CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Now primary school could have name changed over slavery link

Beckford Primary School named after plantation owner

10 June, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Beckford School in West Hampstead [Steve_I]

A SCHOOL named after a former Mayor of London who amassed a fortune from sugar plantations in Jamaica could be renamed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.

Sam Drake, headteacher at Beckford Primary School in West Hampstead – named after William Beckford, who used 3,000 slaves – said he would be speaking to school governors, parents and staff about the possible change.

Camden Council, meanwhile, has set up a cross-party panel of councillors to review the school’s name along with other publicly owned buildings and statues that are named after figures with links to the slave trade.

Cecil Rhodes House, a council block in Somers Town named after the controversial imperialist, will be among those reviewed.

It follows anti-racist protests which spread to the UK following the death of George Floyd, the black man who died after being arrested by police in Minnesota last month.

A monument to slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down by demonstrators in Bristol over the weekend and thrown into the city’s harbour.

Beckford School holds a proud place in the annals of British history having appointed London’s first black headteacher, Beryl Gilroy, in 1969.

But the historic decision to change the first name of the school, Broomsleigh Street School, to Beckford came under the microscope this week.

Although mentioned in the New Journal in the past, the link to the Beckford name was not thought to be widely known in the area or by parents and guardians.

Georgios Samaras, who has launched a petition calling for the school’s name to change, said: “The removal of the name would bring recognition to Britain’s role in the slave trade, and honour the people he enslaved. “We must recognise and be conscious that London benefited from the enslavement of people, and although we cannot change history, we also cannot evade it.”

He added: “The name could be changed to that of a local historical figure without such an abhorrent past.”

Like many “philanthro­pists”, William Beckford cultivated a legacy as a refined gentleman and civil liberties champion who supported the arts, but his legacy was built on the use of slaves. As a former mayor of London, his statue stands in Guildhall.

His son, also William, was regarded in the 19th century as “England’s richest son” after inheriting the Caribbean plantations. He used his extraordinary wealth to build Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire where he lived in isolation for most of his life.

Despite only writing one acclaimed book, a block in Heritage Lane behind Marks & Spencer in West Hampstead was named after him in 2014 – alongside local literary greats such as Doris Lessing and George Orwell.

Broomsleigh Street School opened in 1886 but in March 1929 the London County Council agreed to change the name.

West Hampstead’s foremost historians, Marianne Colloms and Dick Weindling, have discovered minutes from the School Board of London in March 29, 1929. They say that “after consultation with the Local Government Committee and concurrence of the school managers, the name is to be changed to Beckford School”.

But Mr Weinding, who has written several books on NW6 history, said today (Wednesday): “We don’t know why the decision was made. It seems to be because of a belief that William Beckford [senior], who was twice mayor of London, lived in the village of West End.”

Some of what is now West Hampstead used to be called West End.

Mr Weindling added: “He was the major sugar plantation and slave owner in Jamaica. He died in 1770 and never lived here. Only his widow, Maria Beckford, lived at Old West End House where she died in 1792. The large house was near the junction of today’s Iverson Road and West End Lane.”

Ms Gilroy, who died in 2001, ran the school between 1969 and 1982 and is considered one of the most significant post-war Caribbean migrants. She wrote several books including the autobiographical Black Teacher, reprinted in 1994.

A founder member of Camden Black Sisters group, she received many honours and academic awards.

Mr Drake said: “We are aware of the issue around the name of the school and I will be talking to our governors, parents, staff and the council about how to address this.”

In 2014, new housing blocks were built in “Heritage Lane”, a new road running off West End Lane leading to seven housing blocks. Developer Ballymore ran a competition to name the seven blocks and the winning entry suggested writers with local connections.

A spokes­woman for Ballymore said: “Renaming a building must be agreed with the local authority and the postal service, and can take time. If our residents in a majority elected for a new name, as freeholder we would be supportive of this and would work with them to manage the renaming process.”

Earlier in the week, Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, the Holborn and St Pancras MP, told a new phone-in slot on LBC said that it was “completely wrong to pull a statue down in that way”, in relation to the incident in Bristol, but added that the monument to Colston should have been removed by the authorities “a long, long time ago.”

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