Cumberbatch has also revealed that his mother, the actress Wanda Ventham, had urged him not to use his real surname professionally, in case it made him a target for reparation claims by the descendants of slaves.

Yet every so often the subject rears its ugly head.

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One of those was a woman known only as Elizabeth, described in family documents as a ‘mulatto’, meaning that she was the light-skinned daughter of a white plantation owner and a black female slave. ‘I can guarantee that he didn’t marry her; she would have been called his “housekeeper” or similar.

She would become the unmarried Lawrence’s lover and produce his only son, John Edward Cumberbatch, who was born in 1800 when his father was 46.‘It happened wherever there was slavery,’ says Newton. The children of these unions were known as “reputed” or “natural” children in legal contexts such as wills.’John Edward Cumberbatch would, in turn, become the patriarch of another noteworthy Cumberbatch clan.

You can still see, in Abraham senior’s 1750 will, a hint of the degree to which human beings were treated as beasts of burden.

One paragraph stipulates: ‘My plantation be kept staffed with 250 negro slaves and 150 head of cattle.’In 1816, by which time the plantations had passed through the hands of Abraham Carleton and his son, also Abraham (1754-96), and were owned by Abraham Parry Cumberbatch (born 1794), a slave called Bussa led a bloody rebellion.‘Furniture of every description, rum, sugar, wine, corn, and every species of food which had been stored were promiscuously scattered in the roads and fields near to dwelling houses,’ recalled Edward Codd, a British soldier, in a letter home to London.

This week, for example, New York’s newly-appointed transport commissioner, an African-American lawyer named Wanda Cumberbatch, was asked at a press conference about her distinctive surname.

At least one chapter also revolves around a darkly-intriguing sex scandal.The Cumberbatch family first arrived in Barbados in the 1690s, when Joshua Cumberbatch, Benedict’s eighth-great-grandfather, left the family home near Bristol and emigrated to the island with his wife, Ann, and three children. At the time, younger sons of wealthy families (who did not typically stand to inherit vast riches), would often decide to venture to the New World in search of a fortune.But for those fortunate enough to survive, extreme riches beckoned.Here, roughly 45 minutes’ drive along a Tarmac road and then a dusty track, past endless acres of sugar cane swaying gently in the breeze, is a weather-beaten white stone archway announcing that you have arrived at the Cleland Plantation.The owner, 66-year-old Stephen Tempro, has lived here since 1985, eking out a modest living from the small herds of cattle and goats that graze his 150-odd acres, along with a smattering of small fruit and vegetable plots.‘This is a very difficult place to work,’ he says, from the seat of a rusty tractor.‘It’s very hilly and rocky, as you can see, and a lot of hard work has to go each year into maintaining the plantation.’The one-storey building, believed to be almost 400 years old, is filled with antique furniture and fading photographs.