Slave owner who built Goring Hall recorded in latest dictionary update

As a young man, David Lyon (1794-1872), was the subject of a fine portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, which is now in the collection of Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, Madrid.

An old photo of Goring Hall
An old photo of Goring Hall

It depicts a confident, dandyish figure, with flowing locks, and opulently dressed in a fur-trimmed coat, set in a country estate.

He and his father, also David Lyon, are the subjects of a new entry added in the latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and contributed by Dr Nick Draper, director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at University College London, who has researched the fortunes of the Lyon family.

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The family had made their fortune from the West Indies, where they were involved in financing the slave economy.

The portrait of David Lyon by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Born in Brechin, into a family of merchants and tenant farmers who acquired estates and enslaved people on Jamaica, the elder David Lyon (bap. 1754, d. 1827) spent a brief period on the island before settling in London where he set up as a financier for slave owners, and was involved in developing the West India Dock; at his death, shortly after the portrait of his son was painted, he was one of the richest men in Britain.

In 1835, following the ending of slavery in the British colonies, the younger David Lyon received compensation for 463 enslaved people inherited from his father.

David Lyon had bought an estate in West Sussex in 1834, and set about building a new house on the site, Goring Hall, in about 1840.

He was also responsible for planting the oaks which form Ilex Avenue, between Goring and Ferring.

In 1837 he financed the rebuilding of the parish church at Goring in 1837 to a design by Decimus Burton and commissioned Sir Francis Chantrey to sculpt a memorial within it to his mother, Isabella Lyon, in 1841.

Dr Draper commented: “Slave-owners helped shape modern Britain through a multitude of economic, political and cultural legacies.

“The term ‘slave-owner’ itself was consistently avoided; most aimed to recast themselves as planters, proprietors, merchants, country gentlemen or statesmen.

“Slave-ownership was an important source of their wealth but also informed their outlook, and the new work aims to bring this facet of British life into view.”

The new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography adds new biographies of 89 men and women active between the 16th and 21st century.

It is the national record of men and women who have shaped all walks of British life, in the UK and overseas, from the Roman occupation to the 21st century.

The Oxford DNB online is freely available in public libraries across the UK.

Public libraries also offer ‘remote access’, allowing library members to log-in and read the dictionary online at any time.

For further details visit


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