A ‘racist’ pub sign has been removed as calls are made for North Staffordshire pubs to consider changing their names.
Thousands of people signed a petition demanding the caricature of a black man’s head above the 18th century Green Man and Black’s Head pub sign in Ashbourne, just over the border in Derbyshire, be taken down.
A counter petition was then launched seeking to keep the figurine in place, stating it is part of history.
Derbyshire Dales District Council said on Monday it would take down the sign with ‘immediate effect’ but when the head was dismantled that evening, locals said they had done so to protect it.
It comes as people in North Staffordshire have also suggested that pubs similar to the Green Man and Black’s Head in Ashbourne should have a name to ‘reflect the 21st century’.
There is a Blacks Head, in High Street, Tean, as well as a Saracens Head, in both Meir and Stafford.
One Tean resident said: “I’ve always wondered how the pub got it’s name. It would be interesting to know if there is a story behind it.
“The Tean of 2020 is a very different to even 50 years ago, never mind 100 or 200. For better or worse, it is part of Tean’s history.
“It’s eye-opening that at any time that this name could be considered appropriate. The pub also has some pretty distasteful nicknames by some ignorant villagers.
“It would be interesting to listen to the debate on whether it should be changed.”
It is understood the Blacks Head in Tean will not reopen once lockdown restrictions due to the landlady’s retirement.
A pub spokesman said: “I’ve seen the controversy in Ashbourne but we’ve never had any issues here.”
Pub historian Mervyn Edwards said many pubs in the area owed their existence to our colonial past.
He said: “The names and signs are the story board of our history even if they do remind us more of the murky parts of our past. They are there as a lesson of where we have been and where we are now.
“It’s not the first time the sign in Ashbourne has caused a lot of hoohah, there was a similar debate around 1998. Many of the locals felt then it shouldn’t be torn down but whether that’s changed with recent events.
“It’s also a question of how far we take the argument. There are many pubs named after Queen Victoria and statues of her likeness. She represents colonialism, should they be torn down too?
“There used to be a pub called The Black Boy in Cobridge, the building still exists. There was also a Saracens Head in Hanley.”
The latest debate comes after controversy flared over a pub sign at the 170-year-old Labour In Vain pub in Yarnfield which depicted a black boy being scrubbed in the bath by a white boy.
Yarnsfield locals battled for 20 years to keep the sign after it was first removed in 1994 when two 10-year-old girls complained. It was then replaced by a farmer sowing seeds.
Mervyn added: “It was a very interesting debate. The sign was an expression of futility and many didn’t therefore regard it as recist. In the end the original sign was put in a more discreet place.”
The debate comes after protesters toppled the statue of slave trader Edward Colston before dragging and heaving the bronze monument into the harbour.
A 20-year-old anthropology student from Ashbourne – who did not want to be named – said the Grade-II listed pub sign resembled a golliwog – a rag doll largely considered racist.
Matthew Holt, a 19-year-old international relations student from the town, also signed the petition, stating: “It seems such an obvious racist sign.
“I think it’s important we address our history; we can’t change it but this shouldn’t be displayed in the public eye.
“It should be in a museum where we can learn about it with a description to contextualise it.”
Their calls prompted the council’s decision to remove the monument from the sign.
A spokesman said earlier: “We’re removing the head from the sign with immediate effect.
“We agree that the sign itself is not only a public safety concern right now, but that this is an issue that requires urgent discussion and consultation.
“The sign was gifted to the district council a number of years ago and is currently protected by a Grade II structure listing.
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“Legally, only Heritage England or the Secretary of State can remove this listing, which means we need to take on board the views of our own councillors and local people before taking forward any representations. This will happen soon.”
The removal has faced backlash from other residents who have launched a second petition seeking to keep the figurine in place, stating it’s part of history.
A counter petition, created by Shaun Redfern, aged 17, so far has more than 2,700 supporters.
He described the sign as a tourist attraction which ‘should be kept because of the history for the town’.
He said: “I believe that the sign is not even the smallest bit racist.”
He added: “Are we supposed to deny our past now and get rid of old artefacts?”
A sign saying ‘Save Me’ was hung from the head on Monday evening before the face was taken down.
In a Facebook post, Mark Redfern said the head would be given ‘a lick of black paint’ and that it would be repositioned at a later date.