About the project

Colonial Countryside is a child-led writing and history project in partnership with Peepal Tree Press and the National Trust. The project assembles authors, historians and primary pupils to explore country houses’ Caribbean and East India Company connections. It commissions, resources and publishes new writing.

100 primary children have visited 11 National Trust houses. With the support of the writer SuAndi, the workshops enabled each child to produce new creative work to present to live, print and digital audiences. Peepal Tree will publish new books, including an illustrated book of commissioned writing and historical commentaries.

The project aims to make country houses’ colonial connections widely known. Colonial Countryside also helps the next generation of archivists, curators, historians and writers to gain expertise in the topic.


How to get involved

Resources for teachers, researchers, parents and pupils


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How is the National Trust connected to empire?

National Trust properties tell many stories about British imperial history. These include slave-ownership, colonial administrators, Caribbean rum, tea and salt, dowries funded by plantations, tiger- hunting, Indian suffragettes, East India Company men, Chinese wallpaper, black servants, African circumnavigators and black Tudors.

National Trust houses tell some unfamiliar colonial stories:

  • Live turtles were shipped from Jamaica to Lord Penrhyn to make turtle soup
  • Lord Curzon of Kedleston Hall said that suffragettes made Englishmen a laughing stock in India.
  • Mahogany, used to make eighteenth-century furniture, was invariably produced by enslaved Africans.
  • William Blathwayt of Dyrham Park was the foremost colonial administrator of his day who regularly accepted expensive gifts in the hope of winning his influence.


Copyright: Ingrid Pollard


Year one (2018): country house visits, writing workshops, publication of leaflets, research by 10 commissioned writers, children’s conference.

Year two (2019): public speaking workshops, Massive Online Open Course for writers and heritage professionals, exhibition preparation in National Trust houses.

Year three (2020): appearances at literature festivals and black history month events by children, historians and writers, launch of project books.

Years four and five (2021-2022): child advisory boards and project historians assist the National Trust with training, research and reinterpretation projects connected to the theme of colonial legacies.

Take a look at what we've been up to so far


Copyright: Ingrid Pollard

Participating country houses

  1. Basildon Park, near Reading
  2. Buckland Abbey, Devonshire
  3. Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
  4. Charlecote Park, Warwickshire
  5. Dyrham Park, near Bristol
  6. Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire
  7. Penrhyn Castle, Gynedd, Wales
  8. Speke Hall, Liverpool
  9. Sudbury Hall, Ashbourne, Derbyshire
  10. Sutton House, East London
  11. Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton


Copyright: Ingrid Pollard

These houses reveal the following historical themes:

  • Exotic fruits grown in orangeries (Attingham Park; Calke Abbey)
  • Imperial domestic interiors (Basildon Park; Osterley Park; Attingham Park; Calke Abbey; Dunham Massey)
  • Artefacts from British colonies, such as slave-produced mahogany and Chinese wallpaper (Attingham Park; Basildon Park; Calke Abbey; Dunham Massey; Osterley Park; Penrhyn Castle)
  • Illegitimate children from the empire (Dunham Massey)
  • Slave-produced sugar wealth (Charlecote Park; Dyrham Park; Speke Hall; Penrhyn Castle)
  • Resident Indian princesses (Wightwick Manor)


  • Black servants and slaves (Charlecote Park; Sudbury Hall)East India Company links (Basildon Park; Osterley Park)
  • Francis Drake’s participation in slave trading and black Tudors (Buckland Abbey)
  • Owners who held colonial office (Dyrham Park)
  • Commemorations of naval victories in the Caribbean (Hanbury Hall; Sudbury Hall)
  • Paintings of black servants (Charlecote Park; Sudbury Hall)
  • Victorian plant hunters (Penrhyn Castle)

Writers- 817 x 300

Ten New Creative Commissions

Peepal Tree has just commissioned 10 authors to write about each participating house. These commissioned writers are being advised by historians who are experts in the field. The participating National Trust properties provide a varied picture of stately homes’ colonial links, telling a range of stories about slave-produced wealth, East India Company connections, colonial administrators, black servants, slave-trading voyages, colonial business interests, Chinese wallpaper, Victorian plant hunters and imperial interior design.

The commissioned work will be published in an illustrated book published by Peepal Tree Press, containing the ten creative commissions accompanied by accessible historical commentaries written by experts in the field. It is also likely to feature in exhibitions in numerous houses throughout the National Trust’s Challenging Histories year in 2022.

These 10 commissions have been designed to stimulate a new wave of writing about this topic. In order to resource this, the Colonial Countryside project is working on creating a writers’ resource website, delivered by the historical team, and a massive online open course (MOOC), co-produced by children and historians.


Commissioned writers and participating houses:

Basildon Park – Jacqueline Crooks

Buckland Abbey – Ayanna Gillian

Calke Abbey – Malachi McIntosh

Charlecote Park – Karen Onojaife

Dyrham Park – Andre Bagoo

Kedleston Hall – Mahsuda Snaith

Penrhyn Castle – Maria C. Thomas

Speke Hall – Peter Kalu

Sudbury Hall – Seni Seneviratne

Sutton House

Wightwick Manor – Hannah Lowe (Hannah will also “float” between houses)


Copyright: Ingrid Pollard

Participating schools:

Colmore Primary (lead school in Bham)

Our Lady Primary (Bangor)

Katesgrove Primary (Reading)

Wheelers Lane Primary (Birmingham)

Cotham Gardens Primary (Bristol)

Curzon Primary (Derby)

St Silas Primary (Liverpool)

Beaumont Lodge Primary (Leicester)

Mount Street Primary (Plymouth)


Writing East Midlands Logo Peepal Tree Logo Renaissance One Logo

Project Partners

The project is based at the University of Leicester's Centre for New Writing. It involves 100 primary pupils, predominantly of African, Caribbean, Chinese and South Asian heritage. Project partners are Colmore Primary (lead school), Peepal Tree Press, Writing East Midlands, Renaissance One and the National Trust, which has over 5 million members.


Credit: Corinne Fowler

Academic and Advisory Team

The Colonial Countryside Academic and Advisory Team is made up of researchers and historians with an interest in colonialism and non-white history. They are:

Dr. Corinne Fowler, project lead, Associate Professor and co-director of the Centre for New Writing at the University of Leicester

Dr. Miranda Kaufmann, Colonial Countryside’s lead historian and author of Black Tudors

Dr. Madge Dresser, deputy project director and co-editor of Slavery and the British Country House

SuAndi OBE, Black Arts Alliance, workshop design and leadership.

Professor Robert Beckford, Professor of Theology and Culture in the African diaspora

Dr. James Dawkins, expert on the Dawkins family in Jamaica and England (1664-1833) and former researcher on Legacies of British Slave-Ownership

Dr. Joanna de Groot, expert on colonialism’s influence on community, class and nation in India, Europe and the Middle East at the University of York

Dr. Katie Donington, former researcher on Legacies of British Slave Ownership now lecturing at London South Bank University

Dr. Marian Gwyn, leading authority on Penrhyn Castle’s Jamaican connections

Elizabeth Grass, Oxford University researcher on country houses’ links to empire

Professor Catherine Hall, Principal Investigator of Legacies of British Slave-Ownership and Emerita Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History at UCL

Dr. Sarah Longair, Senior Lecturer, School of History and Heritage at the University of Lincoln specialising in British colonial history in East Africa and the Indian Ocean World

Dr. Sumita Mukherjee, author of Indian Suffragettes and Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Bristol

Dr. Yuthika Sharma, Lecturer in Indian/South Asian Art History at the University of Edinburgh and associate historian for the East India Company at Home project

Dr. Shawn Sobers, contributor to Slavery and the British Country House and Associate Professor at the University of the West of England, Bristol

Dr. Kristy Warren, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Research in Race and Rights

Professor Roey Sweet, Professor of Urban History at the University of Leicester


Copyright: Ingrid Pollard

How to Get Involved

Teachers: Ask us about Colonial Countryside curriculum materials.
Pupils and parents: Tell a teacher you'd like to be involved. Volunteer for the project.
Historians: Join our team of historians or advise us on any aspect of the project.
Black History organisations: Invite us to speak at one of your events.
Literary Festival organisers: Invite our writers, children and historians to speak
Journalists: cover our project on your show

Find out how you can get involved


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For more information about the project, please contact:

Dr Corinne Fowler

Email: csf11@le.ac.uk

Phone: 07791989672

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Photography: Ingrid Pollard
Web Design: Daniella Briscoe-Peaple

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Contact the Centre

The Centre for New Writing
School of English
University of Leicester
Leicester, LE1 7RH


Dr Corinne Fowler

Deputy Directors:
Dr Harry Whitehead
Mr Nick Everett

Project Manager:
(Colonial Countryside)
Kevin Ncube

Useful Links:
Creative Writing at Leicester