Stroud and the Black Atlantic

Thoughts derived from a reading of
Creating Memorials Building Identities The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic
(Alan Price Liverpool University Press 2012)

Doors of No Return,
Historic, documented, liminal places,
Not gone with the wind, but both visible and invisible,
Spaces and places in the black Atlantic archipelago
With messages and mementoes from the slaving past,
Open doors to the truth –
But we too have landscapes that require re-reading,
Reinterpretations that acknowledge a history
That might be interwoven with the triangular trade,
But whose messages are obscured or buried –
The home of Stroud Scarlet, for example;

So how do we create a counter-narrative?
That is,
“A performative counter-narrative, what we might call a ‘guerrilla memory’”,
Or “Lieux de memoire, sites of history, torn away from the moment of history” (Pierre Nora),
Memorialisation that moves beyond ‘obsessional empiricism’
and ‘the fetishisation of surviving historical documents and sources’,
To a counter-heritage, a counter-memorialisation.

Well, Nelson Street lends itself well to this:
(A maritime name – but our narrative ignores Trafalgar,
And instead remembers Horatio Nelson’s commander in the Spanish Main,
Colonel Edward Despard, executed as a republican in 1803:
‘Fellow Citizens, I come here … to suffer death upon a scaffold … a friend to truth, to liberty, and to justice … a friend to the poor and the oppressed’,
And the African-Caribbean Cuba Cornwallis,
who in 1780 carried and nursed the delirious Nelson
All the way downriver through Nicaragua, and so saved his life.)
A pub called the Golden Fleece,
A clock called the Blackboy Clock, with an explanatory plaque,
That foregrounds horology rather than slavery –
Indeed, there is absolutely no reference whatsoever to the Age of Enlightenment,
And the engendering of an ideology of justificatory racism,
Nor to the symbolism of the black boy being the relentless slave of Time …

Perhaps we could have a window display somewhere,
Of sugar loaves, tobacco, rum, fragments of Stroud Scarlet,
Seeds from the West Indies and Africa fashioned into a triangle,
Images of the infamous slave ships,
Collages of images and text and poems and statistics,
To leave as counter-heritage calling cards,
At welcoming pubs and cafes;
Counter-heritage calling cards listing local residents and addresses
of those who benefitted financially from the 1834 abolition of slavery,
A Stroudwater Slavery Trail,
Connecting the Blackboy Clock, the abolition arch, Sheepscombe and Lypiatt,
(where residents owned slaves in the West Indies)
With performance and interpretations of the walk for exhibition,
Then different visits each year to country houses, stately homes and so on,
Buildings and landscapes with hidden slavery connections,
For further reinterpretations, as we move art and monument
From object to process
And from ‘noun to verb’,
As we create museums of the past, present and future.

See Stroud and The Triangular Trade.