Havering landmarks named after slave traders must be changed, say campaigners
PUBLISHED: 19:00 12 June 2020
Romford and Upminster landmarks, named in tribute to slave traders, must be changed, campaigners have said.
Activists and politicians have called on Havering to change the names of three streets and a school, named after slave traders.
After protesters pulled down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, plans have been made to remove landmarks bearing the names of other slave traders in London, Liverpool and Plymouth.
Now campaigners say action should be taken over the public tributes to two former Havering slave traders – Andrew Branfill and Richard Neave – who have each had schools and streets named after them.
A petition has been launched to have the names changed and Labour councillor Tele Lawal said: “I intend to pursue this matter urgently with the council.”
One school said that if there was strong local feeling about the issue, it would investigate the possibility of changing its name.
In Upminster, both a street and a school continue to bear the name of brutal slave trader Andrew Branfill, who trafficked people from the west African coast for roughly 30 years.
Branfill would sail goods from London to Africa for the Royal African Company, which would be traded for slaves. He would then transport the slaves to Barbados, where they would be worked to death on sugar plantations. In Barbados he would collect sugar produced by the slaves he was supplying, to bring back to London.
“Disobedient” slaves were put on Branfill’s boat because the Royal company called him their “toughest sea captain”.
“You didn’t argue with Andrew Branfill,” said history professor Ged Martin.
Branfill used his earnings to buy Upminster Hall, for which he paid £7,400 in 1686 – roughly £850,000 in today’s money. His family owned it for 200 years. It is now the headquarters of a golf club.
Today, both Branfill Road and Branfil Primary School are named after the people-trafficker.
Student Ryan Easman, 21, has launched a petition calling for both the school and the street to be renamed – along with a second street: Champion Road.
He said: “Champion was the name of the ship Branfill used to undertake these atrocities.”
He continued: “Understandably, that throws up a lot of logistical and administrative challenges, so if that is not possible, a permanent public acknowledgement, such as a plaque, in these areas, detailing the crimes of Branfill will be a sufficient compromise.”
Upminster councillor Linda Hawthorn is leader of the residents’ group which holds all three seats in the ward where the school is located. She told the Recorder she hadn’t known of Branfil’s slave-trading history.
She said: “It’s very difficult. I can understand it giving offence, but at the same time, I think we have got to accept that all this happened many years ago and things were different in those days. Things have got more civilised now.”
She said she would be guided by the community, adding: “I would have to discuss it with everybody. We need to sit down, when we can, and have a chat. If there was a general consensus that it should be changed, I would go along with that.”
A Havering Council spokesperson, speaking on behalf of the school, echoed Cllr Hawthorn’s comments, saying: “We are aware of the concerns that have been raised in the local community about the name of the school and its connection to the slave trade. If there is a strong feeling towards changing the school’s name then the governing body will consider this and gather the views of the wider community to inform their decision.”
Meanwhile, Labour councillor Tele Lawal suggested the name of a street in her ward - Heaton, in Harold Hill – be changed after she learned it too was named after a wealthy slave trader.
She suggested on Twitter that Neave Crescent could be renamed in memory of George Floyd, the African-American man whose death at the hands of police officers sparked the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests.
She wrote: “Trust me to get elected in a ward where a slave-owner/trader lived, and has a street named after him. Like he’s a hero. Name change to #GeorgeFloyd?”
However, she has since deleted the tweet and said she is not in favour of renaming the street after Mr Floyd.
The road is named after Richard Neave, former chairman of the West Indian Merchants and the London Dock Company, who made his fortune from human slavery.
He used his people-trafficking fortune to buy 1,600 acres in Dagnam Park and received a string of honours. He spent decades as the governor of the Bank of England, was appointed the High Sheriff of Essex and was made a baronet, entitling him to use the title of Sir.
When he died in 1814, he left behind £150,000 – worth roughly £7,000,000 in today’s money. He left his son Thomas a plantation on the island of St Vincent and his wife some land in Antigua. His son John inherited his slaves on Dominica.
Harold Hill’s Neave School was also once named after the slave-trader but has since been closed.
Cllr Lawal said: “I think in light of protests going on all round the world, instigated by Black Lives Matter, we should begin to have a conversation about how we raise awareness of these racially offensive actions of the past, such as teaching local history in our schools or through Havering Council.
“At the moment, the council is preoccupied with business relating to the pandemic. Nevertheless, I think most people in Havering would want to know that Neave and Branfill are not names to be celebrated. They will also want to have an opportunity to discuss and decide how to proceed, in the light of that knowledge, in modern day Havering.”
Upminster MP Julia Lopez said she did not removing tributes to slave traders.
She said: “I make no defence of our ancestors’ choices for public memorial or street name, many of which we would now find morally objectionable. Nor can I think of anyone today in Upminster who would have a scrap of civic admiration for how Andrew Branfill made his fortune in the seventeenth century. But I do have a philosophical opposition to historical erasure and censorship given the troubling lessons left us by other societies which have sought over the centuries to expunge their heritage.”
Mrs Lopez said she believed the killing of George Floyd should inspire Britain to work harder to erase institutional racism, but added: “I am not convinced that a potentially divisive and endless debate about the character, words and actions of each of those memorialised in London’s streets will help us reach that goal.”
Ryan’s petition can be signed at: http://chng.it/WKGRQtNk.
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