Drive into Dorset on the A31 and also you roll previous a excessive brick wall butted up tight to the street that appears to go on for ever. Every now and then it doglegs at a monolithic gateway topped by both a lion or a stag. That is the “nice wall of Dorset” that runs for 3 miles, comprises some 2m bricks and shields Charborough Park from the surface world. The wall creates an air of foreboding about what would possibly lie inside. That is house to Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, the Conservative MP for South Dorset, who lives within the palatial Grade I-listed Charborough Home, hidden from public view throughout the 283-hectare (700-acre) non-public grounds.
The park, with its excellent backyard and historical deer park, is simply part of the 5,600 hectares of Charborough property that makes Drax and his household the biggest particular person landowners in Dorset. The primarily Seventeenth-century mansion, with its 36-metre (120ft) folly tower, is the mannequin for Welland Home within the Thomas Hardy novel Two on a Tower.
In addition to being extraordinarily rich, Drax can be an outspoken politician. After 10 years as a backbencher, he has grow to be more and more distinguished amongst Tory Brexiters driving the federal government’s hardline place on Europe. And he has been vocal within the debate about Covid throughout the occasion, becoming a member of the Tory MPs who’ve rebelled towards the federal government over its lockdown measures.
In June, he said of the Black Lives Matter protests: “The desecration of the Cenotaph by rioters two weeks in the past, on the precise D-day anniversary, was past ironic.” He’s vociferous on immigration, too. Voting to extend curbs in 2013, he mentioned: “I believe, as do many of my constituents, that this country is full.”
However for all his wealth and energy, there’s a darkish shadow hanging over Richard Drax – his household’s historic hyperlinks with slavery within the plantations of the West Indies, which at the moment are prompting mounting calls from former Caribbean colonies for reparations.
The Drax fortune contains huge expanses of land and property in England however, as our investigation reveals, the household’s function as plantation homeowners in Barbados seems to stay key to the MP’s wealth. Richard Drax’s Seventeenth-century ancestors James and William sailed to Barbados within the late 1620s, the place they cleared lush land within the centre of the island and experimented with rising and processing sugar.
The Draxes devised a business sugar plantation mannequin, labored by slaves transported from Africa, that was immensely profitable and copied throughout the West Indies and the Americas. Such was Sir James’s wealth that, in 1650, he constructed the plantation home Drax Corridor which nonetheless stands immediately and through which he lived, in accordance with an eyewitness, “like a prince”. His brother William took their strategies to Jamaica the place the previous plantation space can be nonetheless referred to as Drax Corridor.
Later, the Draxes married into the Erle household that owned Charborough Park and the sugar income helped to significantly lengthen the mansion and lands again in England. As a reminder of the hyperlinks between Dorset and Barbados, a street that bisects the Charborough property is named Sugar Hill. The TV presenter and historian David Olusoga says: “The Drax household are one of many few who had been pioneers within the early phases of the British slave financial system again within the Seventeenth century and, generations later, nonetheless owned plantations and enslaved folks on the finish of British slavery within the 1830s.
“From the very early phases of the household’s involvement in slavery and the sugar commerce, by means of the profession of Sir James Drax in Barbados in the course of the Seventeenth century, the Drax dynasty had been capable of generate extraordinary wealth by means of the cultivation of sugar by enslaved Africans.”
The Barbados plantation was labored by as much as 327 slaves at a time, with the demise fee for adults and youngsters excessive. Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the 20-state Caribbean Group Reparations Fee (Caricom) and the vice-chancellor of the College of the West Indies, estimates that as many 30,000 slaves died on the Drax plantations in Barbados and Jamaica over 200 years.
Britain outlawed slave buying and selling in 1807, and possession of slaves was banned in 1833. About £20m – an enormous sum – was then paid out to compensate slave homeowners. A database created by College School London confirmed that Richard Drax’s ancestor John Sawbridge Erle-Drax MP, who additionally lived at Charborough Park, obtained £4,293 12s 6d – a really giant sum in 1836 – in compensation for liberating 189 slaves.
There was hypothesis about whether or not the Drax household nonetheless owned the Barbados property as absentee landlords, particularly after the demise of Henry Drax, Richard’s father, in 2017. The Drax Corridor plantation is just not referred to in Richard Drax’s register of members’ pursuits declaration, and the Observer couldn’t discover any household doc referring on to the plantations within the public area since his great-grandmother’s will in 1916, when Girl Dunsany bequeathed her “estates and plantations in Barbados” to her son, Richard’s grandfather.
Nevertheless, official sources in Barbados affirm that Richard’s father owned the plantation and had handed it on to his eldest son, Richard. Official documentation reveals the MP now controls Drax Corridor Plantation. He lately paid Bds$59,375 (£22,200) in annual land tax. Till 2008 the plantations lined 350 hectares, however the Draxes have bought greater than 80, some for housing improvement. Barbadian authorities worth the plantation and buildings at Bds$12.5m (£4.7m). Harvested sugar cane is not processed on the plantations however is taken to a central processing plant after which refined for export. The Barbados taxpayer subsidises the worth and set it final 12 months at about Bds$150 per tonne.
Requested about its absence on the parliamentary register of members’ pursuits, Drax mentioned on Friday that he’s nonetheless performing as executor of his father’s will and doesn’t but legally personal the Barbados holdings “as these are nonetheless going by means of the probate course of and haven’t but transferred to my title.
“As soon as that course of is accomplished, I’ll in fact register it in correct accordance with the foundations. I’m keenly conscious of the slave commerce within the West Indies and the function my very distant ancestor performed in it’s deeply, deeply regrettable, however nobody may be held accountable immediately for what occurred many a whole bunch of years in the past. This is part of the nation’s historical past, from which we should all study,’” he added.
Beckles advised the Observer that traditionally “the Drax household has completed extra hurt and violence to the black folks of Barbados than every other household. The Draxes constructed and designed and structured slavery.” Beckles says Richard Drax ought to: “One: apologise to African folks and the folks of the Caribbean. Two: present regret and take part in reparatory justice. Three: we wish to discuss to you about how [you should repay these debts].”
David Comissiong, Barbados’s ambassador to Caricom, says of the Drax household: “You’ll be able to’t merely stroll away from the scene of the crime. They’ve a accountability now to make some effort to assist restore the harm. We’re establishing a fund into which households, companies and institutions like universities that had been implicated indirectly within the crime of enslavement pays.
“It’s all the time intrigued me that Drax Plantation remains to be functioning. You drive in and it appears to be like like a plantation would possibly look again within the Seventeenth century. A plantation like this could possibly be used to assist educate us about our historical past – it’s a should that we do that if we’re not to place it out of our minds.”
Again in England, Richard Drax lives the standard lifetime of the landed gentry, harking back to the TV sequence Downton Abbey, articulated by means of noblesse oblige, the navy, searching, capturing and farming. Drax’s grandfather, Reginald, was an admiral and a buddy of Ian Fleming and the inspiration for the character Sir Hugo Drax within the writer’s James Bond novel Moonraker. Born in 1958 and Sandhurst-trained, Richard Drax joined the Coldstream Guards, rising to the rank of captain a 12 months earlier than he left the military. He then spent 17 years as a journalist.
In 2006 Drax was positioned on the candidate record for the Conservative occasion. Six earlier Draxes had been native MPs for the now-abolished constituency of close by Wareham. He was chosen towards 30 candidates, together with two A-list feminine candidates, for South Dorset and was elected in 2010. Drax may be seen across the constituency on one in every of his BMW bikes, amongst them a £14,000 R1250GS mannequin.
The MP’s household wealth and enterprise pursuits are huge, however troublesome to quantify exactly. The register of members’ pursuits is just not massively useful. MPs are required to say if their land and property is price greater than £100,000 and whether or not residential and business rental earnings is valued over £10,000 per 12 months. Drax says sure to each, declaring: “Woodlands, farmland, residential and business property, together with land used for renewable power initiatives in Dorset.” From the property he declares: “Some earnings obtained straight, some obtained by way of household trusts both to me or to relations.” However he’s not required to element his precise holdings or earnings or his complete wealth.
He’s paid £82,000 by the taxpayer to function an MP. He’s additionally the figurehead and beneficiary of the substantial multifaceted household enterprise throughout farming, forestry, rental, capturing and site rental.
This features a property empire of 125 farms, houses, leases and companies owned by him straight, or by the trustees of the Richard Drax 1987 Accumulation and Upkeep Settlement Belief. The principle Drax farming entity is named ACF (Drax Farm) and is listed by analysts Dun & Bradstreet as an unbiased proprietorship. Farming almost 1,600 hectares, ACF doesn’t publish any accounts as it’s not an organization. ACF (Drax Farm) has had a minimum of £7.5m price of EU grants since 2000.
His late father bequeathed to Richard Drax all his “rights and advantages” as a member of Lloyd’s of London and of Equitas Restricted (a debt holding firm for Lloyd’s). Nevertheless, what occurred on his father’s demise in 2017 is just not clear. MPs are required to declare earnings from Lloyd’s even when they’ve resigned from their insurance coverage syndicate. We requested him to say whether or not he’s a Lloyd’s “title” however he didn’t reply to our request.
Drax’s declaration within the shareholdings section of the register seems to include omissions and errors. Abbotts [sic] Courtroom Farm Firm (Holdings) Restricted is asserted as a holding firm for household companies. There is no such thing as a firm of that title registered in Corporations Home, however there may be an unlimited company called Abbot’s Court Farm (Charborough). The final annual return says it’s owned by a holding firm, which it seems is dormant.
The second firm Drax declares is AMF Holdings Ltd, which has been dormant since registration in 2009. Not talked about within the register is an additional limitless firm, Anderson Manor Farm. Now the only real director, Drax took over all shares from his late father. His use of limitless firms is uncommon, as these are a sort of firm that doesn’t present restricted legal responsibility, however doesn’t require the corporate to publish accounts.
The third firm he lists is a property administration firm, Morden Estates Company Ltd, of which he’s the only real director and shareholder. It recordsdata minimal accounts, however has a curious operate. In response to the register, the corporate gives Drax with lodging price £47,500 per 12 months (that would be the household trust-owned mansion and park) in return for 10 hours’ work every week.
One other oddity is that Richard Drax was bequeathed a 890-hectare farming property in Swaledale, North Yorkshire – the Ellerton Abbey property – by his late father in 2017. The land is unregistered with the Land Registry and is farmed by a tenant. The property is just not but talked about within the register of members’ pursuits and neither is the Copperthwaite Allotment, a 210-hectare grouse moor above the Ellerton property that was additionally bequeathed.
The register of members’ pursuits is there to stop any notion that there could be a battle of curiosity. The Charborough property has many complicated dealings with nationwide our bodies, native authorities and companies and that raises questions as to why Drax’s register declarations appear incomplete.
The Drax wealth could also be hidden by an awesome wall of secrecy and unanswered questions away from prying eyes. However it’s Richard Drax MP’s inheritance in Barbados, amassed over centuries by his ancestors’ possession and appalling therapy of African folks, which drags him into the highlight.
Their descendants now press for a redistribution of what they see because the proceeds of a horrible crime, dedicated centuries in the past by long-dead Draxes, leaving the household with the longest steady hyperlink to the exploitation of the plantation system in Britain’s colonies.