Calls grow louder to rename Cecil Rhodes housing block
Labour councillor: It should not be up for debate
12 June, 2020 — By Tom Foot
A block in Goldington Street is named after imperialist Cecil Rhodes
A HOUSING block named after one of the “architects of apartheid” should be renamed, campaigners and politicians are demanding.
Cecil Rhodes House will be looked at as part of Camden Council’s review of statues, monuments and other tributes to controversial figures in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.
The “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign renewed their calls for a statue of the imperialist to be removed from Oxford University on Tuesday, but questions are also being asked about whether his name should be taken down from the block in Somers Town.
Former Camden Mayor Roger Robinson, who is a ward councillor in Somers Town, said: “I have asked many times since I was elected to Camden Council, and have done so over the past two weeks, that Camden Council should remove the name of Cecil Rhodes from the name of the estate.”
“He was an ardent believer in British imperialism and was himself the founder of the territory of Rhodesia. He was known too as an architect of apartheid. I would imagine that some sort of debate about renaming the estate would be the aim of many councillors serving on Camden Council.”
The 10-storey Art Deco block is part of the Goldington Street estate built in the late 1940s.
Labour councillor Awale Olad said: “There’s really no need to continue celebrating the memory and stature of these terrible men responsible for some of the worst tragedies in human history. African countries are still recovering from their horrific legacies.”
He added: “It should not be up for debate whether we should keep Rhodes’ name on our homes. Residents, however, should decide from a shortlist of names, that they’ve helped produce, as a replacement.”
The New Journal first raised questions about the name of Cecil Rhodes House in 2016.
The issue has now been given new focus after the protest felling of a statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol over the weekend. Council leader Georgia Gould said she wanted to see “real change” and announced plans for an “urgent, informed and open discussion” about buildings with “troubling associations” in Camden.
She revealed a cross-party panel had been set up “to make some decisions” after a “full discussion” with the public.
Fran Heron, of the Camden Town District Management Committee (DMC), which covers the area of the estate, said: “I would support a thorough debate on the issue that would be informative and educational. One of the few things that has been positive during the lockdown is that so many political issues are being discussed virtually and you hear views from differing perspectives.”
The tenants’ and residents’ association for the block has been dormant for many years, Ms Heron added.
The Rhodes family’s links to the area stretch back to the mid-18th century when they purchased land then known as “Brill Farm”. It spanned swathes of St Pancras, and Mecklenburgh and Brunswick squares in Bloomsbury.
Cecil Rhodes’ grandfather, William, was a churchwarden at St Pancras Old Church. His tomb “and many other members of the family” were buried in the cemetery that is now St Pancras Gardens. A memorial “re-erected by Cecil John Rhodes in 1890” remains in the gardens today. Cecil Rhodes was buried in Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia). Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called for a review of all statues in the capital.
Councillor Gould said: “We have seen across the country that some statues, monuments and place names are causing real pain and grief right now for communities. I myself feel very uncomfortable that certain figures are on a pedestal when what they stand for is so incompatible with our values and, in some cases, inextricably linked to racist, brutal oppression.”
In 1985 the council renamed a street in Camden Town from Selous Street – possibly originally a nod to one of Rhodes’ colonial friends – to Mandela Street.
More recently, a new block on the Bourne estate was named after Olaudah Equiano, a man who experienced the horrors of slavery himself before becoming a leading black campaigner for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.
But Cllr Gould said: “There are a few places in Camden whose names have troubling associations, and we need to have an urgent, informed and open discussion with our communities about changing these. We need to act fast, but also act in a sensitive and consistent way.”
She said tenants, residents and all community groups would get the chance to give their views, adding: “I also encourage any resident to get in contact about concerns they may have to contribute to the wider debate.”
Mayor Khan has also announced a review of London’s public realm, with the potential for street names to be changed.