The signs at Picton Arcade in Swansea have been taken down ahead of Black Lives Matter Protest


The signs at a shopping arcade named after a controversial historical figure linked to the slave trade have been taken down.

Picton Arcade, in Oxford Street, Swansea, has been at the centre of controversy lately, with some people saying it should be renamed because of the link to 19th Century British army Lieutenant-General and slave-owner, Sir Thomas Picton. petitions to both rename and protect the name of Picton Arcade have amassing hundreds of signatures between them. The owners of the arcade took action to remove the signs on Thursday, July 2.

Part-owner, Michael Griffiths, wanted to make it clear that he “did not have strong opinions either way” but had removed the signs for “refurbishment” ahead of a planned protest on the evening of July 3.

The owners said the signs have been removed for ‘refurbishment’

The 22-unit arcade was named in the 1950s

He said: “For peace’s sake we decided to take them down. They were a bit tatty anyway and we didn’t want any agro, if there was going to be any.

“When you see what happened in Bristol [with the Edward Colston statue being torn down], and my grandkids told me there was a protest planned for Friday night, we decided to take the signs down and shut the arcade early on Friday.

“Peaceful or not, people can do what they want outside the arcade.

“If people feel they don’t want the name, then we’ll change it. It was named in 1958 and we inherited the name, we didn’t name it.

“It will cost us if we have to change for new signs and there are 22 shops in the arcade, each with a lease that will have to be changed with the land registry and that sort of thing.”

Born in 1758 and hailing from Haverfordwest, Sir Thomas Picton was the highest ranking British officer to die at the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815.

His reputation had been tarnished while governor of Trinidad, in the Caribbean.

It was there that he authorised torture to obtain a confession from 14-year-old Luisa Calderon – a mixed-race girl accused of stealing.

Dr Leighton James, associate professor of history at Swansea University, said Picton was arrested in 1803, waiting three years before the trial took place in London.

“Much of his defence hung on whether Spanish colonial law allowed for the judicial use of torture,” said Dr James.

He explained that Trinidad had been a Spanish colony and that Britain sometimes ran newly-acquired land according to local rules.

Picton was convicted, but there was a re-trial in 1808.

“The decision was reversed, but there was no final decision,” said Dr James.

Picton then embarked on a series of military campaigns and became a knight of the garter, but he wasn’t raised to a peerage.

Dr James said Picton had a mixed-race mistress in Trinidad, to whom he gave considerable political power.

She ended up with a number of business ventures, he said, and invested in slavery.

Britain abolished the importation of slaves to its colonies in 1807, and abolished slavery as an institution in the 1830s.

Dr James said he felt statues of Picton in Carmarthen and Cardiff which recalled his military verve reflected a “partial historic amnesia”.

He believed that getting rid of them, and of names of streets with Picton’s name, should be a decision for communities.

“I would not like to see that partial historic amnesia replaced by complete historic amnesia, where he is not known at all,” said Dr James.

“Picton represented some of the complexities of British history of that time.”

Mr Griffiths reiterated that the business owners in the arcade were not to blame for the name and made his neutral position on the issue clear. He has made Swansea Council aware of his decision to remove the signs temporarily for refurbishment.

It comes after a motion was passed at a meeting of Swansea Council on Thursday, July 2, calling for action, where possible, to remove offending names or public realm items that have confirmed links to slavery or exploitation.

The motion, brought by 16 councillors and titled Black Lives Matter, called on the council to examine Swansea’s geography and institutions to see whether any names or images should be removed, amended or displayed differently.

There was also a call for plaques and memorials in the city to include more women, BAME individuals, working-class people, and representatives of disabled and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

During the meeting on Thursday,  Cllr Louise Gibbard said Sir Thomas Picton was remembered for his role in the Napoleonic Wars, where he was the most senior British officer to be killed at the Battle of Waterloo, but was also a plantation and slave owner.

She added he was “infamous” for excessive cruelty and had been convicted for extracting a confession under torture while in Trinidad of a 14-year-old, mixed race girl accused of stealing.

Cllr Gibbard said he later had the conviction “overturned” on a technicality and with backing from slave-owning peers.

The work is to be be undertaken by the council’s equalities and future generations policy development committee, who will co-opt the city’s only black elected member, Cllr Yvonne Jardine.

Mr Griffiths said a decision would be made depending on the outcome of Friday’s protest and if there are “any suggestions that come out of it,” adding that he would be open to a plaque explaining Sir Thomas Picton’s history being added to the building if the name is not changed.

Wales Online was not able to find details for any protest arranged at Picton Arcade on Friday. 

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