Controversial Derbyshire black head sculpture to go back on display

A controversial black head sculpture is set to go back on display in Derbyshire – but in a museum, not on its prominent historic archway.

Friday, 2nd July 2021, 4:55 pm

Derbyshire Dales District Council consulted residents, councils and groups from around the area on what the future of the Black’s Head, which has been dubbed “racist”, should be.

Councillors had agreed in July, last year, that the authority must address “the legacy of colonialism, slavery and racism in all its forms” and “acknowledge the public outcry of hurt, pain and anger over these legacies”.

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The controversial sculpture used to sit on a prominent archway in the town
The controversial sculpture used to sit on a prominent archway in the town

The response to the public consultation, while minimal, with only four residents responding, points to a view that the head sculpture should be returned to Ashbourne, from the county council archives in Matlock.

Ashbourne Heritage Society, district officers say, are the only group to have put forward a plan for how the sculpture could be returned to the town.

This would be to house it in the visitor centre at Ashbourne Town Hall or Ashbourne Library and to attach a plaque to the wall near the sculpture’s former home – the Grade-II* listed Green Man and Black’s Head Royal Hotel gallows sign – explaining its history.

The Derbyshire County Council black and minority ethnic employee network group – the only BAME group to provide a comment – has told the council it finds the sculpture “racist” and “deeply offensive”.

It wants confirmation that it will never be returned to its former home above St John’s Street, saying: “Its place belongs in a museum, or other such building, so that this country’s colonial past will not be forgotten.”

The heritage society says: “There have been various attempts to identify historical black figures in the town as models for the head, but most are vague, erroneous or undocumented.

“However, there are numerous other examples of inns called either the Black(amoor)’s Head or the Black Boy all over the country.

“All of these inns cannot be named after specific local personages, but most must be generic images which simply reflect the experience of society in general at the time.

“We cannot ‘change’ history, and artefacts such as the head are vital traces of our past – for better or worse – and should not be covered up, but used as examples to educate future generations.

“This is best achieved in a secure environment accessible to the public, such as the Visitor Information Centre at Ashbourne Town Hall or Ashbourne Library, where display boards can provide an explanation of its context.”

Comments from four residents as part of the consultation include:“I feel that it should go back where it came from; the vociferous minority in Ashbourne would not allow that, and we, the majority, seem to always bend over backwards to accommodate them.”

“I can understand the sensitivity of the issue in the current climate. Maybe the diplomatic solution is to let the heritage society display it with a history of the name.”

“The Blackamoor’s Head has been part of the daily lives of several generations who still feel a strong connection to our heritage.”