University students lose battle to tear down Nelson and Drake statues

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The statue of Lord Nelson is one of four statues that students wanted removing from Deptford Town Hall Photo credit: Goldsmiths, University of London

By news reporter Stephen Bailey.

Students at Goldsmiths, University of London have lost their battle to force a local town hall in Deptford, Southeast London to remove statues of Lord Nelson and Sir Francis Drake.

The students had demanded that four statues, which also include Seventeenth Century admiral Robert Blake and another of an anonymous naval figure, were removed back in 2019.

The students said the individuals’ links to the slave trade meant they should be removed during a 137-day sit-in which coincided with the protests in Bristol where a statue of Edward Colston was pulled down and thrown into the harbour.

However, polling of local residents by Goldsmiths determined almost 60% of local residents didn’t want them removed and so the plans to remove them have been shelved.

This has greatly pleased local residents, who took to the internet to express their feelings about the College’s decision to keep the statues in place. One resident posted online: ‘Such good news.’ Another posted: ‘We must protect our history.’

Goldsmiths has now accepted the result of the poll and confirmed the statues will stay.

Instead, the university has decided to place panels by the statues which set out the history of the individuals represented and their links to the slave trade. Added to this, local schools will also be given ‘information packs’ that set out claims that these figures were connected to the slave trade.  

Professor Frances Corner, Warden at Goldsmiths said:

‘I would like to thank everyone who took the time to submit their views as part of our public consultation. We will continue to consult local people as we develop our plans to address the complex legacy of the area’s maritime heritage embodied in the Deptford Town Hall statues.’

Sir Francis Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. He was a pivotal figure in the development of English sea power in the Sixteenth Century and played a major role in defending England from invasion.

Drake’s accomplishments cemented English dominance at sea, something which lasted until well into the Twentieth Century. Spain never fully recovered from Drake’s victories over them and they weakened Spain’s grip in the New World, allowing England and later Great Britain and the U.K., to establish a vast maritime global empire.

In addition to his military achievements, Drake was a famed explorer who claimed part of the West coast of North America for England. He also rescued many of the settlers from the doomed Roanoke settlement.

Drakes Bay near San Francisco bears his name as it was he who helped claim these lands for England.

Lord Nelson is perhaps the U.K.’s most famous naval hero. He’s responsible for a series of victories at sea against the French during the Napoleonic wars.

Nelson had a long and distinguished career which earned him a reputation as a master tactician and for great personal bravery.

His crowning achievement came at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), where the U.K.’s decisive victory over Napoleon’s fleet ended the threat of a French invasion.

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