Greenwich Council is to review statues, monuments and street names with links to the slave trade in the light of the demonstration that saw the statue of a slave trader topped in Bristol last weekend.
Thousands have taken to the streets in London and in cities around the UK following the police killing of George Floyd in the USA last month to highlight continued racial injustice both at home and abroad.
After protesters pulled down a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol on Sunday, a statue of Robert Milligan – the slave trader who founded the West India Dock on the Isle of Dogs – was removed from its plinth outside the Museum of London Docklands on Tuesday.
Last night it was announced that Guy’s Hospital would be removing a statue of its founder, Thomas Guy – a philanthropist who made his money in human trafficking – from public view.
With the old Deptford dockyard having playing a key role in the slave trade, many reminders of the trade are still features of south-east London streets.
Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said that the borough “proudly stands against racism. Our borough’s diversity is our one of our greatest strengths and we want to make sure this is reflected in our public realm.”
He added: “The recent Black Lives Matter protests have prompted many of us to consider the relevance of statues and landmarks that commemorate and celebrate those who made their fortune from exploitation.
“It is an uncomfortable truth that our borough, with its rich maritime history, has ties to the slave trade. We will be reviewing the whole of our public realm to identify these links and develop a way forward.
“Our history is important, and we are not looking to rewrite or forget the past. But we do have a responsibility to question and discuss the place of commemorative structures from bygone eras in our borough’s future.”
The borough’s Conservative opposition leader Nigel Fletcher said any decisions needed to made “in a calm and considered way, with proper democratic and community input”. He added: “This announcement was not discussed with us before it was made, and I hope in future we can proceed with a greater degree of consensus. The last thing we need is for the cause of anti-racism to be damaged by intemperate actions – by anyone- that lose public support and risk creating new divisions.”
Street names in Greenwich borough with links to the slave trade include Angerstein Lane in Blackheath, named after John Julius Angerstein, an insurance underwriter who amassed a large art collection which formed the basis of the National Gallery. Some sources say Angerstein, whose Woodlands home still stands on Mycenae Road, owned plantations in Grenada and say his insurance activities would have included slave ships, others point to links with the movement to abolish slavery. University College London’s Legacies of British Slave-ownership project says his connections remain “remain inadequately researched”. His name also survives on a pub in Greenwich and a nearby industrial estate.
More details on Greenwich and the slave trade can be found on the Portcities website.
Updated at 11.30am with Conservative response.
Updated on 22 June to remove a reference to Calvert Road in Greenwich – it may be named after a different Calvert…
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