Shrewsbury's Clive of India stands fast to win new battle
For generations the statue of Clive of India stood like a sentinel over The Square in Shrewsbury and nobody took much notice of him.
But then Edward Colston took a dip in Bristol harbour and suddenly everybody began to have an opinion on statues, and the merits or otherwise of the historical figures they honoured.
Even in his own times, Robert Clive had a roguish reputation. Salopians didn't exactly rush to commemorate this local lad in bronze or stone. It was not until 1860, over 80 years after his death, that the statue in The Square went up, with the sculptor studying portraits of Clive to come up with a likeness.
The feeling seems to have been that he was a significant local historical figure and Shropshire really ought to do something, albeit belatedly.
Since then the bronze statue has been part of the townscape, part of the street furniture, and only making the news when he has been subject to occasional indignities such as being adorned with a traffic cone hat, and the like.
Or when he has been removed from his perch – yes, it has happened.
In February 2004 Clive was lifted off his pedestal and taken away, as descendants watched. The bad news for his detractors is that he came back again after a restoration which cost £9,000.
Resplendent after his makeover, he was returned to his plinth without any apparent objection on May 20 that year.
The work, said to have been the first restoration for over 30 years (and does anybody remember if he was removed then as well?) was done by Eura Conservation in Telford and saw Clive cleaned and treated to a protective wax, and his sword was also repaired.
Whatever arguments there can be about the statue, it has lasted much better than that of Lord Hill at the top of The Column. Poor Lord Hill has literally been falling to pieces, a definite health and safety hazard to those below, and his weathered face is now a caricature of what it must have been when the statue was first erected.
Times change and attitudes change, and during the current controversy over 10,000 people signed petitions to have Clive removed. A rival petition to keep him where he is had rather fewer signatures.
Of course, if you do take down Clive, then the question arises of who – if anyone – should take his place. And who should have the right to decide a meritorious replacement?
But that is academic, at least for the moment. Shropshire Council debated the statue at a virtual full council meeting in July and the arguments for and against retaining Clive were democratically aired.
In the vote, 28 councillors chose to take no action on the future of the statue, 17 voted against, and one abstained.
Clive had won another battle.
In brief: Who was Robert Clive?
Clive was born on the Styche Hall estate, near Market Drayton, in 1725 and went to school in London before travelling to India with the East India Company in 1743.
After two years in Britain, in 1755 Clive returned to India and two years later retook Calcutta (now Kolkata) for the company at the Battle of Plassey, a key moment on Britain's path to controlling Bengal and then India for almost two centuries.
Corruption and looting saw Clive amass a huge amount of wealth and he returned to Britain in 1760, aged 34.
He was made Baron Clive of Passey, knighted and became Shrewsbury's MP, a position he held until his death.
He went back to India in 1765 for two years before returning to Britain where the activities of Clive and the East India Company in India came under sustained attack.
The famine of Bengal that lasted between 1769 and 1773 and killed around a third of the region's population was said to have largely been caused by the company's policies.
Clive defended himself in Parliament, saying "I stand astonished at my own moderation," and in 1773 Parliament declared that he did “render great and meritorious services to his country.”
He died at home in London aged 49 and is believed to have killed himself.
All the petitions can be found by searching ‘Clive of India’ on change.org.