Churchill, Nelson and Gandhi statues could be toppled in Welsh purge

Craig Simpson
·4-min read

There are fears Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson and Mahatma Gandhi statues and street names could be removed after they were named in a Welsh Government report reviewing those “complicit” in slavery and colonialism.

An audit of memorials in Wales, launched in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, has assessed the historical figures they celebrate for “culpability” in the slave trade, imperialism, and racial bigotry.

The reputations of the commonly commemorated wartime Prime Minister Churchill and Trafalgar hero Nelson have been “brought into question” and their public honours are “contentious”, the report states.

It’s author has said that “some could be moved to museums so people can see the links.”

In a tiered, traffic light system of guilt the assessment brutal colonial governor Sir Thomas Picton, whose statue in Cardiff City Hall was covered over in July, is “red” with “definite personal culpability” in regard to slavery and empire.

Watch: Should these statues be taken down?

But just one rung down from Picton and known slavers like Sir Francis Drake in the 'Amber' section, the report named Churchill’s 17 commemorations and Nelson’s 31 as a potential cause for concern.

The former Prime Minister has two buildings and 15 streets named in his honour, but on the sliding scale of culpability has been found contentious for being: “Widely hated in South Wales mining communities for his actions as Home Secretary during the Tonypandy riots.”

The report adds he “expressed a belief in the superiority of the ‘Anglo-Saxon race’” was “opposed to dismantling the British Empire”, and failed “to take sufficient action to relieve the Bengal famine”.

On Lord Horatio Nelson, who has seven statues, six buildings, 18 streets and numerous pubs commemorating him, the report said that despite being a “national hero”, in his earlier career a Royal Navy officer he was “tasked with commanding naval vessels that protected ships in the triangular trade to and from the West Indies.”

It added: “He is known from private correspondence to have opposed the abolition of the slave trade though he doesn’t appear to have done so publicly.”

Indian independence leader Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, whose solitary statue stands in Cardiff, has also been implicated for “racism against Black South Africans”.

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The audit of public commemorations found more than 200 monuments, buildings and streets names with links to the slave trade, empire, and racism.

First Minister Mark Drakeford has claimed the report “provides important evidence which helps us establish an honest picture” of the past, and next steps for dubious memorials would be decided.

The audit was launched in July amid widespread Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd, and increasing calls to remove memorials to those linked to the slave trade.

And the report published on Thursday said that “many reputations have been brought into question” and “there is a need to assess the culpability or otherwise of individuals who are publicly commemorated and celebrated”.

Andrew Roberts, author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny, said: “It’s rare for quite such a level of ignorance to be squeezed into one single paragraph, but the Welsh Government has exceeded itself in the bilge it has regurgitated about Winston Churchill.

"Churchill did not order troops with bayonets into Tonypandy. Nor did any of Churchill’s actions make the Bengal Famine worse than the typhoon had already made it.”

He added that he Welsh Government had authorised “tripe posing as history”.

Leading the audit, Ms Gayor Legall told the Guardian that some contentious memorials “could be moved to museums so people can see the links. I don’t see the point of destroying things, there’s enough death and destruction around as it is.”

Watch: Race And Revolution: Is Change Going To Come?

The report makes clear that those in the “amber” section are still debatable historical figures with no proven culpability, and next steps yet to be decided.

Legacies have however been cast into doubt by research and public opinion measured through petitions, though one of those cited was found by camping group Save Our Statues to have been bolstered by people from outside the UK.

Other reviewed figures include four-time Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, and early socialist reformer Robert Owen for opposing emancipation.

The report will now be considered and next steps decided.