NORTHALLERTON, the quiet county town of North Yorkshire set between dale and moor, is a world away from the barbarity of the Caribbean slave trade and yet one of its leading families, which provided its MPs for 150 years, was steeped in slavery.

The Lascelles family is still remembered in the town through a street name and, of course, Harewood House, near Leeds, stands as a shining monument to the immense fortune the family amassed across five generations of MPs who were immersed in slaves, sugar and plantations.

The Northern Echo: Harewood House, early 1920sHarewood House, early 1920s

The family had owned land in the Northallerton area since at least the 12th Century, and by the late 16th Century, had established themselves at Stank Hall, near Kirby Sigston, just a long stone’s throw from where the current MP lives.

Stank Hall is now a farm, but stones survive that hint at a more high status past. One of them has the date 1585 carved on it, along with the arms of Thomas Lascelles – the family had clearly arrived, but it is what the next generations did with their money that made them one of the wealthiest in the country, and one of the most controversial.

The Northern Echo: Lascelles family treeLascelles family tree

Francis (1612-1667)

He was MP for Thirsk from 1645, and represented Northallerton in 1660. He was a colonel in the Parliamentarian army that overthrew Charles I, and he was on the committee that sentenced the king to death, although as he didn’t sign the death warrant, he escaped with his life when the monarchy was restored.

In 1648, he became the first Lascelles to invest in a sugar plantation on Barbados.

He died in 1667 at Stank Hall and is buried in Kirby Sigston church.

The Northern Echo: Kirby Sigston churchKirby Sigston church

Daniel (1655-1734)

In 1672, he married Margaret Metcalfe of Porch House in Northallerton – a union of two of the town’s leading families. In 1690, Margaret died giving birth to twins, Hannah and Henry.

Daniel, who inherited Stank Hall from his father, was Northallerton MP in 1702 and High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1718, and he sent all three of his sons to Barbados in their early twenties to oversee the growing plantation interests.

Henry (1690-1753)

In 1712, Henry – one of the Lascelles twins – arrived in Barbados and married Mary, the daughter of a slave trader. He, too, went into the slave trade, and between 1713 and 1717, he imported 1,100 of them.

More lucratively, in 1714, Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole made him the Collector of Customs in Barbados, putting him in charge of the sugar trade.

He was accused of extorting £2,000 from a Portuguese ship, and brought back to London to face charges of corruption. Mary came with him and died – she is buried beneath a black marble floor slab in Northallerton church.

Henry escaped conviction, and returned to the Caribbean with more lucrative contracts to supply all British troops stationed out there.

Most notoriously, he pioneered the “floating factory” off the coast of Guinea in west Africa – it consisted of permanently moored ships on which newly captured slaves were kept (or imprisoned) until there was a vessel to take them to the Caribbean.

Henry was said to be the wealthiest commoner in Britain, and his counting house in London loaned money so that other people could invest in plantations. He also bought the Gawthorpe and Harewood manor near Leeds.

The Northern Echo: Harewood House, built between 1759 and 1771 by Edwin Lascelles who was MP for Northallerton from 1780 to 1790Harewood House, built between 1759 and 1771 by Edwin Lascelles who was MP for Northallerton from 1780 to 1790

In the 1740s, with the fall of Walpole, the corruption allegations resurfaced, and in 1750, Henry bought the Northallerton seat so he could be in Parliament should he need to see off his critics. Northallerton, which elected two MPs, was a thoroughly “rotten” borough. Many of the votes were attached to properties that were under the control of either the Lascelles family or the Peirse family. As the 18th Century wore on and calls grew for slavery to be abolished, so it was useful for the Lascelles to make sure they had one, if not two, Northallerton MPs to defend their interests in the Commons.

Once Henry had weathered the storm, he handed the seat onto his second son, Daniel, who represented Northallerton from 1752 until 1780.

Suffering from cataracts, in 1753, aged 63, Henry took his own life in London. He was buried in All Saints Church, Northallerton, ten days later.

The Northern Echo: Several members of the Lascelles family lie in Northallerton's All Saints ChurchSeveral members of the Lascelles family lie in Northallerton's All Saints Church

Edwin (1713-95)

As Henry’s oldest son, Edwin was put in charge of the family fortune while brother Daniel did the hard work running the plantations in the Caribbean while simultaneously representing the people of Northallerton in Parliament.

In reward for Henry’s political service, Edwin was ennobled as Lord Harewood, and in 1759 he began building the exquisite Harewood House on his father’s estate. It took 22 years to complete.

To a large extent, Edwin was separate from the Caribbean business until the American War of Independence broke out in 1775. The uncertainty caused many plantations to collapse, and the estates reverted to the bank which had given mortgages to the owners: that was Henry’s counting house.

Between 1773 and 1787, Edwin therefore acquired 22 plantations covering 27,000 acres on four islands – Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica and Tobago – which were worked by 2,947 slaves.

When his brother Daniel died without heir, Edwin inherited all the Lascelles plantations and the Northallerton seat in Parliament.

Edwin himself died in 1795 without an heir, and his title died with him. But his nephew Edward inherited everything else.

Edward (1740-1820)

Edward was born in Barbados and was already wealthy in his own right through his branch of the family’s involvement, but his Lascelles inheritance took him into the stratosphere: in 1799, he was worth £2.9m, which the Bank of England Inflation Calculator works out as £333m today.

He represented Northallerton for much of the period between 1761 and 1796 when he was created the 1st Earl of Harewood. He then handed the seat onto his eldest son, also Edward, to ensure the Lascelles had a voice as the critical legislation abolishing the slave trade went through.

However, Edward Jnr died in 1818, and so the Lascelles estate went to his brother, Henry.

Henry (1767-1841)

The Northern Echo:

Henry, who became the 2nd Earl of Harewood on his father’s death, spent a fortune getting himself elected as an MP for Yorkshire – where anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce regularly topped the poll – and then for Northallerton.

Unsurprisingly, Henry spoke against both Parliamentary reform and the emancipation of slaves, but the tide of history was running against him. In 1816, slaves on two of his Barbadian plantations took part in Bussa’s Revolt – the biggest slave revolt in Barbados named after the slave who led it.

When the slaves were freed in 1833, the British government agreed to compensate the slave-owners. Henry’s claims show that he had four plantations in Barbados (Belle, Fortescues, Thicket and Mount St George) where he had 933 slaves, and two plantations in Jamaica (St Dorothy and St Thomas-in-the-Vale) where he had 344 slaves. He was awarded total compensation of £26,309 (more than £3m in today’s values).

The Northern Echo: A memorial in Kirby Sigston church to Thomas LascellesA memorial in Kirby Sigston church to Thomas Lascelles

THE Lascelles were now out of slavery, but they maintained their Caribbean interests until 1975, when the last plantation was sold.

The family provided two more generations of MPs for Northallerton until the town was rolled into the Richmond constituency in 1885. By then, the Lascelles had lost much of their contact with the town that had been their main home for 800 years, although in 1921, when Viscount Lascelles (later the 6th Earl of Harewood) became engaged to Princess Mary, the only daughter of King George V, Northallerton council sent a congratulatory telegram.

The Northern Echo: Princess Mary, flanked by her parents Queen Mary and King George V, marrying Viscount Henry Lascelles in 1922 - a marriage greeted with joy in NorthallertonPrincess Mary, flanked by her parents Queen Mary and King George V, marrying Viscount Henry Lascelles in 1922 - a marriage greeted with joy in Northallerton

On July 24, 1926, thousands of people turned out to welcome the couple as Mary, the Commandant-in-Chief, of the British Red Cross Society came to inspect local efforts.

The visit coincided with house-building in the town. Near the prison was a late Victorian terrace called Dudley Terrace, and opposite it on allotments in 1926, 28 new houses were built to sell for £480 each. It looks like the whole street was named Lascelles Lane in honour of the visit and of the family.

In mid-June, as interest in the history of slavery grew due to the Black Lives Matter campaign, David Lascelles, the 8th Earl of Harewood, issued a statement saying: “We recognise the colonial past of Harewood House which was created using the historic wealth of the Lascelles family, garnered from the West Indian sugar trade of plantations, enslavement of people of colour and ownership of ships and warehouses. Today, Harewood House is an educational charity set up to share Harewood’s story, to listen, to learn, and to enrich people’s lives using our collections, surroundings, and our history as means of creating a better society today.

“We condemn racism in all its forms, we believe that black lives matter, and we commit to tackling how Harewood shares and confronts the past, and to question what that means for communities today. Harewood cannot change its past, but we can use it as a stark, unequivocal truth to build a fairer, equal future.”

HOW did the Lascelles area of Darlington get its name? Can anyone tell us?