I love Admiral Benbow. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I love THE Admiral Benbow. Cosy, friendly, great ale – easily my favourite pub in Shrewsbury (right, that should be enough to get me a free pint!) writes Dave Burrows.
But, despite the pictures of him on the wall – and the one of him hanging outside – I don’t really know a lot about the man who inspired the name.
I know he was a navy hero from Days of Yore (bluffer speak which covers all history from more than 100 years ago) and that he was born right here in Shrewsbury. And that’s about it. And that can’t be right, can it? Especially for the son of somebody who was also in the Navy (however briefly, eh Pops?)
Well hopefully, all that is about to change. A campaign has been re-launched to raise awareness of the Admiral and, what’s more, stick up a 10ft statue in his honour in the town.
It could be argued that Benbow’s contribution to naval history is recognised more outside of his home town than in it. There is a bust of him at the Pepys Building at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, where he sits alongside the likes of Drake, Cook and Nelson (yeah, you’ve heard of them alright) and a ship’s figurehead of him can be found at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth (although I bet he wouldn’t be too pleased with it if he was alive today – he looks like a pantomime dame who is having a particularly personal exam from the doctor).
Oh sure, there ARE memorials to him in Shrewsbury. One can be found inside St Mary’s Church and there is also the Benbow Key – a key attached to a piece of tree said to have been hung up by the Admiral when he went off to join the navy – which is displayed at the Benbow Quay housing development.
And that’s the point. They are both hidden. With the best will in the world, not many people go to church these days and most people will not have seen, or even be aware of, the memorial at St Mary’s. As for the key, it is hidden away on a private housing development. That’s not right.
And so the new campaign is to get the statue placed somewhere where everyone will see it. Like the New Riverside Shopping Centre. It has been said shopping is the new religion and, while that may be a sad commentary on modern life, it is probably true, so what better place for it.
Shrewsbury rightly shouts about its connections with Charles Darwin (although I still think we could make more of that, too) but Admiral Benbow is largely ignored.
A man brought up in unprivileged surroundings but whose sheer courage saw him promoted through the ranks to Admiral. A man who took part in the battles of Beachy Head, Barfleur and La Hogue, who found fame at the time for tackling pirates and for taking on the French.
A man who had a folk song written about him and who was name-checked in Treasure Island (the Admiral Benbow Inn is the fictional home of Jim Hawkins).
How can it be that this man, unlike Darwin, isn’t even worthy of having a shopping centre named after him? Time to put that right. And put him IN a shopping centre.
It’s what he would’ve wanted.