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Letter: ‘Better to know your history than hide away the parts you dislike’

West Leeds history buff Mark Stevenson argues it’s better to ‘tell the truth and don’t butter it up’ when it comes to the city’s statues. monuments and buildings – while pointing to some local connections to the slave trade…

I’m sure you have all seen over the past few years politicians of various parties going on about Brexit and how this and that will or will not happen because of it.

Now if you step into Doctor Who’s Tardis and go back in time to around 1800 and change the word ‘Brexit’ for ‘Slavery’ you will get an idea of the debate it caused back then in the country.

There was a headline that read ‘Labour council to “review” monuments after anti-racism protesters tear down statue’ but where does the buck stop?

Is it just people who were directly connected to the slave trade or people and institutions that supported them?

If it is the latter then for the next few sentences the Tories are going to get it in the ear, mainly because they are the only political party around now that was around then – a great achievement in itself.

The Tory party at the time supported the Slave Trade – James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan was a Tory MP. He voted as he was told. So when he was told to vote in favour of the Slave Trade, he did. Many streets around West Leeds are named after him and his family including a pub and Cardigan Fields. 

Should we change these names because he supported institutions that supported the Slave Trade? I must also say that the Tory party also played a part in the ending of the Slave Trade later on. 

What else should we hide away? The Flogging Parson of Farsley maybe.

marsden farsley
 Samuel Marsden

Even in an era when punishing criminals harshly was the norm he stood out. His vindictiveness towards the Irish Catholics with sentences of 300 lashes was the norm. Samuel Marsden was the driving force behind the New South Wales “Female Register” which said all women except widows were either ‘married’ or ‘concubine’.

Only marriages by the Church of England were recognised. Women who married in Roman Catholic or Jewish ceremonies were automatically classed as concubines.

Not to mention the Aborigines he stole land from. Farsley has a monument to him, with cottages and streets named after him. 

What about wars? Always a tricky one but sometimes we as a country do not cover ourselves in glory.

A few monuments around West Leeds remember and honour the dead mainly from the second Boer War 1899-1902 (fought in South Africa against Dutch Settlers). 

Thousands of Prisoners of War were shipped overseas, some never to return. Nearly 30,000 women and children were to die in British Concentration Camps. 

All these things – good and bad – are part of our history and heritage and none should be hidden away.

Just tell the truth and don’t butter it up. Let people make their own opinions. Better to know your history than hide away the parts you dislike.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I agree completely with the above comments. We, the British, built a great empire and an industrial system that was based on slavery of one type or another (either Africans to the plantations in North America or the West Indies or the exploitation of our own people on the farms and industries in Britain or as slaves [indentured criminals] in Australia, North America and other countries) but at the same time we brought many great gifts to people all over the world pulling many of them out of the stone age and into modern culture.

    But we must also remember that slavery was a normal cultural way of life dating back as far as the ancient Babylonians, Greeks and Romans and all other cultures since then. You also have to remember that we did not actually go and capture Africans to take them into slavery but actually bought them from existing, other African, traders. Britain and the Western civilisations were the first cultures to condemn it as well as the first cultures to stop 90% of slavery.

    I say 90% because it still exists today especially in Africa but also in the Middle East and in some of the East European countries. It even happens in Britain but usually by residents from other countries (recent cases such as the infamous Cockle pickers in Morecambe prove it).

    We should no more apologise for the transgressions of our forebears than the descendants of the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Israelites, Babylonians and other ancient cultures should. In fact we should hold our heads up high for if it had not been for the people in this country who fought to end slavery it would quite possibly be still extant in the WHOLE world.

  2. Stephen Clayforth thinks that the British can claim credit for ending slavery; like an arsonist expecting credit for putting out the fires they have started. I disagree.

    Stephen Clayforth wants to blame the Atlantic slave trade on “other African traders”, like the British just turned up and were like, “oh look, millions of slaves already for sale, let’s buy some!” People who aren’t deluded know that the British were the driving force behind the market, and used other Africans and pirates to kidnap and capture the enslaved as they knew the region and could operate undetected.

    Stephen Clayforth thinks that the British Empire actually showered gifts on all it’s subjects and that they should be thankful it ever came to their land, enslaved their children and killed their “stone-aged” culture. I’m sure he’d be equally overjoyed if a foreign Empire (like China for example) did the same to Britain, and pulled us into THEIR version of ‘modern culture,’ whatever that even means. This evaluation of the empire work especially well if you’re a sociopath and think the world revolves around you.

    Plenty of ill-informed people talk about the building of this ‘great’ British Empire – entirely on the back of the genocide, murder, rape, robbery and deceit of those who welcomed them in. How proud of that can you really be? Freedom from this regime was only bought back with the blood and suffering of those brave enough to fight against it. Only reluctantly was it forced to hand back power, as through it’s own barbarity, it’s subjects revolted against its system of subjugation.
    It’s embarrassing that although Stephen might be well intentioned, he’s still living in a ‘British-Empire-fetishizing circle-jerk dreamland’ and he still doesn’t get it. The British empire was bad. They did things to benefit themselves only. They murdered hundreds of thousands of people in the process. No one wants an apology. They just want you to wake up.

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