What is in a name? 

Lib Dem run Watford Borough Council this week voted unanimously to pass a motion in favour of reviewing our town’s street names with links to slave and colonial history.

The Black Lives Matter Campaign and others have rightly highlighted the harm slavery, indentured labour and exploitation inflicted on individuals and whole societies during the cruel period of slavery – the legacy of which continues to this day.

It is important to remember that sickness and destitution were rife amongst slaves, there was a significant need for acclimatisation for immigrants to any slave colony, however, many slave owners failed to do this and as a result thousands of slaves died within weeks of arrival.

Others eventually succumbed to the poor working conditions on plantations and within other slave roles. Slaves were literally worked to death.

As part of the slave trade whole families were imported from Hindu, Muslim, African and European cultures, living together in barracks in often squalid conditions with minimal privacy.

Many slaves committed suicide, with trade unions and strikes made illegal by the governments of the West Indies.

Even indentured slaves had to seek permission to leave their plantations, corporal punishments were enforced for crimes including insulting the plantation owner.

For slaves, the concept of freedom in a socially and politically meaningful way was never an option.

This was the reality of slavery.

The exploitation, degradation, and unethical buying and selling of human beings for the purpose of forced and unpaid work is blatantly unethical and has no place in 21st century Britain.

That is why we need to carefully consider our civic architecture, whether that be our street names, buildings, or public statues. 

They should reflect our open, liberal, democratic traditions and not celebrate individuals, groups or outdated practices that represent some of the most terrible practices in human history.



* Mark Hofman has been a Councillor on Watford Borough Council since 2012.

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  • richard underhill 18th Jul '20 - 11:20am

    What is in a name?
    By Mark Hofman
    We have a street which we named after Enid Lakeman OBE, which should be better known. Whenever there was a council bye-election she would be there. Whenever there was a Liberal International trip she would participate. Memorable events for the many people who knew her include climbing the steps at the leaning tower of Pisa, which are marble and well worn by centuries of use. At the top there is a coronet, so she wanted to finish the job by climbing just a few more steps, which she did. She died at the age of 91 and a half and was cremated. The Deputy Leader came on the day. We saw him quite often although it is a long way from Inverness.
    In Belfast with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland I met a member of Fianna Fail (APNI are very liberal). He told me that there had been a referendum in the Republic in which there were two choices, for or against the retention of the Single Transferable Vote. He was positively impressed that Enid Lakeman had assembled a team, brought them to Ireland and won the referendum in favour of retention.
    If an editor of LDV is in any doubt please check with John Alderdice, who was then the leader of the APNI, the host of the event, the popular candidate for Belfast East (since won by APNI’s current leader Naomi Long) and became the President of the Liberal International and has done important work for our party. He is a consultant psychiatrist and was the first Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

  • The recently extended shopping centre in Watford is now in crisis as intu appoint administrators. The recently opened Debenhams flagship store has announced it will close. The large and long established branch of John Lewis that has for decades attracted shoppers from miles around has announced that it, too, will close.

    I am sure the worried residents of the town will be comforted by this Lib Dem initiative.

  • I have misgivings about changing names and removing statues. Many years ago, I was a student in Bristol and it was common knowledge that Colston had made money on the slave triangle and was a major benefactor to the city (money launderer, perhaps, in today’s parlance), with several buildings etc bearing his name. In later years, when taking family there, I would stop at the Colston Hall, point out the name and explain Bristol’s part in the slave trade. We need people to remember the slave trade and these cues in some of our cities remind us; not everyone will visit museums but they might read a plaque they pass every day. I hated Margaret Thatcher when prime minister, but her statue is a useful cue to stop and tell people why she was loved and hated. Erasing Auschwitz would be a gift to holocaust deniers. There are plenty of new housing estates and blocks of flats which can be named after people we think now should be remembered in future, instead of giving them fancy names dreamed up by developers.

  • David Garlick 19th Jul '20 - 11:48am

    I am fully behind the BLM movement but would like to see the ‘slave trade names’, statues etc put to a positive use rather than just being swept away.
    If we have a street name for example that celebrates a slave trader then let us explain the history behind that with a short note linked to a full detail on line.
    We need to know what was done by our forbears and learn from that rather than hide it away. Statues might be better in a Museum similarly explained, but local people should always be asked to lead in the planning of what should be done on these issues

  • suzanne fletcher 19th Jul '20 - 11:49am

    I agree with the comment that if a street is names after someone there should be an explanation. It adds interest to our surroundings, and more awareness of our history, local or national.
    When I was a councillor some estates were built on the edge of meadow land ( would have been on it if not had a battle), and I did get streets named after flowers and butterflies there. I persuaded the developers to do a leaflet explaining this, with a little pic of whatever it was and a bit about it. This was given to all purchasers.
    Husband John did something similar in his ward, with streets named after various railway people as it was next to the original Stockton to Darlington Railway.

  • suzanne fletcher 19th Jul '20 - 11:58am

    On another tack on this, Whilst uncovering the history of Brass Crosby ( a story there) I called for some sort of memorial plaque in our Town Hall, and there was quite a call from public and press, but there couldn’t be of course, as it was something I was doing, and I was opposition and a nuisance ( although my unatributed words were published on the council website after I retired and so not a political nuisance – haha, https://heritage.stockton.gov.uk/articles/people/as-bold-as-brass-the-life-of-brass-crosby/) . One person at a talk I gave said that better than anything named after him I should write a book. A good suggestion, but I am still finishing it off, 13 years later!
    Incidentally, one of the labour councillors said there should be no mention of his has he was an MP for a “rotten borough” ( but of course that was the electoral system of the time, like all our MPs are elected under the rotten first past the post) and he was probably into the slave trade as a prominent person in the City of London (1771).
    I was delighted that my research had taken me to finding he was a founder of the Society of Gentlemen, that later split into 2 factions, the one he was in also had William Wilberforce in.

  • suzanne fletcher 19th Jul '20 - 12:00pm

    A third comment from me. It is easier to see what is right and wrong in retrospect.
    In 100 years time we should be condemned for our unfair world trade systems where people work hard for poverty wages to produce our luxuries such as chocolate, tea, sugar and coffee. Fairtrade is paid lip service to.

  • Robin Bennett 19th Jul '20 - 3:18pm

    Up to one-third of slaves would die in the ships transporting them from Africa. There was no recourse for killings, beatings or rape. A plantation owner might break up established relationships by sending certain slaves, along with mules and carts, to auction. Yet we are more acutely aware of the horrors of the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities than we are of slavery. In West Germany, all statues or street names associated with the Nazis were removed after the war. It’s past time we do the same. In Glasgow, Plantation Quay has been renamed, inappropriately, Pacific Quay (now home of BBC Scotland) because of the connotations. But there are still city centre streets in non-residential areas with the names of slave owners, such as Cochrane, Glassford and Buchanan. Recent unofficial re-namings should become candidates for official changes. Statues (where appropriate and practicable) should either be removed or a corrective plaque added at the base.

  • John Marriott 19th Jul '20 - 3:42pm

    I’m looking forward to seeing what happens if or when Grantham erects that splendid statue of the late Lady Thatcher!

  • Watford has always had it’s economic and social challenges. Now if (like Bristol) there is a clear and obvious and long standing issue that needs to be resolved, then fair enough, but to spend time (and one assumes money) to go out and look for evidence of of historic wrong doing in parts of the country with no link to slavery is perverse. What about looking at how the rural working class of east Hertfordshire may have been exploited in the 18th and 19th centuries, or the extent to which poor employment practices still exist in the town <

  • Mark Hofman and his colleagues should be ashamed to admit that they wasted time and money trawling through street names looking for ones with links to slavery so that they could change them.

    This is the sort of silly gesture exercise that gives left wingers a bad name.

    Erasing history is censorship, hiding the ugly truth. Like it or not, slavery was once acceptable. Street names, statues and any other historic remains are there because each generation decides how to record people and events. It is much more educational and informative to see these milestones in our development. It is wrong to remove them and place them out of sight and out of mind.

  • I live close to Southall (mentioned above) and had a look at the origins of Havelock Road. As far as I could tell from old maps and the census, the name first appeared as a pub name, the Havelock Arms, in the 1861 census. The lane across fields starting by the pub then became known as Havelock Lane and after houses were built along it, Havelock Road. Housing estates and a school acquired the name too. I don’t know why the pub was so named, but suspect that the road etc merely acquired the name from it, rather than being deliberately named to honour Sir Henry Havelock. I don’t favour renaming because it causes confusion with the need to amend maps, addresses etc. and the suggested new name is Guru Nanak Road, after the founder of Sikhism, which seems a strange choice, like renaming a road with cathedral, Jesus Christ Road!

    I agree about the waste of time etc in dealing with this, and there is a danger too, that once a purge of such names and statues etc has taken place, many will think racism has been sorted, whereas actually racism did not persist simply because white people kept passing Colston’s statue on the way to work.

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