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Colonial connections at Dyrham Park

The east front at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire
The east front at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Dyrham Park has a long history and its connections to the British Empire and colonialism run deep. This can particularly be seen in the activities of three families: the Wynters, the Poveys and the Blathwayts. Together, their stories cover 100 years of imperial ambitions, from the early transatlantic slave trade to the foundations of a colonial empire.

The Wynters: adventurers or pirates?

Two brothers, Sir William and George Wynter bought Dyrham Park in 1571. They made their money as naval commanders, industrialists and adventurers.

They sent ships to trade in western Africa for ivory, rice and grains of paradise in the 1560s. They invested in the voyages of John Hawkins, who is often considered the first English slaver trader. Also, they organised privateering missions to the West Indies, which were led by Sir Francis Drake, the explorer and privateer.

In the eyes of the Spanish, the Wynter brothers, along with Drake and Hawkins, were notorious English pirates.

Following the family business

George Wynter’s son, John Wynter, went on to become vice-Admiral on Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe in 1577. However, he returned home after his ships were pushed back at the Strait of Magellan, in modern-day Chile. After George died in 1581, John inherited Dyrham Park.

Who was Gylman Ivie?

The name Gylman Ivie appeared in the parish records soon after the Wynter brothers bought Dyrham in 1571. The name belonged to a man, described as an African in 1575 records, who was baptised at St Peter’s Church in Dyrham when he was 30.

Records show that he went on to have two children with Anna Spencer of Dyrham: Elizabeth, who was baptised in 1578, and Richard, baptised in 1581.

Gylman Ivie at Dyrham Park

While little is known about Ivie, he shared the surname of a local family, who were sometimes also called Ivye or Ivy. George Wynter’s daughter, also called Elizabeth, married a Ferdinando Ivye, so it’s possible that this 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 someone called Domingo at his London house, while his son Sir Edward Wynter employed Edward Swarthye as his porter at White Cross Manor in Gloucestershire.

Willaim Blathwayt and Thomas Povey

When Dyrham’s sole heir Mary Wynter married William Blathwayt in 1686, she brought a new family’s imperial history to Dyrham. William is also credited for creating the house and garden that stands today.

Blathwayt’s life, and that of his uncle Thomas Povey, are examples of how the British Empire could, for the very few, boost people up the social ladder and gain them impressive riches. Blathwayt, in particular, managed to move from relative social obscurity to the top of Britain’s landed elite.

Blathwayt was born the son of a modest London lawyer in about 1649. When his father died before his first birthday, it was Blathwayt ‘s maternal uncle Thomas Povey who cleared the family debts and raised his nephew.

Introducing Thomas Povey

The son of a Commissioner for the Caribbean Islands, Povey studied to become a lawyer at the historic Gray’s Inn. By the 1640s he was publishing pamphlets speaking out against the English Civil War and eventually became an MP.

Povey became closely associated with the London merchant Martin Noell. Together, they helped equip the ‘Western Design’, which was the expedition that resulted in capturing Jamaica from the Spanish in the 1650s.

Working for Oliver Cromwell

After the English Civil War, Povey and Noell made ‘overtures’ for Oliver Cromwell, defining how the new government should run colonial management.

Povey first proposed a Council of Trade and he went on to become the most active member of a council for America. He continued his commercial interests through adventuring, as he was a member of both the Nova Scotia Company and Royal African Company.

Thomas Povey’s influence on Dyrham

Despite never living at Dyrham, Povey’s influence can be found in the house. He eventually sold his library, paintings collection and some furniture to his nephew Blathwayt to use as Dyrham. This included a pair of stands carved in the shape of enslaved, chained figures.

A view of the furnishings including two stands carved in the shape of enslaved, chained figures and tea table imported from Java inside the Balcony Room at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire
Furniture inside the Balcony Room at Dyrham Park | © National Trust Images / Andreas von Einsiedel

William Blathwayt’s rise

Povey secured his nephew's first official position as clerk at the English embassy in The Hague in 1668. Blathwayt was clearly intelligent and soon advanced through the ranks of government administration.

After The Hague, he entered the Plantations office and was also secretary to the Board of Trade by 1679. Blathwayt’s most significant colonial role came when he was made Auditor-General of Plantations Revenues in 1680 – a role he held until his death in 1717.

Auditor-General of Plantations Revenues

Under this role, Blathwayt was responsible for accounting for all the income due to the crown from royal colonies, such as Virginia, Jamaica and Barbados. While he never crossed the Atlantic, he gained great influence with networks that stretched across global trade routes and distant European settlements.

It’s unknown to what extent Blathwayt personally participated in colonial industries. However, it’s clear that few men were in a better position to benefit from a position at the centre of an imperial network.

Working with kings

Blathwayt didn’t just work with colonial matters. He was a Clerk to the Privy Council and Secretary of State to King William III in the 1690s. He was also an MP twice, once for Newton on the Isle of Wight and once for Bath.

Still not content, he became Secretary at War in 1683. Despite being a role that he purchased, with royal blessing, he put it to good practical use. He marched with James II at the Glorious Revolution and went on to manage an army that spent nearly a decade on campaign in Flanders, in modern-day Belgium.

The completed Old Staircase at Dyrham Park, Bristol and Bath. Following restoration work
The Old Staircase at Dyrham Park | © National Trust Images/David Evans

Renovating Dyrham

William Blathwayt became one of the wealthiest government administrators of the day and, along with his other roles, he enjoyed a substantial income. In fact, he was earning about £4,000 a year (millions of pounds today) in the 1690s. He channelled a lot of his profits into Dyrham.

After his advantageous marriage to Mary Wynter, he set about transforming Dyrham from an outdated Tudor property into a lavish baroque country house, complete with extensive garden and parkland. He employed leading architect, William Talman, and fashionable gardeners George London and Henry Wise.

International influences at Dyrham

Thanks to Blathwayt’s many high-status jobs and connections, he had access to luxurious materials, objects and plants from around the world. The contents of Dyrham reflect this: a tea-table from Java, gilt leather wall panels from Amsterdam and collection of Delftware showing scenes of China.

Specialist timbers, such as deal, cedar and walnut were shipped from North America. Beaver pelts and panther skins also came from North America where Native American trappers could source pelts and live animals, including deer and birds.

The Caribbean provided products of enslaved labour, including sugar, cocoa and tobacco. Carrara marble came from Italy, while deer and horses for Blathwayt’s park and coaches were sourced from Germany.

The Old Staircase

The Old Staircase at Dyrham Park was made from imported Virginian black walnut in the 1690s. Indigenous Americans cultivated walnut trees and its attractive grain was highly prized in Europe.

Meet Mary Sarah Oates

Mary Sarah Oates is another interesting figure in the history of Dyrham Park. Oates was born in Jamaica to an unmarried British plantation manager George Hibbert Oates and, according to his will, a local woman called Margaret Cross, who was recorded as ‘a free woman of colour’.

Records show that George and Margaret had several children together and they were all left money, including funds for their education.

Oates’ life in England

Oates’ father died when she was only about three years old. After this, she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother and aunt in Bath. When her aunt died 30 years later, an executor for her £20,000 estate was Rev Wynter Thomas Blathwayt, who later became Oates’ husband.

The couple married in 1876 and lived in Dyrham rectory before moving into Dyrham Park when Blathwayt inherited the estate. This made Oates the lady of the house. She died in 1925, aged 91, and is buried next to husband in Dyrham’s churchyard, which adjoins the estate.

Mary Sarah Blathwayt (was Oates) top left with family members by Dyrham refectory, South Gloucestershire
Mary Sarah Oates with family members at Dyrham, South Gloucestershire | © National Trust
A group of Delftware urns at Dyrham Park, Bristol and Bath

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Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Dyrham Park on the National Trust Collections website.

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