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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 March 2007, 09:31 GMT
Slave painting goes on view again
The 18th Century 'Negro Coachboy' painting
Mystery surrounds the the painting which hangs in the servants' hall
A stately home has reopened after a winter-long spring clean to prepare for an expected 100,000 visitors this year.

Among the attractions tourists will be able to see again at Erddig Hall, near Wrexham, is a well-known 18th Century image of the slave trade.

The National Trust property is home to the Negro Coachboy, a portrait of a black youth thought to be owned by the mansion's founder, John Mellor.

The bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery Act is on Sunday.

The painting, also known as the 'Negro Minstrel', 'Black Boy' or 'Mellor's Coachboy' hangs in the servants' hall.

The boy certainly was a slave, that's how he would have come here
Jeremy Cragg, Erddig Hall manager

Painted around 1720, it is still not clear whether the youngster was a slave taken to live and work at Erddig Hall by Mellor, who was a wealthy London lawyer, or whether he was just a figment of an artist's imagination.

A verse written at the house decades later offers a clue to the painting's origins, claiming the boy worked at the hall and was given a Christian burial locally, but it cannot be confirmed.

Jeremy Cragg, house and collections manager, said Mellor was not involved in the slave trade, but like many wealthy people of his time might have had a slave boy as a "fashion accessory".

He said: "It really is a total mystery. The boy certainly was a slave, that's how he would have come here - this was the 1720s, some 80 years before the abolition of slavery.

Erddig Hall's George III cut glass chandelier
The chandelier, in the saloon since 1846, was dropped in 1903

"Mellor was a rich man who moved to this area from London. He was a Whig, (a forerunner of the Liberal Party) whereas all his neighbours were Tories, so he was trying to impress people."

Preparations for this season at Erddig Hall included washing the George III-era cut-glass chandelier for the first time in seven years.

The chandelier has hung in the saloon since 1846, but can boast its own "Only Fools and Horses" moment when it was dropped by a drunken butler trying to give it a clean.

In scenes reminiscent of a well-loved episode of the BBC TV comedy starring David Jason, records from 1903 reveal the "non-too sober" butler did not realise that as he rotated the chandelier he was turning off its thread.

It smashed to the floor and the repairs, which cost 38, included sending for glass replacements from Europe.

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