A long-time opponent of the controversial statue of Henry Morton Stanley in Denbigh has questioned the Town Council’s decision to keep it in place for the time being.
Barbara Manley said that the original justification for the statue was to attract tourism to the town, but there was a danger now that the negative attention would have the opposite effect.
Yesterday, Denbigh Town Council took the decision not to remove the controversial state of HM Stanley from outside of the Town’s Library, by a narrow vote of 6-5.
Instead, it was decided to undertake further public consultation on the fate of the statue, erected in 2011. Many in the meeting suggested that a museum or educational setting would be a more appropriate location for it in the future than its current site in the town centre.
Opponents of the plan say the 19th-century explorer’s crimes against humanity and support slavery mean his statue should be removed completely.
“The people of Denbigh may just look at the statue and regard HMS as the local lad who made good,” Barbara Manley said.
“But the whole message of the Black Lives Matter movement is, please look at our history and question and reflect on what has happened in the past.
“The statue came into existence because of a European Rural Development Grant. It was hoped that it would encourage tourism to the town and maybe it will now, but whom will it attract?”
‘Eyes of the world’
The Town Council’s proposed public consultation will take place in the Town Hall when it is safe to do so as lockdown restrictions are lifted. Interpretive and historic materials relating to the controversial colonial figure of HM Stanley will be displayed as part of the consultation, they said.
Mayor Gaynor Wood-Tickle when opening the meeting insisted that the decision was one for “Denbigh residents to make for themselves”. Councillor Alan Ashworth similarly affirmed that the removal of the state was “a matter for the people of Denbigh”.
Other councillors, however, argued that any public debate would likely be split, with the duty of responsibility resting on the shoulders of the town’s political representatives.
Rob Parkes warned of damage to the reputation the area if the statue was not removed. “The eyes of the world” would be looking at the decision, he claimed. Pip Stevens however asked for “objective evidence” that his was the case, questioning whether HM Stanley was guilty of any specific crime.
Others in the meeting – conducted over Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic – emphasised the risks involved in retaining the statue at the current site. Catherine Jones was worried it “will be damaged”.
The decision to commission the statue unveiled in 2011 was itself controversial. A letter signed by 50 prominent voices against its erection was put to one side as the Town Council argued that a public consultation undertaken showed enthusiastic support for the proposal.
Every year, the artist Wanda Zyborska has held a performance where the statue is covered up in a rubber sheath, to protest against what she claims is its continued ‘toxic’ effect.
The statue has once again came under scrutiny following the Black Lives Matter protests, with a petition begun in June asking for its removal drawing over 7000 signatures.
Zyborska concludes in a letter sent to local press that: “I watch with disappointed interest as once again the one-sided history of the H M Stanley sculpture in Denbigh is played out…I intend to continue my artistic protest as long as the statue remains in its current form.”