Colonial Countryside: Understanding Country Houses and the British Empire

Children gathered around a table at a National Trust Property
Children gathered around Beckford table. Credit: Ingrid Pollard

Heritage Grants

Leicester, East Midlands
University of Leicester
The University of Leicester provides opportunities for children to explore and think about British imperial history at National Trust Houses.

In 2018, The National Lottery Heritage Fund granted £99,600 to the project ‘Colonial Countryside: Reinterpreting English Country Houses’, in partnership with the National Trust. It is a three-year education programme for primary school children, run by the University of Leicester

The project engages children with 11 different National Trust houses, where they explore the properties’ connections with a wide range of aspects of colonial history. For example:

  • Caribbean and East India Company connections
  • country house owners’ involvement with the slavery business
  • trade in goods such as sugar, mahogany and tea


Children reading an old book at a National Trust property
Children exploring archives. Credit: Ingird Pollard


In October 2021, the project has produced a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) in close collaboration with expert historians.   

The MOOC is a six week course for history enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds. It explores country houses’ connections to aspects of colonialism, including the transatlantic slavery business and the East India Company. 

There are currently 2,450 students enrolled on this course, which is an amazing start

Professor Corinne Fowler, Director of Colonial Countryside: National Trust Houses Reinterpreted

The free, open-access course is a way to bring heritage to new audiences, using the benefits of digital technology. It resources educators, heritage sites, museums and galleries to have open conversations about the British Empire and its relevance to British history and heritage. Students of the course will learn how that history is reflected in their local area or places that are important to them.

Professor Corinne Fowler, Director of the Colonial Countryside project, said: “There are currently 2,450 students enrolled on this course, which is an amazing start. Comments by students are all really constructive and reflective.”