United Kingdom

Plymouth council is not racist for planning to rename square after black footballer, says judge

A judge has dismissed an appeal against plans to rename a city centre square after a black football player because of its links to the slave trade.

Danny Bamping took Plymouth City Council to court over its decision to remove the name of the Elizabethan sailor and slave trader Sir John Hawkins and replace it with that of Plymouth Argyle footballer Jack Leslie.

Mr Bamping argued that the decision was racist because it was based purely on the colour of Leslie’s skin and was a knee-jerk reaction to the death of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

He also claimed the council failed to follow correct process.

A judge has dismissed an appeal against plans to rename a city centre square after a black football player because of its links to the slave trade. Danny Bamping took Plymouth City Council to court over its decision to remove the name of the Elizabethan sailor and slave trader Sir John Hawkins (right) and replace it with that of Plymouth Argyle footballer Jack Leslie (left)

Danny Bamping (above) argued that the decision was racist because it was based purely on the colour of Leslie’s skin and was a knee-jerk reaction to the death of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement

District Judge Justice Jo Matson said she accepted evidence from the council that they had complied with the relevant laws and policies.

She also accepted the council had considered renaming Sir John Hawkins Square before the death of George Floyd.

Mr Floyd, who died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, after being pinned down by a white police officer, sparked Black Lives Matter protests around the world. 

District Judge Justice Jo Matson said she accepted evidence from the council that they had complied with the relevant laws and policies. She also accepted the council had considered renaming Sir John Hawkins Square before the death of George Floyd. (Above, a plaque commemorating slave traders, including Sir John, in Plymouth; St John Hawkins Square lies to the right)

Mr Bamping may have to pay more than £7,000 in legal costs. He says he will appeal against the court’s decision.

Sir John Hawkins: Slave trader and key architect of the Elizabethan navy

Sir John Hawkins was an English naval administrator and commander

Sir John Hawkins was an English naval administrator and commander and the chief architect of the Elizabethan navy.

Born in 1532 in Plymouth, he was a merchant in African trade before becoming the first English slave trader.

He sparked conflict with the Spaniards by transporting slaves from Guinea, West Africa, to the Spanish West Indies. Spaniards did not allow unauthorised foreigners to trade with their colonies. 

Hawkins’ first slave-trading voyage, in 1562–63, on behalf of a syndicate of London merchants, was so profitable that a more prestigious group, including Queen Elizabeth I, provided the money for a second expedition between 1564 and 1565. His third voyage, with Sir Francis Drake in 1567–69, however, ended in disaster. 

After selling the slaves in the Caribbean, Hawkins was forced by needed repairs and lack of water to take refuge at San Juan de Ulua, near Veracruz, Mexico. A Spanish fleet attacked him in the harbour, and, of the six ships, only the two commanded by Hawkins and Drake were able to escape. This episode marked the beginning of the long quarrel between England and Spain that eventually led to open war in 1585.

By later gaining the confidence of Spain’s ambassador to England, he was able to notify the government of a plot by the English Roman Catholics, with help from Spain, to depose Queen Elizabeth and seat Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, on the throne. The English plotters involved were arrested.

He took over from his father-in-law as treasurer of the navy in 1577 and played a part in designing ships that were used to fight against the Spanish Armada in 1588, during which he was third in command.

Sir Hawkins died the night before an unsuccessful attack on the Spanish West Indies - on November 12, 1595, at sea off Puerto Rico.

Source: Britannica 

Plymouth City Council had proposed during the summer to rename the square after Leslie, who is Plymouth Argyle's fourth highest goal scorer.

Leslie, who played for the club in the 1920s and 1930s, was the only black professional footballer at the time and is believed to have missed out on a place in the England squad because of discrimination.

The council's proposal led to a number of objections, including the one by Mr Bamping, who once appeared on Dragons' Den.

He argued the decision breached national guidelines as it was 'racist' because it was based on the colour of the player's skin in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mr Bamping claimed the council had failed to comply with its policy by not consulting about the change with people connected with the square, and he argued it had not properly consulted with Jack Leslie's family.

He said the council should have considered other locations to name after the player, and proposed an unnamed road leading to the Home Park stadium of Plymouth Argyle, where a statue of the player will be placed.

The businessman also claimed the renaming decision was wrong and illogical because it did not take into account the full history of Sir John, who was a Plymouth MP and played a leading role as a naval commander in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, at a time in history when slave trading was legal.

He argued that many people did not want the name changed, including 54 who had written to the court objecting to the decision, although their letters did not qualify as notices of appeal under the legal process.

Mr Bamping also argued that the 1925 Act used the word 'alter' rather than 'change' or 'rename', which he claimed meant councils could only make alterations to an existing name, rather than rename a street.

The council's case was that it had the power to carry out the renaming under the Act and it had fully met with the requirements of the law, national guidance and its own policies on street renaming.

It said a notice of the proposal was properly posted on the square, there were no residents of the square to consult, the council obtained permission from Jack Leslie's family, and it explained the decision and carried out the necessary consultation.

Jane Hirons, the council's property team leader, earlier told the hearing that she considered the authority had followed the correct procedure as set out in national guidelines and its own policy on street naming.

She said she had seen an email from Jack Leslie's granddaughter giving the family's consent to a street being named after him. 

She said she was satisfied it represented the views of the family, which met the council's policy.

In November, the court heard the council had been keen to protect the identity of the relative who sent the email, because of the concerns from members of Jack Leslie's family who felt they were being 'harassed' by Mr Bamping, which he denied.

And in June, council leader Tudor Evans said the council stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and it had already started the process of renaming Sir John Hawkins Square on the Barbican.

Cllr Evans said the city was proud of its naval heritage but the role of Elizabethan figures such as Sir John in the slave trade had perhaps been downplayed, and he understood the feelings of those who found the name offensive.

The square is in the Barbican district of Plymouth, where Sir John sailed from in 1562 with three ships, before kidnapping around 400 Africans in Guinea and taking them to the West Indies to be sold.

Jack Leslie: The 1920s' Argyle goal-scorer who was destined to become England's first non-white player... until coaches realised he was black 

Jack Leslie (pictured) played for Plymouth Argyle between 1921 and 1934

Jack Leslie was the only professional black player in England between 1921 and 1934 while he played for Plymouth Argyle.

He formed a legendary partnership with outside left player Sammy Black.

In 1925 the talented Leslie was poised to become the first ever black player to pull on the England shirt, only for the decision to call him up to the national side to be reversed.   

Bob Jack, his manager, told him he had been selected but the invitation was later removed.

At the time, he told a journalist: 'They must have forgot I was a coloured boy.'

After showcasing his remarkable talent in the old third division with Plymouth, Leslie was selected to play for England against Ireland in Dublin. He would never attend the match.

In the days following Leslie's selection, the national newspapers published the team which instead included Billy Walker, of Aston Villa.

Walker was in the starting line-up whereas Leslie was named as a travelling reserve before being dropped, after selectors became aware of the colour of his skin. He did not travel to the match, instead remaining in Plymouth and scoring two goals in a 7-2 victory over Bournemouth.

It was not until 1978 that England would field their first black footballer, following the selection of Viv Anderson.

Born to a Jamaican father and English mother, Leslie (bottom, second from right) became a vital player for Plymouth Argyle and carved a strong reputation for himself

Leslie (third from right) pictured warming up with his Plymouth team-mates. In 1925 his England call-up was reversed after selectors realised the colour of his skin

Leslie was born in Canning Town, in London's docklands, in 1900, to an English mother and a Jamaican father.

A gifted athlete, he played for Barking Town, where his prolific scoring record attracted the attention of Plymouth Argyle, then a third-division club.

He joined Argyle in the 1921-22 season and stayed for 14 years, making 401 appearances and scoring 137 goals - a feat made all the more impressive because of the racial abuse he experienced at the hands of both crowds and opponents.

Leslie became club captain, leading his team to a cup victory against Manchester United 

He is remembered as a great attacking inside left but also a utility player who could fill in as a central defender. 

Leslie in action for Plymouth - the team for which he made 401 appearances and scored 137 goals in the positions of inside left or central defender

Leslie's football career came to an end in 1934 after he sustained an injury when a lace from a leather ball flew into his eye. He and his family then returned to east London and he resumed his trade as a boilermaker.  

Following his retirement and with time on his hands, his wife Lavinia urged him to go to West Ham United and ask the club if there was any work he could do.

He met manager Ron Greenwood, who immediately recognised and remembered him as a great player.

Greenwood offered him a job in the boot room where, poignantly, he cleaned the mud from the boots of England stars Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and Trevor Brooking.

Viv Anderson went on to become the first black player to play for England, making his debut in 1978 - some 53 years after Leslie should have received a national cap for the Three Lions

In a further ironic twist to his story, Leslie also cleaned the boots of West Ham’s black striker Clyde Best, who, in the late 1960s and 1970s, was still one of only a small minority of black players in top-flight English football.

Leslie died in 1988 at the age of 88. 

Bill Hern co-author of the book Football's Black Pioneers said: 'Jack Leslie should have been a major figure in the history of British football and society.

'Everyone needs a role model and young black footballers didn't have that major role model in the 30s, 40s and 50s.

'Had he played for England as he should have, he would have fired the aspirations of generations of young black players.'

Speaking of Leslie's initial selection for the national team his granddaughter, Lesley Hiscott, told the BBC: 'I believe that the manager sent in his request, saying: "I’ve got a brilliant player here, he should play for England,’” 

'So then someone came down to watch him. They weren’t watching his football, they were looking at the colour of his skin.

In his retirement, Leslie asked West Ham United for work, ending up in the boot room where he cleaned the mud from the boots of England stars including Bobby Moore

'And because of that he was denied the chance of playing for his country.' 

Following his career, Leslie later suggested that finding out he was black, for the selectors, must have been 'like finding out I was foreign'.

But he accepted what had happened and according to his granddaughters never expressed any bitterness. They remember him as a kind and loving grandfather.

He had married their grandmother, Lavinia, in 1925, at a time when it was unusual for a black man to marry a white woman.

And as a consequence, some of the family, and Lavinia in particular, experienced racial abuse.

Lyn Davies, Leslie's other granddaughter, said: 'If I walked down the street with my friends and he was coming the other way, he would cross to the other side of the road so I could pretend that I didn’t know him, so I didn’t suffer.

'But I’d run across and say, "Hello Granddad."'

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