Below is an email from a former Haringey Council Cabinet Member, who also happens to be a former resident of Black Boy Lane. Stuart McNamara sent this to Haringey Councillors and to me and others. Reproduced with permission
Change Road Names, But Do It Properly
When Edward Colston's statue was pulled down in Bristol it was an important turning point, not least because so many people in Britain, including me, never previously knew who he was. That was largely due to the fact that having been schooled in the UK, no one ever taught me, or millions of students like me, about the central role that Britain played in the transatlantic slave trade. It is vital that we understand our history and we are at a crucial history-making moment in Britain right now. There is a long overdue conversation taking place across the country about who our streets are named after and what their contribution, good or bad, was to Britain and the world.
I moved with my family to Black Boy Lane when I was four years old in 1978. We celebrated Christmases there, attended marriages and also funerals whilst living there, including of my father who died on Black Boy Lane in 1983 when I was nine years old. I walked to St Mary's Primary School along Black Boy Lane every school day as a child. As a former resident of the road, I have concerns that the plan to change its name is not a fully formed proposal but rather is being done in a rush.
Haringey Council's recent decision to change Albert Road Recreation Ground to O.R. Tambo Recreation Ground was the right decision at the right time, recognising a great man who spent some of his most important years in political activism in the sanctity of Muswell Hill. It is also right that Haringey Council has launched a wider review. However, it is vitally important that to avoid getting the process wrong three things should be established. Firstly, the facts on a case-by-case basis must be verifiably established. Secondly, the establishment of a rank ordering of the gravity of any offence caused needs to happen, bearing in mind that finite funds and time may not allow for all the sites to be considered for change. Thirdly, there must be a broadly supported plan for what to change any identified roads and sites to, and how.
Black Boy Lane possibly passes one of those three tests for changing an allegedly culturally insensitive road name, yet it certainly does not automatically pass all three. The George Padmore Institute published in its 30th newsletter recently that the family of John La Rose do not agree with the road name being changed to memorialise him. For the plan, as devised, to proceed regardless is unfortunate and obtuse. The Haringey Council webpage detailing the Review on Monuments, Building, Place and Street Names in Haringey does not make clear whether any such review has actually taken place yet. If not, then it begs the question as to why an outcome on Black Boy Lane is being proposed before the review work has taken place, assuming that it could provide the historical authority to support and evidence any such changes. Other councils such as Bristol and Hackney are doing this very thing through commissions they have established.
River Park House in Wood Green was built on the site of the beautiful Carnegie library after Haringey Council authorised its demolition in 1973. The council did the very same thing on White Hart Lane many years later when it authorised the demolition of St Katherine’s, one of the country’s first teacher training colleges and a ground breaking women’s teaching college, as well as the Toussaint L’Ouverture building . Both buildings were demolished to make for the Haringey Sixth Form College with no need and no architectural merit in doing when they could have been blended into the design for the new place of learning. These are certainly not the only such cases and where Haringey Council has undoubtedly made a lot of significant contributions when it comes to fightng for social justice and recognising social change it also has form when it comes to bungling heritage issues and has on plenty of occasions acted with speed, at the expense of historical sensitivity and accuracy.
Why then is Black Boy Lane being prioritised for a permanent, complicated and expensive name change when in any cursory review of the road names of the borough the likes of Henry Havelock, Herbert Kitchener, Redvers Buller, Charles Gordon and James Napier all emerge, and that is only looking at the category of colonial British generals. Havelock and Kitchener have especially brutal résumés, with the latter being in Bruce Grove ward and leading directly to the Broadwater Farm estate.
Residents on Black Boy Lane are being offered £300 per property for the name change which at about 200 properties on the street could be as much as £60,000. It is unclear whether this money would go to a tenant or to a landlord and how that would be determined. It is also unclear if and how this would successfully support a large number of people on the street, including many who do not speak English and may not feel equipped to know how to navigate the formal processes required to change their addresses which is nowhere near as straightforward as it is inferred may be the case. Taking into account the support this may require if it were to be done sensitively and effectively, it could entail the allocation or redirection of a considerable amount of council time and resources which at present are much more urgently needed in the ongoing pandemic battle.
Haringey has often been in its short history a tale of two councils: On one hand, the ground-breaking, change-making borough championing the cause of the downtrodden and developing bespoke solutions for all manner of problems. On the other hand, it has regularly shown itself to be the epitome of slapdash ineptitude, combined at times with divisive virtue signalling, the aim of which has often been little more than the seeking of headline-grabbing political credit for whoever is in charge at the time.
It is wrong in this particular case to change the name of Black Boy Lane to another if there is even a shred of division with the legacy of the late man who it is proposed it is newly named after. It is also vital that this road is not given more consideration than the several other potentially more offensive or anachronistic names that would score more highly in a rank ordering, if such an audit had been done. The proposed Review on Monuments, Building, Place and Street Names in Haringey should be given the remit to actually do some of what it sounds like it was advertised as; otherwise it risks becoming little more than a superficial desktop exercise. To fail to do this important work with the due diligence and attention to detail it deserves, to throw over £300,000 at it for one street with no objective argument made that it is the most worthy candidate for change, and to do so during the height of a deadly pandemic, is ill-advised and could well likely be referred to in the months and years to come as a worthy job done badly and on the back of a fag packet. Haringey's residents and its diverse communities this important project is being done in the name of deserve for it to be done with objectivity, and erudition and not in haste.
Former Resident of Black Boy Lane