Gateway Gardens Trust

Bettina Harden

The Gateway Gardens Trust has a lateral approach to commemorating the abolition of slave trading  to engage everyone’s imagination.  The starting point  is in historic gardens, looking at everyday vegetables and fruits from the Americas like beans, tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkins.  If explorers brought these plants back to Europe, what had they taken back?   Answer: sugar cane cuttings that thrived in the West Indies climate.  The history of food links sugar and slavery and how the face of Britain was changed through this appalling human trade.  In 1801 sugar killed more people than today’s drug trade ... the slaves who produced it.

Coming in from the garden, there can’t be an historic house from the Fifteenth Century onwards that doesn’t have a link to the consumption of sugar and  tea - tea caddies, tea sets, sugar tongs, copper jam pans ... both below and above stairs.    Each visit ends with tea, and a moment when our visitors can reflect on what went into producing the sugar stirred into a cup of tea and the cakes, jam and biscuits served with it..  We believe this programme addresses the issues of slavery in a way that is neither  accusatory nor contentious.

We began in April with a visit to HHA member, Spetchley Park (left) by Birmingham’s Mashriq Challenge Resource Centre based which works with South Asian women with mental health difficulties.   They told us they found the subject  fascinating as they all came from tea growing countries.     Baddesley Clinton, being an essentially sixteenth-century house, provided a different focus on the beginning of the slave trade and Elizabethan privateers.   We took the Carib Club, a social club for women over 50 most of whom are first generation immigrants from the West Indies.   Both visits offered the theme of a shared history.   We have more visits arranged in the West Midlands and plans for a major project in Wales involving HHA members, the National Trust and local authorities.   

Each of us has a link with slavery.  We all have ancestors who are likely to have smoked slave tobacco, worn slave cotton, ate and drank slave sugar, cocoa or rum or who ran or worked in Welsh and English factories feeding the trade ... iron, copper or brass - as well as the shipbuilding industry (and earlier privateers and pirates). All of this will provide both our groups and their hosts with a great deal to learn and reflect on  as we explore the history of afternoon tea and the long forgotten local connections with the slave trade.   

Bettina Harden was Chairman of the Gateway Gardens Trust from 2000 until 2009 and owner of Nanhoron in North Wales