I’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.
The 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.
Penrhyn 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.