BLACKBURN with Darwen Council is to review its street names and statues, including Victorian Prime Minister William Gladstone, in the wake of calls to remove monuments celebrating supporters of slavery.

Its leader Cllr Mohammed Khan said it would consult carefully before making any changes.

He was responding to calls to remove statues of figures involved with slavery by ‘Black Lives Matter’ protestors in response to the death of American George Floyd and the tearing down of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

The campaigners have targeted statues of four-time Prime Minister Gladstone, whose statue stands opposite Blackburn’s King George’s Hall, over his first Parliamentary speech defending slavery and his family’s involvement in it.

Another target has been Sir Robert Peel – the 19th century Prime Minister who founded the police service and has statues in Preston, Manchester and Bury – over his father’s involvement in the slave trade.

His family originate from Oswaldtwistle and have strong links with Blackburn which also has major town centre statues of Queen Victoria and former MP William Henry Hornby whose family made its money out of the textile industry which was heavily dependent on cotton produced by slaves in the Southern United States. The town also has a Blackamoor Road, an archaic contemptuous term for a dark-skinned person.

Cllr Khan said: “We support all peaceful and safe protest and campaigns. It’s vital that we listen to what is important to the communities we serve. We would only make changes to statues and street names after taking time to do a careful review and take on board people’s views.

“We want to celebrate all that’s best about Blackburn and Darwen in a campaign focusing on our diversity and strengths. We can build the stories behind our statues, choice of street names and historical plaques into these plans. When it comes to racism and inequality it would be essential to fully acknowledge our past, warts and all, as part of efforts to learn lessons from our borough’s history.”

Blackburn MP Kate Hollern said: “I understand that Blackburn with Darwen, like other councils, is carrying out a review of its policy on statues and street names. I support the review and it is important that care is taken to avoid celebrating those directly involved in the slave trade.”

Hyndburn MP Sara Britcliffe said: “Robert Peel did an awful amount of good for this country. In a society that stands up for people being judged by their own merit and success. I would find it completely wrong if his statues were removed.”

East Lancashire historian Roger Frost said: “This is a difficult and complex issue but it would be impossible to find any major local cotton family whose original wealth did not come in some part from slavery in the Southern United States and Caribbean and the slave trade. “

Hyndburn Council leader Cllr Miles Parkinson said: “We have no plans for a review. You cannot hold Peel responsible for the actions of his father. He was the first Prime Minister to tackle child labour.”

Burnley has a Clive Street celebrating the controversial general behind the initial British conquests in India and two roads named after the Dugdale family, cotton magnates who actively supported the pro-slavery Confederate States in the American Civil War. Burnley Council declined to comment.

Yesterday the University of Liverpool agreed to rename a building named after Gladstone due to his views on slavery following a long campaign.