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Slave trader’s name removed from tower block as more statues set to go in London

UK News | Published:

It comes as two statues linked to the slave trade are set to be removed from two London hospitals.

Colston Tower

The removal of a Bristol tower block sign bearing the name of a slave trader is the latest in a string of monuments and statues being pulled down across the country.

It comes as the Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals in London announced it will remove two statues of their namesakes from public view due to their links to the slave trade.

A video circulating online on Thursday evening shows men in hard hats scaling Colston Tower in Bristol city centre and removing the controversial figure’s name from atop the high-rise building.

Edward Colston's name was removed from Colston Tower in Bristol
Edward Colston’s name was removed from Colston Tower in Bristol (@LStyleDistrict/Twitter/PA Media)

The 15-storey tower block, in Colston Street, accommodates a number of offices.

Hours earlier, Colston’s statue was fished out of Bristol harbour after being pulled down and dumped into the water during an anti-racism demonstration on Sunday.

The toppling of Colston’s statue acted as a catalyst for more monuments linked with Britain’s colonial past to be taken down.

The latest to follow suit is Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, after it confirmed two figures depicting Robert Clayton and Thomas Guy will be taken out of public view due to their association with the slave trade.

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St Thomas’ Hospital
St Thomas’ Hospital in Central London (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

Clayton, a former Lord Mayor of London, had ties to the Royal African Company, which transported slaves to the Americas, while Guy invested in the South Sea Company, which was also involved in the trade.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said in a statement: “Like many organisations in Britain, we know that we have a duty to address the legacy of colonialism, racism and slavery in our work.

“We absolutely recognise the public hurt and anger that is generated by the symbolism of public statues of historical figures associated with the slave trade in some way.

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“We have therefore decided to remove statues of Robert Clayton and Thomas Guy from public view, and we look forward to engaging with and receiving guidance from the Mayor of London’s commission on each.

“We see the pervasive and harmful effects of structural racism every day through our work – black people have worse health outcomes, and this inequality is one of many ways racism permeates our society.”

Meanwhile, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council has delayed plans to temporarily remove a statue of Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell after angry residents vowed to fight to protect it.

The council had originally said it would move the statue from Poole Quay on Thursday over concerns it was on a target list compiled by anti-racism activists.

Campaigners have focused in on Lord Baden-Powell due to his associations with the Nazis and the Hitler Youth programme, as well as his actions in the military.

The statue features on a “topple the racists” website which lists more than 60 statues and memorials across the UK which they argue should be taken down, because they “celebrate slavery and racism”.

In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the council said the listing “placed the much-loved statue at risk of damage or even destruction”.

It added: “We know that local people feel proud of Lord Baden-Powell’s and the Scout movement’s links with Poole, and that some people feel that we would be giving in to the protesters by temporarily removing the statue.

“However, we feel it is responsible to protect it for future generations to enjoy and respect.”

The council said the statue would not be removed because its “foundations are deeper than originally envisaged” with discussions needed with contractors on how to move it safely.

24-hour security will be put in place “until it is either removed or the threat diminishes,” the council said.

It added: “Should the statue be removed temporarily, barring unforeseen circumstances we will return it to the Quay as soon as the threat level subsides.”

Black Lives Matter protests
Rover Scouts Chris Arthur (left) and Matthew Trott travelled from Cwmbran, Wales, to express support for the statue of Robert Baden-Powell on Poole Quay in Dorset (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Residents gathering around the statue on Thursday vowed to halt its removal, while local Conservative MPs took to Twitter to condemn the plans.

Len Banister, 78, a former Scout, said of the Baden-Powell statue: “He is the reason I am still here, the pleasure he gives to so many people, they shouldn’t take it down, I will fight them off.”

Rover Scouts Matthew Trott and Christopher Arthur travelled from Cwmbran, Wales, roughly 100 miles drive away, to express their support for the statue they felt needed protection.

Mr Trott, 28, said: “I’d rather see the statue placed in a box in a warehouse for the moment rather than at the bottom of the harbour.

“There have been vicious rumours of Baden-Powell but they are not true at all. He started the foundation I love, I have been a Scout my whole life since I was six, Scouting is my whole life so he is my hero.

Writing on Twitter, Tobias Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East and former scout, tweeted about the Baden-Powell statue: “A wider overdue national debate has begun about who we were, who we are and where we should go.

“Few historical figures comply with 21st C values. Simply expunging past connections from sight won’t correct wrongs or help us better learn from our past.”

Mark Howell, the local authority’s deputy leader, had said the statue would only be removed to protect it, with the aim of it permanently remaining in its position overlooking Brownsea Island where Lord Baden-Powell held his first experimental camp in 1907.

Council leader Vikki Slade initially claimed on Twitter the decision to remove the statue was on police advice following a “threat”, adding: “It’s literally less than 3m from the sea so is at huge risk.”

Dorset Police later confirmed it had informed the council that the statue was a “potential target”, but “no advice was given to remove it”.

The row over the statue comes as authorities across the country face pressure to review contentious monuments following protests over the death of George Floyd and racial injustice.

Mr Floyd died after a white police officer held him down by pressing his knee into his neck for almost nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25.

Campaigners have targeted tributes to 19th century slave owner Sir Thomas Picton, 18th century colonialist trader Robert Clive and 17th century merchant Elihu Yale who had links to the slave trade.

Memorials to Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Met Police in London have also been challenged, while in the past week graffiti has been left on statues of Queen Victoria in Leeds and Winston Churchill in London.

On Tuesday evening, a statue of slave owner Robert Milligan in London’s Docklands was removed following local authority approval.

Baroness Valerie Amos, director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London, said on Thursday that a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes should be taken down from Oriel College at the University of Oxford.

The statue has been the focus of a long-running campaign demanding its removal.

Meanwhile, the great-great-grandson of William Gladstone has suggested the 19th century prime minister would not have stood in the way if there was “democratic will” to remove statues of him.

Charlie Gladstone made the comments after online petitions called for Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales, to be renamed due to the family’s links to the slave trade.

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