Hidden History of the Dales

2 October – 8 November 2007

The Hidden History exhibition explored the untold stories of Black and Asian people in the Yorkshire Dales. It was created in 2007 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the Act abolishing the British trade in enslaved Africans.

The Dales Countryside Museum and North Yorkshire County Council Record Office began to look at this long-hidden part of our history.

We researched many of the people and places of the Dales that have been connected with Africa, the Caribbean and India, whether through slavery or for other reasons. We found out about people who came to live in the area and encouraged people to think about the impact that the transatlantic slave trade had upon the Yorkshire Dales and surrounding areas.

African and Caribbean Hidden History in the Dales

Over the years, people from all over the world have travelled to or settled in the Dales for a huge number of reasons. The same applies to people who originated from the Dales, but then travelled to live or work abroad.


Over the centuries people living in the Dales have made connections with countries throughout the world. Some such as William Hillary (1697–1763), born at Birkrigg near Hawes, moved to Barbados in 1747 to work on climate and disease. He wrote a tropical medicine book on his return, Observations on the Changes of the Air, and the Concomitant Epidemical Diseases in the Island of Barbado (1759).

Slave Traders, Merchants & Ships’ Captains

For centuries, profits from transatlantic trading contributed to the development of the Western European economy, including that of the Dales. There was direct trade between Britain and Africa, the West Indies and the Americas. Knitted stockings and ‘bump caps’ made in Dent were exported to the West Indies and sugar and other goods were imported to England.

Planters & Plantation Workers

Several Dales families owned plantations in the Caribbean. Property names such as Grenada House in Askrigg and what was known as ‘Africa House’ in Sedbergh, provide tantalizing clues to the history of their past owners.


For some, the experience of living in other countries had a profound effect. On their return from the Caribbean to the Dales, some individuals chose to stand against slavery and to support the right for freedom and respect.

Robert Boucher Nicholls (c.1744-1814), Dean of Middleham, was born in Barbados and together with several other Dales people, gave evidence in 1791 to the House of Commons Select Committee which was enquiring into the slave trade. In 1787 he wrote a letter of support to the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which they considered important enough to be printed.

Eastern Connections: Merchants, Traders and Politicians

Links between the Dales and the wider world, in particular Asia and the East, have existed for centuries.  People from the Dales and North Yorkshire as a whole have travelled across the globe for a variety of reasons, as merchants or traders, in the cause of religion and in support of global politics.  

The East India Company

The East India Company was established in 1600 and since that time, families such as the Jackson family of Richmond and the Wray family of Aysgarth have been connected with the company in various ways. 

George Clifford, third earl of Cumberland (1558-1605), one of the founding members of the company spent his early years on his father’s estates in Westmoreland and at Skipton Castle.

Eastern Influences

The trading of products from the East began hundreds of years ago. The East India Company dealt in silk, tea and porcelain, but their employees also bought fabrics, ceramics, lacquer ware, fans, wallpaper and ivory, shipping them home as “private trade”. Few of these items ever made it on to the open market but it is likely that they helped fire an interest in styles and products from the East which at the time was seen as one entity.

Eastern Connections in the Dales

Asian people have come to live in Yorkshire and the Dales for a variety of reasons. The activities of the East India Company in China and India resulted in a number of Asian people arriving in Britain.  Some came as servants with returning officers or their families while others came as part of the workforce.

In the 1881 census, 737 people living in Yorkshire had been born in India.  Although the majority had European surnames, this highlights the links that existed between Britain and Asia at this time.