A Mock Castle Built on the Backs of Slaves and Welsh Quarrymen

Penryhn CastleI’ve been away this week helping the National Trust out with some of their management issues at Penrhyn Castle in North Wales.  My first impression of this place, because of its incredibly grand appearance on a truly large scale, was that this mock castle must have been built either by somebody with a great sense of humour, or someone with a whopping ego.  I’m reliably informed it was the latter.

Penryhn Castle 1The castle is another reminder of the ubiquity of Britain’s links with slavery.  It belonged to the Pennant family, famous for their slate quarries in North Wales, but whose major fortunes came from the exploitation of the slave trade in the Caribbean in the 17th century.

The family acquired plantations in Jamaica and held high office on that island, before a new generation returned to Britain and started trading from Liverpool.  With the money the family made from these varied slavery-based enterprises, the Pennants acquired substantial holdings in Wales and also developed slate quarries.

Penryhn Castle 2Penrhyn Castle was developed on the site of an ancient property, but it is a 19th-century version of a Norman castle.  Alongside Harewood House, it provides an example of the levels of material wealth that was accumulated by those engaged in the slave trade, which was then invested into British property and land.

The family apparently were not liked by the indigenous Welsh population.  Apparently they didn’t treat the quarry workers at all well.

These days the castle is owned and managed by the National Trust, and the gardens are lovely.

Rhody pathIt was a real pleasure to have a look round and to help out with management issues.

Walled gardenThe castle itself was closed on the day I was there, but the rather lovely railway museum was open, so I had a little wander around some beautiful machines from yesteryear…..

Fire engineI’ll be visiting many more interesting castles and mansions as part of this particular job, so I’ll keep you posted….


11 thoughts on “A Mock Castle Built on the Backs of Slaves and Welsh Quarrymen”

  1. Great photos Mike, of what looks like a very interesting place. As you say, lots of our wonderful architecture from the sat was funded by rather dubious means….not sure it’s very different nowadays. The very wealthy are usually making their money at the expense of someone less well off.
    In Scotland there was lots of wealth accumulated from the opium trade through Hong Kong!

      1. I guess, but they are very good at dressing it up as doing well by working hard!
        Will look forward to seeing more posts of the places your new job will take you 🙂

  2. What beautiful gardens. If a place has lived long enough ,or is old enough, it is inevitable that it will contain sad stories as well as good ones. Looking forward to seeing more of your visits.

  3. Such an interesting post. I never realized that these castles were built on slave labour.
    I look forward to seeing more posts on these fascinating buildings.

    1. I don’t know if other places were built on slavery, but I guess most castles and grand houses were built at the expense of other, usually poor, people. They’re very nice places now though 🙂 Thanks for commenting Colline

  4. It’s quite sobering to realize that the vast, vast majority of our architectural and other artistic treasures was paid for in the blood and sweat of ordinary folk, and made for the pleasure of the autocrats. It’s nice we get to enjoy them now, a payback of sorts.

    1. Yes I wasn’t sure how to feel about the place which is so tranquil and pretty now and yet was built out of untold misery for others hundreds of years ago. At least, as you say, it is being put to good use now – everyone I observed during the day seemed to be having a lovely time 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting Mikels

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