Family Ties

In 1836, their common ancestor was paid £4,293 (£3m or US$4m today) for freeing 189 slaves after emancipation. Nice work if you can get it.

Richard Drax

One of the richest men in England; Member of UK Parliament.

Greta Drax

Owns rum shop in a quiet corner of Barbados…

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Drax Sweet Spot: a little piece of secret Barbados.

Colourful chattel houses lined the narrow lane, which quickly turned into a dead end. And there it was. A small, unobtrusive bar which promised karaoke on a Friday night and four Banks beers for $10.

Drax Sweet Spot was a typical Bajan rum shop, just off the main route down to Bathsheba. But something was bothering me.

Then the penny dropped.

Drax Hall, Barbados
“This is Richard Drax for BBC South Today.”

Richard Drax. My ex-BBC colleague. That’s where I’d heard the name.

Richard was one of the wealthiest men in south-west England, but had worked as a lowly news reporter in a regional tv newsroom.

He was heir to the huge Drax Estate known as Charborough House, near Poole, Dorset. Like Drax Hall, Barbados, it had been built from the proceeds of sugar – and of course, slavery.

The £3 million cost of freedom

Sir James Drax was the first Englishman to own a significant number of slaves in Barbados.

In 1644, he built the island’s first windmill for grinding sugar cane, led the industrialisation of sugar production and became fabulously wealthy as a result.

In 1836, the Drax family was paid £4,293 – £3m (about US$4 million) in today’s money – by the British government in compensation for freeing 189 slaves after emancipation.

Nice work if you can get it.

Harrow, the Guards… then Parliament

But Richard loved reporting for BBC South Today. At one. point he had to give it all up to look after the family estate. He was back in the newsroom within a week. “Couldn’t stay away,” he said.

Educated at Harrow, one of the UK’s top private schools, a soldier in the Coldstream Guards (they’re the lot with the black bearskin caps who guard the Queen and Buckingham Palace). Elected in 2010 as a member of the British Parliament.

So what connects this most well-connected of men to a rum shop in the remote village of Bowling Alley, St Joseph, Barbados?

Turns out that Drax Sweet Spot is owned by Greta Drax, another distant relative of Sir James Drax, one of the most influential sugar planters in Barbados. And that made her a cousin of some kind to Richard Drax MP.

Greta told me she’d tried to get in touch with her relatives. Richard Drax that is.

Or Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax MP to give him his full name. She said she had no reply.

Greta and her son Rico even had some fun with family names.

Drax Hall, Barbados
Bust of Sir James Drax.
“We named each of his toys after all of Richard Drax’s family names,” Greta told

“We thought it was really funny.

“My great grandmother Mary Frances Drax married into the family.”

While in Barbados, Richard is known as Captain Drax, a nod to his military career.

Drax Hall, Barbados
Drax Hall, Barbados, an architectural rarity.

Drax Hall, Barbados

Drax Sweet Spot

The windmill with miles of cane field beyond it…

These days he lives in the family’s huge estate at Charborough House, Dorset, England, but still owns and occasionally visits Drax Hall, the Jacobean mansion and sugar plantation in the Barbados parish of St George, which was built all those years ago by Sir James .

The house is not open to visitors – so you’ll be trespassing if you drive the 200 metres from the road to the Jacobean house to take a quick picture.

It’s still a working plantation – though Captain Drax MP is seldom there. Sugar cane is still grown in the fields which stretch almost as far as the eye can see.

The remains of a huge windmill behind the imposing house paint a picture.

The bustle of yesteryear has long gone, but it’s not difficult to imagine a busy yard and Sir James Drax, planter, pioneer and ancestor of both Richard and Greta, overseeing his huge work force.

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