So often I have visited historic sites and buildings and just enjoyed their beauty and splendour; most of the time I will make the effort to read up on at least the basic history surrounding them. My visit to Warwick Castle was different. I knew that Capability Brown was responsible for designing parts of the grounds but that was pretty much it, and after seeing pictures of other Capability Brown sites, I was excited to finally get to see his work in real life.
I had heard about the Beatfreeks performance and thought it sounded interesting - something totally different at a place where I was just expecting to be wowed by an amazing castle and beautiful grounds. Always up for something new, I decided to attend the session, not knowing what to expect. What I ended up with was a completely different perspective to anything I would have found in a basic guide book or a quick review of Wikipedia... the artists involved drew a picture far different to the probably romanticised image I would normally have received.
With a series of spoken word pieces/poetry written and performed by the artists themselves, combined with visuals they had created especially for the event, a darker and probably lesser known side of Warwick Castle's history was uncovered. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Britain made huge profits trading slaves captured on the West African coast and sailing them across the Atlantic. The abolition of the slave trade only happened in 1807, although it took another 26 years before slavery itself was abolished within the British Empire. The finances required for the design and work on the grounds at Warwick Castle by Capability Brown in 1750 were most likely generated by the slave trade.
The artists’ performances expressed feelings of pain and suffering borne of injustice and oppression; their message felt completely at odds with the romantic ambience of the grounds yet reflects a harsh and cruel reality that cannot and should not be ignored. It's easy for me to forget sometimes what really went on in the past and simply ‘play the tourist’. On that Saturday, I was confronted with the harsh reality. As much as I enjoy the beauty and splendour of sites such as Warwick Castle, it's important to know the real story and context around them. Only when we are aware of what really happened in the past, can we make sure to never let such things happen again in the future.
I am grateful to the artists for reminding me of that and was able to enjoy my time at this beautiful site in an informed and reflective manner.
About the Author: Alex Kenny is a Germany-based Irishman who enjoys visiting England to indulge his recently piqued interest in all things Capability Brown.