WHEN the Edward Colston statue came tumbling down in Bristol, it was pretty obvious that it would not be long before Sir George Somers would be targeted.
At first we thought we would not draw attention to any conjecture about whether Admiral Sir George, the former seafaring mayor and Lyme Regis MP, had connections with the slave trade.
On numerous occasions since the Lyme Twinning Association erected a statue in his honour we have reported that local historians have dismissed such claims, pointing out that Sir George died in 1610 and slavery involving England and North America did not start until the 1640s.
Admiral Somers’ story is well documented. He was shipwrecked off Bermuda in 1609 in the Sea Venture on his way to Jamestown, Virginia, with supplies for the starving settlers. After colonising Bermuda for James I, he built two new ships and continued on his journey, later returning to the island for more supplies because the settlers had almost died out.
Before he could return to Jamestown, however, he died and his body was preserved in a barrel and returned to the Cobb. His heart was buried in Bermuda.
The link between Lyme and Bermuda has been perpetuated by a twinning arrangement between the two communities and it was the Lyme Regis/St George’s Twining Association and some significant personal donations that funded the cost of the statue that stands on the footpath where Lister and Langmoor Gardens are joined.
As the Black Lives Matter protests escalated over the week, it looked pretty likely that the Sir George statue could well become a target. And so it did last Tuesday morning when, allegedly, a group of four or five people said to be in their 60s, scrawled the word “murderer” in felt-tip pen across the top of the sign that stands next to the statue. Then, apparently, they gave themselves a round of applause.
Nobody knows whether they were local or not but they must have been intending to do it. Who carries a felt-tip pen with them?
Town council staff immediately removed the graffiti, having earlier in the day taken down a cardboard sign claiming Sir George was an “opportunist” – not the biggest slur on anyone’s character.
By this time it was obvious that we would have to cover the story and soon we were being contacted by news agencies for details and photographs of the statue.
On Wednesday evening it emerged that the statue had been listed on a website called ‘Topple The Racists’ and the Lyme incident got a mention in several of the national papers and websites. There has been a good deal of coverage as well in The Royal Gazette in Bermuda, in which history experts have also denied that Sir George was connected to slavery.
Locally, there has been strong condemnation of those who scribbled “murderer” on”on the statue, both from the mayor, Brian Larcombe, who was plagued by the national news stations for a response, as well as on social media.
The fact that the Sir George Somers statue has been named on the website, which highlights statues and monuments said to be complicit with colonisation, racism and slavery, will be of concern to Lyme Regis Town Council and I understand discussions are taking place on how best it can be protected in the future.
One or two signs have appeared around town in support of the Black Lives Matter protests. No one in their right mind would not condemn the appalling death of George Ford in America, the manner in which Donald Trump has dealt with it, nor the continuing rampant racism in the States.
Racism continues to be an issue in this country as well, especially in sport, maybe not with the same degree of ferocity but to a level which is still worrying and unacceptable.
My view is that the killing of George Floyd created a wave of people calling for a change in prejudice and administration. But instead of using the energy from that to improve people’s lives now, in some cases it has been directed against historic, inanimate objects, such as statues, which will not help solve the problems of today.
The distressing scenes of rioters in the United States and here in London and Bristol comes at a time when this country is emerging from the most serious period of our history since the last war.
Like every small town, Lyme faces some huge challenges to re-establish its economic future. We have seen some wonderful acts of kindness in this town these past few weeks. This is a good place to work and live. This is a safe place.
We should not forget, however, there are communities where strife rules and violence erupts on a daily basis, which are not so lucky.
Mark Hix is back in business again
IT was good to see top chef Mark Hix back in business this week. I know how devastated Mark was when he lost his chain of restaurants, including the much lauded Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis, due to the coronavirus crisis.
Mark has opened his new venture – a mobile fish truck based, at least for the time being, at Felicity’s Farmshop in Morecombelake, not far from his new Charmouth home.
Mark acquired the former American ambulance, already converted, from eBay and did roaring business in the first hour after opening on Wednesday.
Mark’s fish truck will be operating from the farm shop Wednesday to Saturday and he might take it around local villages and the various festivals when they are allowed to start again.
The truck will be selling locally caught fresh fish and seafood and promoting his vintage kitchenware collection. Mark has some more good news to announce in the coming days. You will read here first!
Thank you for keeping us going
WE will return to our office next week after continuing to publish LymeOnline in a digital format throughout the lockdown. It will be nice to get our dining room, where we set up all our computers, back again and we are excited about moving into a bigger office at St George’s House in Uplyme Road where we have been based since launching LymeOnline in February 2018.
Those of you who have visited our office will know it was a little more than a cupboard so we are looking forward to occupying our new office with glorious views over Lyme Bay.
When lockdown was introduced at the end of March we had to abandon our printed version of LymeOnline and subsequently lost 90 per cent of our advertising revenue. But we decided to work through, sacrificing any chance of government grants, so we could continue to provide up-to-date information on the coronavirus pandemic via our website.
We created a special COVID-19 platform on the LymeOnline website on which we have loaded more than 150 news items and advice on the contagion. Many of you have been kind enough to say how much you appreciate this and we have been fortunate in getting some modest support from the Google Journalism Emergency Relief Fund which will help to keep our heads above water for the time being.
We have also been producing a digital edition of LymeOnline covering all the happenings in Lyme over the lockdown period. It soon became clear, however, how much our readers who do not have computers missed their paper because they were unable to access the digital edition. So to make sure they don’t have to miss out on all the news we have launched a compact printed version called LymeOnline Extra.
It’s only eight pages but includes all the most important stories and is delivered direct to the doors of subscribers for just £2 a month. This week’s issue was our third and we are committed to producing three more.
So what happens now? As we rely heavily on advertising revenue from the hospitality trade, the return of our fortnightly print version depends greatly on when the pubs, restaurants and cafés are allowed to open. Hopefully, this will be sometime in July. By the end of that month we should be back to normal. As
LymeOnline is a community not-for-profit enterprise, we also rely on public donations and we have been knocked out by your support in recent weeks. Thank you to all.