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Dame Emma Thompson backs bid to remove slave link name from her old school

Double Oscar winner supports plan to honour one of UK's first black headteachers

26 June, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Dame Emma Thompson [Pic Justin Harris]

DAME Emma Thompson has signed a petition calling for a primary school to be renamed after its former headteacher.

The double Oscar winner was once a pupil at Beckford Primary School in West Hampstead, which is named after a slave-using sugar plantation owner who became the Mayor of London.

The governing body of the school in West Hampstead has agreed to consult parents and staff with a view to opening with a new name in September 2021.

If “Beckford” is ditched, as expected, the front-runner for a replacement name is the late Beryl Gilroy, one of the UK’s first black headteachers, who ran the school between 1969 and 1982. Dame Emma “gladly” added her name to a petition backing the idea, her publicist said.

The petition, set up by a former pupil Dominic Dawes, said: “Given the reasons to be reconsidering the name of the school, re-naming this great school after Beryl Gilroy would be the perfect way of addressing contemporary concerns while also honouring the school’s history of successful inclusion and diversity.”


Camden Council has agreed to review all of its building and place names following the Black Lives Matter protests. William Beckford was an 18th century MP who actively campaigned against abolition of the slave trade.

He is said to have “owned” 3,000 slaves on his plantations that were later inherited by his novelist son, also called William Beckford. Beckford school was originally called Broomsleigh Street School but the name was mysteriously changed in 1929 by the London County Council.

Beckford headteacher Sam Drake told the New Journal: “William Beckford was not someone who was celebrated at our school. Hardly anyone had even heard of him. Certainly there are lots of schools which are named after people that hardly anyone will know who the person is. Once you lose track of who that person was, over time, perhaps it’s time to start a discussion.”

He added: “It has been such an interesting couple of weeks. The whole thing snowballed. I’ve been contacted by Japanese television about it But I don’t want to rush this. I want it to be a really massive whole school project. There is a lot to strategically plan – a new uniform, logo, signs, how to bring it into the curriculum. We want to do it properly and we are therefore looking at September 2021, rather than September 2020.”

The school had already been working on a mural dedicated to Ms Gilroy in the school’s grounds.

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