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Upminster student launches petition to rename roads and school named after slave trader

Branfill Road sign in Upminster

A petition has been launched to rename two roads and a school in Upminster that are named after a slave trader.

Branfill Road and the adjoining Champion Road are named after Andrew Branfill and his ship, as is Branfil Primary School.

That has led to Ryan Easman, 21, a student from Upminster, calling for them to be renamed.

A piece for the Romford Recorder in 2017 laid bare the grim fact that Branfill used his ship to transport slaves from Africa to Barbados to work on sugar plantations in the 17th century.

He sold the slaves and then took a share of the profits on the sugar, which his ship transported back to the UK.

In the past week, two monuments to slave traders have been removed. The first, of Edward Colston, was pulled down by protestors in Bristol on Sunday.

The following day, a statue of Robert Milligan was removed from outside the Museum of London Docklands in West India Quay.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has also asked a commission to review landmarks in the capital.

Ryan was inspired by these national events to investigate whether there were any similar memorials to slave traders closer to home.

He told Time 107.5: “Before I started to look into this, I had no idea what the significance of the name Branfill was. When I was younger I thought it had something to do with the cereal Bran Flakes, but I couldn’t be more wrong.

“As a liberal, progressive, democratic, and multicultural society and town, we shouldn’t allow his name to be honoured as it is.

“I’m sure when these places were named, they weren’t done with the knowledge of his actions in the slave trade. But now we can be more aware of that and we can be more aware of our history, I think it’s important that we remove that celebration and honouring of Andrew Branfill.”

A street sign for Champion Road (credit: Google Maps)

Ryan thinks it is important to have a debate about whether individuals who have done this involved in the slave trade should be immortalised, whether it be with a monument, road name, or any other memorial.

When Ryan shared his petition on a local Facebook group, it caused a widespread discussion with a range of views. While some are on-board with Ryan’s idea, others are against it, with many commenting that it would amount to “erasing history.”

“This isn’t an erasure of history, this is an acknowledgement of history. I touched on it before, but I didn’t know about this until I researched it myself; there was no education about it at all.

“If we’re talking about the erasure of history, I think the systematic destruction of thousands of colonial records by various British governments is more an erasure of history than rejecting the celebration of history.”

Ryan admits there could be some resistance from residents who live in the two roads and might be unwilling to support changing their address.

“If it’s impractical to make all of these changes, at least putting up a permanent public acknowledgement, such as a plaque, of the actions that Andrew Branfil undertook and what he did and who the roads are named after – that would still be a step in the right direction.

“Even if his name is there and kept as a monument to the wrong (he did), as long as that’s acknowledged, that’s still a valid step.

“I understand that trying to change street names and a school name may be a drastic, radical change. But even if a small, incremental change comes from it, that’s still a positive win.”

While that is a possible short-term solution, Ryan says the goal is to eventually have the roads and school renamed.

He has suggested famous former Havering residents including singer Billy Ocean and BAFTA-winning actor Michael Ward as possible figures who they could be named after instead.

If the changes were to go ahead, Ryan says it would be a “massive symbolic win, much in the way that the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol is a symbolic win in the movement the acknowledgement of the atrocities that Britain undertook in its colonial time.”

You can view Ryan’s petition here.

Discussions have also been raised about Neave Crescent in Harold Hill, named after the family that built in a manor house in Dagnam Park in the 1700s and lived there for around 150 years.

Richard Neave, who purchased the land, was a merchant who made his fortune in the slave trade. He went on to become the Governor of the Bank of England.

A portrait of Richard Neave by Jeremiah Meyer

But Havering Councillor Tele Lawal, the first black female to be elected in the borough’s history, has said she is happy for the name Neave Crescent to remain, although she would like more education on the history of it.

Meanwhile, the Leader of Havering Council last night responded to calls for action against racism following the tragic events that led to the death of George Floyd.

At the Council’s Annual General Meeting, Damian White set out plans for an independent review of race relations:

Cllr White said: “The questions that have been raised about racism across the country following the tragic events in America that led to the death of George Floyd requires clear and decisive action. 

“We must always fight for what is right and challenge ourselves to ensure that we do not allow complacency or injustice to enter our council.

“Therefore, to guard against this, I am committing to an independent review of Havering Council and race relations in our borough more widely, and in particular, whether this council has the policies and processes in place to erase bias and discrimination. The result of this report will be taken to our cabinet.”

“Our response to Covid-19 has demonstrated that we are at our best when we work together as a community and doing this work will bring us closer so we can face the economic and social recovery essential after Covid-19 together for all our benefit.”

Further details of the independent review and the terms of reference will be issued in the next few weeks, the council says.

For more on this story, and the latest on our other local and national news, listen to Time 107.5FM

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