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Labour councillors want Rhodes housing block renamed after George Floyd

Forget a review – Labour group says case for name removal is clear

19 June, 2020 — By Tom Foot

A shrine to George Floyd in Minnesota [Photo: Lorie Shaull]

BACKBENCH Labour councillors have told the party’s leadership they want Cecil Rhodes’ name removed immediately from a housing block in Somers Town, and say it could be renamed after George Floyd.

The group, who have laid out their thoughts in a letter to the New Journal, say that the case for removing the imperialist name from the estate in Goldington Street is clear cut and the borough should not wait for the end of a potentially lengthy cross-party review into monuments, plaques and place names.

Calls to remove Rhodes’ name mounted last week following the Black Lives Matters protests around the world and the felling of a statue to slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

This followed the death of Mr Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis; some of his final words were “I can’t breathe” as a US police officer knelt on his neck. The 10 councillors who have signed the letter are generally associated with the left wing of the Labour group in Camden, those who were most enthusiastic about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Cecil Rhodes House is a “symbol of racism” with “no place in a borough that values equality”, the letter said, that the offence was “so obvious” that his name should simply be removed “without delay”.

The letter then adds: “In that respect we are requesting that the council rename Cecil Rhodes House immediately without needing to wait for the outcomes of the working group. Whilst there will be different thoughts about the new name the block should be given, we would say a good starting point for these thoughts would be to honour the man whose murder has sparked so much consideration of structural racism – and to consider naming the block George Floyd House.”


Rhodes never lived in Somers Town but his family tomb is in St Pancras Old Church cemetery where his grandfather was a former church warden.

He has been accused of being one of the “architects of apartheid” in Africa and of thinking whites were the “master race”. A campaign has been running for four years to remove a statue of him at Oxford University.

“We feel that the time has come for us in Camden to rid our borough of symbols that glorify racism, whether past, present or future,” the councillors said. It has been reported that tenants were asked at the time of the Oxford statue campaign if they wanted to change the name but there was not much response, although Labour party insiders said they were concerned that there should be no suggestion that the people living there should be “blamed” for the issue not having been raised earlier.

Cecil Rhodes and the housing block named after him in Somers Town

Last week, Councillor Awale Olad, a backbench Labour councillor who is not a signatory to the letter, said the need to remove Cecil Rhodes’ name was so important that “it should not be up for debate”.

Beckford School in West Hampstead is ready to hold talks on removing slave user William Beckford’s connection, and Camden’s new review panel will also investigate the life of Sir Christopher Hatton.

Meanwhile, a blue plaque in Hampstead to soap king William Hesketh Lever, Viscount Leverhulme, has been named on a hit list among campaigners drawn up after the Colston statue toppling. His wealth was based on palm oil plantations in the Congo run on forced labour. The plaque is outside the entrance to the grounds of Inverforth House, near Hampstead Heath.

Camden Council leader Councillor Georgia Gould said: “We need to act fast – but also act in a sensitive and consistent way. This group will work with tenants and residents’ associations, our schools and community institutions to ensure that there is full discussion and education on these important issues.” She added that she was uncomfortable that some figures were “put on a pedestal” in Camden.

Elizabeth I’s chancellor to be researched

RESEARCH is under way into the life of Sir Christopher Hatton, a Tudor politician, to see if a primary school in Holborn should keep his name, writes Helen Chapman.

Gwen Lee, headteacher at Christopher Hatton School in Laystall Street, said she welcomed the opportunity to reflect on history in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protest and at the start of a council review into place names.

She said: “As far as I was aware he [Hatton] had a black servant rather than a slave. From looking into history, if more comes out in detail that he was a key figure in the slave trade and responsible for atrocities then I wouldn’t want our school to be named after him.”

Sir Christopher Hatton

While the two main contentious names in Camden are Cecil Rhodes House in Somers Town and Beckford School in West Hampstead, a council committee is looking across all of its buildings and street names. Christopher Hatton was chancellor to Queen Elizabeth I and owned land spanning across the borough, including Hatton Garden, during the 16th century. Unlike Francis Drake, however, any links to the slave trade are not explicit in the history books.

A black man, James Chappel, worked on the Hatton estate, Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire, and saved the family’s life during a fire explosion in 1672. This led to Hatton’s decision to leave some money in his will to Chappel, who legend has it later became the landlord of the Hatton Arms near the country estate.

Ms Lee said: “I think it is really interesting that we now have an opportunity to look at a different aspect of him. “I think now it is important that people have become interested in learning about all aspects of British history. It is important to be able to learn about the past and be able to question its context.”

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