He's the MP with the Downton Abbey Lifestyle. But the Shadow of Slavery Hangs over the Gilded Life of Richard DraxBreaking News
tags: slavery, British history, Tories
Drive into Dorset on the A31 and you roll past a high brick wall butted up tight to the road that seems to go on for ever. Every so often it doglegs at a monolithic gateway crowned by either a lion or a stag. This is the landmark “great wall of Dorset” that runs for three miles, contains some two million bricks and shields Charborough Park from the outside world. The wall creates an air of foreboding about what might lie inside. This is home to Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, the Conservative MP for South Dorset, who lives in the palatial Grade I-listed Charborough House, hidden from public view within the 700-acre private grounds.
The Park, with its outstanding garden and ancient deer park, is just a part of the 14,000 acres of Charborough estate that makes Drax and his family the largest individual landowners in Dorset. The mainly 17th-century mansion with its 120ft folly tower is the model for Welland House in the Thomas Hardy novel Two on a Tower.
As well as being extremely wealthy, Drax is also an outspoken politician. After 10 years as a backbencher he has become increasingly prominent among Tory rightwing Brexiters driving the government’s hardline position on Europe. And he has been vocal in the debate about Covid within the party, joining the Tory MPs who have rebelled against the government over its lockdown measures.
In June he said of the Black Lives Matter protests: “The desecration of the Cenotaph by rioters two weeks ago, on the actual D-Day anniversary, was beyond ironic.” He is vociferous on immigration, too. Voting to increase curbs in 2013, he said: “I believe, as do many of my constituents, that this country is full.”
But for all his wealth and power, there is a dark shadow hanging over Richard Drax – his family’s historical links with slavery in the plantations of the West Indies, which are now prompting mounting calls from former Caribbean colonies for reparations.
The Drax fortune includes vast expanses of land and property in England but, as our investigation reveals, the family’s role as plantation owners in Barbados appears to remain key to the MP’s wealth. Richard Drax’s 17th-century ancestors James and William sailed to Barbados in the late 1620s, where they cleared lush land in the centre of the island and experimented with growing and processing sugar.
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