Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Brathay Hall — “Mr. Law’s White palace – a bitch!”

Brathay Trust is based in an elegant 18th Century Georgian country house. It was built by George Law, the son of an Attorney who was involved in Backbarrow ironworks. On his death, in the West Indies in 1802, the house passed to his son Henry, who rented it to John Harden, a gentleman with connections in Edinburgh and Dublin.

So says the information for guests at the Brathay Trust, where we have just spent New Year. A lovely place and a great time was had, but I don’t think George Law in fact died in the West Indies and also I think Henry was his brother. However, such inaccuracies are inconsequential. The element that piques my interest lies in the casual mention of the West Indies—a phrase laden with significance1Brathay Trust. Welcome. [n.d.]. <https://www.brathay.org.uk/app/uploads/Guest-Room-Folder-August2020.pdf> [accessed 29 December 2023].

George Law was also the owner of Hodge Close, now a National Trust property functioning as a hostel. According to their more creditable research, Law, denoted as a “Jamaica merchant,” acquired the property in 1792. Clearly, he must have been worth a bob or two. Following his death in 1802, he left his considerably vast holdings to his brother, Henry, during his lifetime, with the subsequent inheritance passing to his nephew, John Law Beetham2‘MNA119711 | National Trust Heritage Records’. 2015. Nationaltrust.org.uk <https://heritagerecords.nationaltrust.org.uk/HBSMR/MonRecord.aspx?uid=MNA119711> [accessed 29 December 2023].

At this juncture, the expression “Jamaica merchant” discloses a tad more regarding the manner in which George Law accumulated his wealth.

Law disembarked in Jamaica circa 1768 at the tender age of 22, ostensibly to engage in the capacity of a factor—acting as an agent entrusted with consigned goods, duly selling them for a commission. Here, he acquired the knack of turning a tidy profit and struck up an amicable association with a fellow factor named James Hargreaves, who arrived on the island a few years subsequent. In tandem, they forged a business partnership.

As a factor in Jamaica, Law would have been into the hustle and bustle of urban slavery both in Kingston and down at the docks. In the late 1780s, more than half of Kingston’s population were enslaved. He must’ve encountered the abhorrent practice while rubbing shoulders with traders, visiting plantations, and purchasing those commodities churned out by the sweat of enslaved brows. Whilst I have not come across any suggestion that Law dealt directly in enslaved people, it seems inconceivable that he didn’t. For sure, he’d have seen those ships making landfall after the gruelling Atlantic Middle Passage, unloading their human cargo. And wouldn’t you know it, those very same ships would then be loaded up with the sugar, coffee, cotton, and logwood that Law had haggled for?3Williams, Andrew. “JAMES HARGREAVES, MERCHANT OF LANCASTER AND KINGSTON, JAMAICA (1752–1804).” Contrebis 2022 v40. <https://lahs.archaeologyuk.org/Contrebis/williamshargreaves.pdf> [accessed 29 December 2023]

Hargreaves and Law also became involved in the business of providing loans, substantial loans, to plantation owners in Jamaica. This supply of capital into the plantations held financial importance amid sugar price fluctuations. Fortunes were made.

Eventually, Hargreaves came back to Lancaster, and the partnership shifted gears, putting their money in the very cargoes those ships from the port were ferrying, instead of playing middleman for others. Money makes money.

It appears that Law acquired the Brathay estate in 1783 and finalised the construction of Brathay Hall, which commands a super view down Windermere, in 1795. But the hall was not to everyone’s liking. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a resident in the area, expressed his discontent with it, remarking, “Mr. Law’s White palace – a bitch!”4Ibid. Page 21.

Maybe Coleridge wasn’t dissing the architectural design of Law’s fancy new family seat. Perhaps he was just airing out his genuine thoughts about Law as a person. Coleridge had been given talks against slavery in Bristol, so who knows what was really on his mind?5Fowler, Corinne. Green Unpleasant Land. Page 76. Peepal Tree Press. 2020.







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *