A town without statues

Statues have been in the news this week. The debate about their contribution to social memory will no doubt continue. Sufficient, for now, to say that some of our ancestors were not worthy of the honour their money bought; but we can’t risk erasing history. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past to understand the present and improve the future.

Our Victorian town did not see fit to dignify many of its forefathers with a statue. Queen Victoria stands opposite the railway station, her back turned on the 1990’s shopping centre that bears her name. Standing around the skyline of the shopping centre, a generic concrete family. That’s it for statues in our town.

Plaques, recording historical events and the activities of noteworthy visitors to the town are another story. There are dozens of these, all packed with facts. Florence Nightingale, Oscar Wilde, E.M. Forster, Princess Alexandra of Russia are among the many that get a mention.

One of the newer plaques informs me that the first female doctor in Yorkshire, Dr Laura Veale, set up practice just along the road from the Carnegie funded public library. Sir Walter Scott mentioned the old subscription library in a book. Even the Art Deco Odeon has a plaque, recording it being featured on a postage stamp.

I hope I don’t sound cynical. The brown plaques have added interest to my walks in recent weeks; every so often as I’m out and about, I stop and have a read. And now I discover there’s a website, listing all the plaques. Next time I’m out, I’m going to see where JRR Tolkien came to recover from trench fever in 1917.

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