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Engaging with Harewood’s troubled past

In the 18th century, Edwin Lascelles used profits from the Transatlantic trade in enslaved people and its associated industries to build Harewood House. Today, Harewood House Trust, the educational charity that runs Harewood House, Gardens and Grounds for the public benefit, strives to acknowledge with this abhorrent history and its ongoing impact on our local communities and around the world. 

Monday 24 April 2023: Harewood House Trust has made this statement in response to the announcement of the Heirs of Slavery group, which includes David Lascelles, the Earl of Harewood, and other people whose ancestors profited from transatlantic slavery.

Below are just some of the projects we have hosted or commissioned that engage with Harewood’s history and celebrate the work of Black artists and creatives.

To mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 2007, at Harewood there were exhibitions by artists including Sonia Boyce and Sokari Douglas Camp and performances by Gospel Choirs in Harewood Church and on the Terrace. Geraldine Connor’s Carnival Messiah was performed in a big top near Harewood House, inspired by the music of Handel’s Messiah, performed Caribbean Carnival style with a community chorus and featuring Carnival performers from Britain and Trinidad.

A talk was given by American educator and historian Lonnie Bunch (now Director of the Smithsonian Institute).

We held exhibitions by sculptor Thomas J Price and Antiguan painter and visionary Frank Walter, and worked with poet Rommi Smith and musician Elaine Mitchener.

Copies of the Lascelles West Indian Papers have been given to the University of the West Indies and the Barbados Museum.

Harewood collaborated with the Leeds-based Diasporian Stories Research Group to bring to life the story of Harewood’s first Black member of staff in the exhibition Bertie Robinson: The Footman from St Vincent.

Another Leeds-based organisation, Heritage Corner, devised sell-out Black History Walks around Harewood House and Grounds. A Storm at Harewood used the tale of Leeds based Victorian-era circus impresario Pablo Fanque (a man of colour) as the starting point to tell the stories of Black people in Yorkshire since Roman times.

Harewood’s Second Craft Biennial, Radical Acts, included two works by Mac Collins. His Thaneray chair invited visitors to sit and consider what Harewood House represents, and how history informs contemporary British society. Open Code was commissioned by Harewood, and celebrated the game of dominoes in Jamaican culture, installing a Black narrative in a historically inaccessible place. Harewood continues to work with Mac Collins to create a Place of Remembrance in the gardens, a quiet space to reflect on the often painful history that Harewood shares with the descendants of the enslaved men and women who worked on the Lascelles family’s Caribbean plantations.

The 2022 Christmas exhibition Long Live the Christmas Tree! brought together 11 artists to reimagine the traditional Christmas pine and spruce. Renowned Carnival costume designer Hughbon Condor created One Love, which combined festive traditions from many cultures into a tree-like costume. Photographer and film-maker Ashley Karrell was inspired by pagan traditions to create Tales of the Winter Solstice, filmed on the Harewood estate.

In February 2023, Faces of Britain (in collaboration with Intelligence Squared) was a panel discussion event about the power that portraiture can have in representing Britain’s complex history.

On now, Reframing Reynolds showcases portraits of the Lascelles family by the celebrated 18th century painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds. As well as examining his artistic techniques, the exhibition highlights Reynolds’ role in enhancing the social status of the Lascelles family, whose wealth had been raised from the Transatlantic trade in enslaved people; and ‘de-frames’ the portrait of Edwin Lascelles to question the centuries-old narrative of power and influence.


Ongoing projects include:

Open History – a programme of exhibitions and events that seeks to engage Harewood’s visitors with the House’s history and open up conversations that promote understanding and justice.

Missing Portraits – this series seeks to “retro-fit” Harewood’s collection of 18th and 19th century portraits by commissioning new portraits of men and women of colour with a connection to Harewood, which will become part of the permanent collection. The first is of Arthur France, a senior figure in Leeds’ Caribbean community and founder of Leeds Carnival, which went on display with a contextualising exhibition in September 2022. The second, opening in 2023, will be of the actor and mental health activist David Harewood. Both portraits are by Leeds-based photographer and film-maker Ashley Karrell.

The Craft Spotlight series provides a platform for emerging makers of diverse ethnicity, particularly in view of the significant under-representation of diverse heritage among makers in the craft sector. It began in 2021 with an exhibition by glass and mixed-media artist Chris Day, who brought previous works into dialogue with new pieces inspired directly by Harewood. 2023 will see a display by London-based Enam Gbewonyo, who works across textile, performance and video to explore her Ghanaian ancestry, identity, womanhood and the healing potential of craft.

Harewood is pleased to have been granted funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a new Digital Masterplan, a central part of which will be working with Leeds’ Caribbean community to improve engagement with them via digital media.

Harewood House Trust will continue to be open about Harewood’s history; to make Harewood a welcoming, inclusive place for all; and to raise awareness of the local, national and global movements that seek restorative justice for enslaved people and their descendants.

If you have any queries about Harewood’s programme, please contact beth.d@harewood.org.