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Black histories and the National Trust

A white teapot on a stand with other china ware in the background at 575 Wandsworth Road
The parlour covered in hand-carved fretwork by Khadambi Asalache at 575 Wandsworth Road, London | © National Trust Images/Robin Forster

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.

Advertising leaflet for George Saunders for 1968 reading, 'George Saunders, your master craftsman Tailor. alterations and repairs by experts.'
Advertising leaflet for George Saunders from 1968, Birmingham Back to Backs, West Midlands | © National Trust/Claire Reeves

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.

Robert Wynter Blathwayt (1850–1936); Margaret Ermintrude Chandos-Pole-Gell, Mrs Robert Wynter Blathwayt (1854–1927); and his stepmother Mary Sarah Oates, Mrs Wynter Thomas Blathwayt (1834–1925)
Mr and Mrs Robert Wynter Blathwayt and Robert's stepmother Mary Sarah Oates (Mrs Wynter Thomas Blathwayt) | © Wallace Heaton Ltd

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.

Octavia Hill (1838 - 1912) (after John Singer Sargent) by Reginald Grenville Eves, RA (London 1876 ¿ Middleton in Teesdale 1941)

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