and Moorish and Ottoman architecture. Today, 575 Wandsworth Road has become a source of inspiration for collaborators and creatives of all ages, forging social connections within its community and beyond.
Richmond Barthé (1901–1989)
The painting Seated Man in a Landscape at Belton House in Lincolnshire has recently been attributed to African American artist Richmond Barthé. Barthé became a critically acclaimed sculptor in New York during the 1930s and 40s. He socialised with artists, writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance, one of the most powerful black cultural movements of the 20th century. Over his career he won high-profile public commissions, prestigious art fellowships and his sculptures were collected by major museums.
George Saunders (1935–2015)
George Saunders moved to the UK from the Caribbean in 1958 as part of the Windrush generation that helped fill the country’s labour shortage after the Second World War. He encountered racism and hostility and despite being fully qualified, he received a hostile welcome and struggled to find work. In 1974, he took over 57 Hurst Street in Birmingham and his business quickly expanded from one unit to three. He made clothes for everyone from local celebrities to Libyan schoolchildren and the Queen’s Guard. After he retired in 2001, he worked with the Trust to preserve his shop along with his equipment.
A Young Coachman (1770–1799)
Unusual for its time, this portrait depicts a black servant – not as an attendant to a named white sitter, but as a subject in his own right. It was added to the collection of Philip Yorke (1743–1804) as part of a group of servant portraits at Erddig in Wrexham in the late 18th century. The text in the top corner, added by Yorke to the painting, details the hardships of a black servant in the Erddig household 70 years earlier and the influence of William Wilberforce for challenging the transatlantic slave trade.
Mary Sarah Oates (1833–1925)
Born in Jamaica when slavery was still legal, Mary Sarah Oates was the daughter of Margaret Cross, a free woman, and George Hibbert Oates, a British plantation manager. Mary was sent to live with her paternal grandmother and aunt in Bath, where she started school in 1840. In 1876, Mary married the executor of her aunt’s estate, Reverend Wynter Thomas Blathwayt. They lived in Dyrham Park from 1899 when he inherited the estate – making Mary the lady of the house.
Mary Prince (1788–1833)
Mary Prince was the first black woman to publish a first-hand account of slavery in the British colonies in 1831 and to present an anti-slavery petition to Parliament in 1828. Her account, The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave, galvanised the abolition movement in Britain. Prince’s name accompanies a portrait of Phyllis Wheatley, the first published African American woman, in Hew Locke’s The Jurors, a permanent artwork of 12 intricately worked bronze at Runnymede.
David Miller Jr (1903–1977)
David Miller Jr is best known for his series of sculpted heads. Miller and his father, David Miller Sr, began their careers by creating curios and carvings to supply the tourist industry in Jamaica. It was from the 1940s that they both began to carve in a more three-dimensional mode and became increasingly recognised for their individual contributions to modern Jamaican art. Walter McGeough Bond – the last owner of The Argory in Northern Ireland – acquired Miller Jr's Head No. 4 in Jamaica and gave it to the National Trust in 1979.
The art and heritage collections we care for rival the world’s greatest museums. Learn more about the collection of paintings, decorative art, costume, books, household and other objects at historic places.
Hear from podcast producer Sean, a black Brit from London, who discovered his love of the great outdoors through working at the National Trust. In this episode, Sean meets with different community groups to understand the importance of nature to their identity and wellbeing.
Read our report on colonialism and historic slavery in the places and collections we care for and discover how we’re changing the way we approach these issues.
We’re working to create a culture that values difference, includes everyone and recognises the strength that comes from diversity. Find out what we're doing to achieve this.