Dyrham Park’s colonial connections
At Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire, connections to empire run deep in the activities of three families: the Wynters, the Poveys and the Blathwayts.
Together, they take us through 100 years of British imperial ambitions, from exploration and the start of the transatlantic slave trade, to the foundations of a colonial empire.
The Wynters: adventurers or pirates?
In 1571 brothers Sir William (c.1525–1589) and George Wynter (d.1581) bought Dyrham Park. They were naval commanders, industrialists and adventurers. In the 1560s the Wynters sent their ships to trade in western Africa for ivory, rice and grains of paradise. They also invested in the voyages of John Hawkins – often considered to be the first English slave trader – and they organised privateering missions to the West Indies led by Sir Francis Drake. The Wynter brothers, Drake and Hawkins were all considered by the Spanish to be the most notorious of English pirates.
George’s son, John Wynter (d.1619) was vice-Admiral on Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe in 1577. His ships were pushed back at the Strait of Magellan and he returned home. After the death of his father he inherited Dyrham Park.
Who was Gylman Ivie?
Soon after the Wynters bought Dyrham an intriguing name appears in the parish records. Gylman Ivie – described in records of 1575 as an African – was baptised aged 30. Gylman went on to have two children with Anna Spencer of Dyrham; a daughter Elizabeth was baptised in 1578 and their son Richard in 1581.
We don’t know who Gylman was, but he has the surname of a local family, sometimes spelt Ivye or Ivy. George Wynter’s daughter Elizabeth married a Ferdinando Ivye, so it is possible that marriage brought Gylman to Dyrham, perhaps as a servant. If so, he was not the only black servant employed by the Wynter family. Sir William Wynter employed Domingo at his London house. Sir William’s son, Sir Edward Wynter (1561–1619) employed Edward Swarthye as his porter at White Cross Manor in Gloucestershire.
An advantageous marriage
John Wynter’s great-granddaughter Mary Wynter (1650–1691) became the sole Dyrham heiress. She married William Blathwayt (c.1649–1717) in 1686 and so introduced new individuals to Dyrham’s history of empire.
The life of William Blathwayt offers an example of how imperial ambition could, for the very few, provide riches and advancement on an impressive scale. Colonial administration helped Blathwayt move from relative social obscurity to the top of Britain’s landed elite. The judicious marriage to Mary Wynter and the profits of his career in government afforded his turning an outdated Tudor property into a lavish country house, with extensive gardens and parkland.
Blathwayt, Povey and the family business
William Blathwayt was the son of a modest London lawyer, who died before William’s first birthday. His maternal uncle Thomas Povey (c.1613–c.1705) cleared the family debts and raised his nephew to follow in his own colonial career. Povey, whose father was Commissioner for the Caribee Islands in 1637, studied at Gray’s Inn. By the 1640s he was publishing tracts against the English Civil War and became an MP.
From the 1650s Povey was closely associated with merchant Martin Noell; together they helped equip the ‘Western Design’, the expedition that resulted in the capture of the island of Jamaica from the Spanish. In 1654 he and Noell authored 'Overtures’ for Oliver Cromwell defining how government should conduct colonial management. Povey first proposed a Council of Trade on which he then sat and became the most active member of a council for America. Commercial interests continued through adventuring, such as membership of both the Nova Scotia Company and Royal African Company.
Povey sold his library and paintings collection to Blathwayt for use at Dyrham, alongside items of furniture, including a pair of stands carved in the shape of enslaved, chained figures.
A career administrator
Povey secured William Blathwayt’s first official position in 1668 as a clerk at the English embassy in The Hague. Obviously intelligent and fastidious, William soon advanced through the ranks of government administration in London. After The Hague, he entered the Plantations office in 1675 and by 1679 was secretary to the Board of Trade.
Blathwayt’s most significant colonial role came in 1680 when he was made Surveyor and Auditor-General of Plantations Revenues, a role he held until his death in 1717. His responsibilities were to account for all the income due to the crown from royal colonies, such as Virginia, Jamaica and Barbados, though this evolved over the years. Through this position Blathwayt gained huge insight, knowledge and influence, although he never crossed the Atlantic. Later, in 1696, Blathwayt became a member of the Board of Trade.
Secretary at War and of State
Blathwayt was not just active in colonial matters. As Clerk to the Privy Council from 1678 he was close to successive monarchs, and twice an MP, for Newton on the Isle of Wight (1685–87) and then the city of Bath (1693–1710). Most impactful was his time spent as Secretary at War, a role he purchased with royal blessing in 1683 and which perhaps proved far more active than anticipated.
Blathwayt marched in 1688 with James II at the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and after a short interlude was reappointed by William III. The role took on greater urgency as Blathwayt oversaw the management of a remodelled army that spent nearly a decade on campaign in Flanders – a war requiring the foundation of the Bank of England to finance.
While abroad with the king in the 1690s, Blathwayt took on yet another role as acting Secretary of State, while continuing his colonial duties and remotely directing the construction of Dyrham Park.
Blathwayt’s official income from these many positions was substantial, peaking in the 1690s at around £4000 a year (millions today), but it is evident from his extensive archive that there were additional perks and privileges with these roles. Blathwayt clearly made the most of the advantages his official positions could provide.
Favours, contacts and investments
William Blathwayt’s colonial and military offices brought many opportunities for procuring for Dyrham desirable materials, objects and plants from around the world. Specialist timbers, such as deal, cedar and walnut were shipped from North American settlements.
Native American trappers could source live animals, including deer and birds, and provide beaver pelts and panther skins. From the Caribbean came the products of enslaved labour: sugar, cacao, tobacco and more. European contacts procured Carrara marble in Italy, and deer and horses from Germany for his park and for his coaches.
Colonial officials working abroad helped Blathwayt enhance ‘the beauty of your paradise at Dirham’. One such was Blathwayt’s deputy Auditor Edward Randolph, who searched for plants to delight his employer, reporting on anything that might ‘grow in your parke’.
It is unknown to what extent Blathwayt personally participated in colonial industries. He was offered investment opportunities, including beaver trading and silver mines, but did not seem to accept. What is clear is that few men were in a better position than Blathwayt to benefit from a position at the centre of an imperial network. He became one of the wealthiest government administrators of the day, and this found expression in Dyrham Park.
Mary’s story; from the West Indies to the West Country
Another intriguing figure to emerge from the history of Dyrham Park is Mary Sarah Oates (1833-1925). Mary was born in Jamaica to unmarried British plantation manager George Hibbert Oates (1791-1837) and, according to George’s will, local woman Margaret Cross, ‘a free woman of Colour’. Records show together they had several children and all were left money, including funds for their education.
Mary’s father died when she was only three or four and she was sent to Bath to live with her paternal grandmother and aunt, starting school in 1840. When her aunt died in 1870, an executor for her £20,000 estate was Rev Wynter Thomas Blathwayt (1825-1909), Mary’s future husband.
The couple married in 1876 and lived in Dyrham rectory and then Dyrham Park from 1899 when he inherited the estate meaning Mary was the lady of the house. Mary died in 1925 aged 91 and is buried next to her husband in Dyrham’s churchyard which adjoins the Dyrham Park estate.
An exhibition called 'Colonial Dyrham' was recently held in the main house exploring the these themes.
It looked at global connections, showcased some contemporary responses to these histories, through words, music, images and poetry, and created space for visitors to share their reflections.
It ran for a year from late 2020 and came as part of a National Trust partnership project with the University of Leicester called ‘Colonial Countryside’ which helped participants learn about the colonial connections of properties such as Dyrham Park.
Video poem ‘Litany for Two Boys at Dyrham Park’, written by Trinidadian poet Andre Bagoo in response to the stands of two enslaved figures in Dyrham's collection, was showcased and poems by Bristol schoolchildren who visited as part of the project were also on display.
Links to Jamaica were explored and there was space for visitors to reflect on history. Music created by enslaved Africans in Jamaica in the 1680s was played, recreated by the Musical Passage project. There was space for responses from partners and visitors.
The exhibiton was funded by the Colonial Countryside project through the University of Leicester supported by the Arts Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Reniassance One, Writing East Midlands and Peepal Tree Press.