Information board for controversial Clive statue to go up this autumn

An information board will be put up next to Shrewsbury’s Clive of India statue in the next few weeks, more than a year after councillors voted not to have the controversial figure removed.

Last year a group of people gathered to 'defend' Shrewsbury's Clive of India Statue, shortly after protesters sparked national headlines by toppling a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol
Last year a group of people gathered to 'defend' Shrewsbury's Clive of India Statue, shortly after protesters sparked national headlines by toppling a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol

Shropshire Council says the final designs and wording of the interpretation panel have been signed off and a contractor appointed to carry out the installation.

The project has been funded thanks to a £7,000 grant from the West Midlands Museum Development Recovery Grants Scheme, and was due to be completed by this April.

It follows a series of debates among councillors last summer over the future of the monument, which was the subject of multiple petitions and campaigns both for its removal and retention.

Councillors voted in support of keeping the statue in the Square, where it has stood since 1860, but agreed that information about Clive’s history as a key figure in establishing British colonial control over India should be presented alongside it.

The project has also involved updating hundreds of records and displays of items relating to colonialism in Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

An update on the initiative will be given at a meeting of the full council next week, following a question submitted by Monkmoor councillor Pam Moseley.

She said: “It is now acknowledged that Clive caused great harm, and the deaths through war and famine, of over a million of the indigenous population of India.

“It is felt that a more accurate interpretation of his actions and the regime which he served is required, so that his life and his representation in the Square may be put into perspective by current and future generations.

“The then portfolio holder for assets, growth and regeneration acknowledged that the colonial past of Britain is not something that should always be honoured, but used to inform the future, and to action this in the instance of Clive’s statue in Shrewsbury.

“Hence, museum staff were to be requested to provide a better interpretation of the statue for approval and locate this appropriately.

“It is now over a year since this pledge, and no action has taken place with regard to the statue.

“Elsewhere, other councils have faced the same or similar situations with statuary erected many years ago when cultural sensitivities were very different to those of today, but have made some efforts to ameliorate the situation.

“In Edinburgh for example, a statue of Henry Dundas, Lord Melville, who took action to delay the abolition of the slave trade, is now accompanied by a sign which explains that a new plaque for the statue has been commissioned to detail the impact of his actions, and gives the wording which will be on the new plaque.

“Can the portfolio holder explain why there has been no progress yet on the reinterpretation of the Clive statue, and also, when this will take place?”

A response provided by Councillor Cecilia Motley, portfolio holder for communities, place and tourism, says work was carried out swiftly to secure funding for the project and consult with stakeholders over the wording of the board, which she had signed off in July this year.

Councillor Motley said: “To mitigate delays, the Museum Service erected a temporary interpretation panel at the entrance to the museum.

“During periods in which lockdown forced museum closure, staff worked to re-interpret items on display relating to British colonialism and updated in excess of 200 catalogue entries.

“Since sign-off was received we have identified suitable contractors and secured quotes for the stone masonry and have arranged to meet City ID who have been appointed to deliver wayfinding and heritage interpretation across the town.

“Date of installation is subject to the outcome of this meeting and production and installation time frames, however we are pushing for completion of the project this autumn.”

The council has previously said the project will also involve the production of a short film exploring the controversy surrounding the statue.

Calls to have it removed began in June last year following Black Lives Matter protests across the country, which saw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston torn down by demonstrators in Bristol.

Campaigners say Robert Clive should not be celebrated in the form of such a prominent statue due to his role in establishing British colonial control of India through his involvement in the East India Company.

Clive’s rule as the first British Governor of Bengal saw widespread looting of the region’s wealth and treasures, and changes the company made to taxes and agricultural policies are said to have led to the Bengal Famine of 1770, which saw around a third of the region’s population starve to death.

But those in favour of keeping the statue argue its removal would be an attempt to erase him from Shrewsbury’s history, with Clive also having served as the town’s mayor and MP.

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