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Thursday, 25 October 2018

The memorialisation problem

It's an interesting one isn't it? Someone - lets call him ooohhhh Cecil Rhodes, puts up a statue to himself with the intent of being remembered in a particular way. As an advancer of civilisation, a visionary, a doer, an all-round good egg. He establishes a scholarship at a prestigious university like Oxford to "promote unity between English speaking nations and instil a sense of civic-minded leadership and moral fortitude in future leaders irrespective of their chosen career paths." His ultimate goal was ""the furtherance of the British Empire, for the bringing of the whole uncivilised world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for the making the Anglo-Saxon race but one Empire." The scholarship was taken by (among others) Bill Clinton, Tony Abbott, Bob Hawke and Malcolm Turnbull of Australia,John Turner of Canada, Dom Mintoff of Malta, Norman Manley of Jamaica and Wasim Sajjad of Pakistan. From the beginning the scholarship was contentious: both women and black Africans were excluded from the programme. Black Africans were admitted to the programme after pressure from former scholarship recipients in 1971, women only in 1977, 75 years after the scholarship was established. In 2015 Ntokozo Qwabe, a Rhodes scholar himself called for (among other things) the removal of a statue of Rhodes from Oriel College, Oxford. Rhodes' memory then may not we what he originally envisioned but he IS remembered. This post, however is not about Cecil Rhodes but about John Passmore Edwards. You know? John Passmore Edwards? No? This is man who was described in an obituary in the Times of 24 April 1911 as doing "more good in his time than almost any other of his contemporaries" and rated as "Amongst the late Victorian philanthropists, whose motives [were] beyond reproach [and whose] benefactions expressed deeply held and intelligent convictions about conditions of progress in his society".. A man instrumental in the construction over the space 14 years of hospitals, drinking fountains, libraries,schools, convalescent homes and art galleries. He also contributed to the WEA (Worker's Educational Association) furthering the opportunities available to those lower down the social scale. His home in leafy Hampstead is marked by an English Heritage plaque in 1988. Three of his works in London are also marked: a drinking fountain south of the river in front of Christ Church graveyard on Blackfriars Road and two libraries one in East London on the corner of Gladstone Place and Roman Road, the other recently spotted by Shepherds Bush green erected by the Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group. The building on which is it affixed is now the Bush Theatre. The building was designed by Maurice Adams who Edwards used for several of his projects. Edwards' His largesse is even more apparent in the West Country where he established libraries in Newton Abbot in Devon and Bodmin, Camborne, Falmouth, Launceston, Liskeard, Penzance, Redruth, St Ives and Truro in Cornwall. His roots were Cornish, he was born between Redruth and Truro in 1823, the son of a carpentee. He was educated in the village school and became a journalist, later moving to London to take advantage of the nineteenth-century boom in journal publication. He became involved in many social causes: the reform of the Corn Laws, the abolition of capital punishment, the suppression of the opium trade and the abolition of flogging in the services and opposed military action in the Crimea and in South Africa publishing polemical leaflets such as'Intellectual Tollbars' (1854) protesting taxes on paper and newspapers and also 'The War: a Blunder and a Crime' (1855). After several false starts in publishing he eventually bought the Echo newspaper in 1876 which espoused social causes and a liberal philosophy (eventually selling part of his interest to Andrew Carnegie) and became Liberal MP for Salisbury in 1880. He quickly became disenchanted with political life however, doing his utmost to better the world in an extra-parliamentary capacity. It is perhaps sad that his name is not as well known as Rhodes'.

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