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Rhodes Arts Complex to be renamed South Mill Arts




Trustees have dug deep into the past to rename Rhodes Arts Complex in a bid to end a racism row.

The Bishop's Stortford venue will be officially known as South Mill Arts from Monday August 24, severing an 82-year-old link with Cecil Rhodes, the Victorian colonialist, southern Africa politician and businessman after whom it was named and who is now reviled by many as a white supremacist.

Cecil John Rhodes. (39864990)
Cecil John Rhodes. (39864990)

The diamond and mining magnate – who founded the colonies of Southern and Northern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and Zambia – was born in Netteswell House on the site. In 1938, 36 years after his death, it became part of the Rhodes Memorial Museum.

For the new name, Rhodes Birthplace Trust (RBT) has turned to the Domesday Book of 1086, which records how South Mill, one of two water mills in Stortford, stood nearby.

In a statement issued today (Wed) the trustees – who are changing RBT's name to Bishop’s Stortford Museum and Arts Charitable Incorporated Organisation – say: “In line with its strategy to relaunch the Rhodes Arts Complex, to better fulfil its anticipated future role in the cultural life of Bishop’s Stortford and district, the Rhodes Birthplace Trust has announced that the new name for the complex will be South Mill Arts.

The site of South Mill on the original course of the River Stort (39855120)
The site of South Mill on the original course of the River Stort (39855120)

“Whilst the trust originally indicated that it would consult the local community about a new name, the lively debate in the press, on social media and in unsolicited emails to the complex has more than adequately expressed the community’s views and the trustees now feel that such a consultation is not necessary.

“The rationale behind the chosen name is based upon the location of the complex and an examination of the town’s industrial heritage, as themed by the museum.

“The choice of South Mill Arts... reflects clear and appropriate historical links spanning almost a millennium, recognises the town’s heritage in the milling and malting industries, and identifies the geographic location of the building. From a practical viewpoint, this will prove invaluable in the transition period, until the old name is no longer in common usage.”

The Black Lives Matter campaign renewed demands for Rhodes to be renamed. Activists had demanded that it honour a BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) person as “reparations”.

Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop's Stortford.Stand Up to Racism Harlow and Stortford Against Rhodes demonstration. .Pic Vikki Lince. (39864660)
Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop's Stortford.Stand Up to Racism Harlow and Stortford Against Rhodes demonstration. .Pic Vikki Lince. (39864660)

However, RBT chairwoman Deirdre Glasgow said: “We have kept our promise to the town and chosen a name that does not honour any person, living or dead, but does have a historical link to the town and its wider history.

“With this in mind, we will not participate in any attempt to eradicate Cecil Rhodes from our history. We have already demonstrated that the museum is very capable of working in concert with local schools to educate students about the life and times of Rhodes and the wider history of Bishop’s Stortford, and will continue to ensure that all the evidence and facts are available for schools and visitors to discover the truth for themselves.”

East Herts district and Bishop's Stortford town councils are working with the trustees to build a new cultural quarter at Old River Lane, which will include a 500-seat theatre and cinema. It is hoped the new name will give an option for a “joint corporate identity” to be developed.

The aim is for the suffix “The Mill” to become part of the South Road centre’s identity. The trustees say: “In line with the intimate style and ethos that we seek for South Mill Arts, we will refer to events, such as our annual hosting of the Hertfordshire Jazz Festival, as ‘Jazz at the Mill’.

“The creative, marketing and promotional possibilities are endless and will allow us to more rapidly replace ‘Rhodes’ with ‘The Mill’ as the familiar name in the minds of our clientele in the shortest possible timescales.”

FULL STATEMENT from RHODES BIRTHPLACE TRUST

In line with its strategy to relaunch the Rhodes Arts Complex, to better fulfil its anticipated future role in the cultural life of Bishop’s Stortford and district, the Rhodes Birthplace Trust has announced that the new name for the complex will be South Mill Arts. The effective date of the change will be Monday, August 24.

Whilst the trust originally indicated that it would consult the local community about a new name, the lively debate in the press, on social media and in unsolicited emails to the complex has more than adequately expressed the community’s views and the trustees now feel that such a consultation is not necessary.

The rationale behind the chosen name is based upon the location of the complex and an examination of the town’s industrial heritage, as themed by the museum.

South Mill Arts is situated close to Millars 1, 2 and 3, listed malt houses, and has an access on to Southmill Road (formerly Old Stortford Road), at the other end of which (approximately) was South Mill, one of two watermills in the town, mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The choice of South Mill Arts as a new name for the centre reflects clear and appropriate historical links spanning almost a millennium, recognises the town’s heritage in the milling and malting industries, and identifies the geographic location of the building. From a practical viewpoint, this will prove invaluable in the transition period, until the old name is no longer in common usage.

It is our ambition that the relationship between South Mill Arts and the new town centre arts complex at Old River Lane will be interdependent and complementary, leading to overall betterment of the town’s cultural offering to the surrounding catchment. The chosen name is commercially neutral and will enable the option of a joint corporate identity to be developed for the two sites at the appropriate time, whilst allowing South Mill Arts to develop its own ethos.

To this end, we will be encouraging use of a new familiar name for activities at South Mill Arts, by use of the suffix “The Mill”. Whilst the building housing South Mill Arts has never been a mill, the name commemorates the past existence of a 1,000-year-old infrastructure artefact in the history of our town which was close to the current site of the museum.

In line with the intimate style and ethos that we seek for South Mill Arts, we will refer to events such as our annual hosting of the Hertfordshire Jazz Festival as “Jazz at the Mill” or, in celebrating the festive season, “Christmas at the Mill”. The creative, marketing and promotional possibilities are endless and will allow us to more rapidly replace “Rhodes” with “The Mill” as the familiar name in the minds of our clientele in the shortest possible timescales.

On announcing the change, the chairman, Deirdre Glasgow, said: “We have kept our promise to the town and chosen a name that does not honour any person, living or dead, but does have a historical link to the town and it’s wider history.

"With this in mind, we will not participate in any attempt to eradicate Cecil Rhodes from our history. We have already demonstrated that the museum is very capable of working in concert with local schools to educate students about the life and times of Rhodes and the wider history of Bishop’s Stortford, and will continue to ensure that all the evidence and facts are available for schools and visitors to discover the truth for themselves."

This is a very exciting and inspiring time for the future of South Mill Arts and we hope the community will continue to support us as we gradually ease ourselves back into post-pandemic operation.

We would be delighted to see customers, old and new, visiting us at ‘The Mill’ and enjoying our Covid-secure facilities. Pop into the Maltings bar and café if you are passing, or find out more about us and our exciting plans by visiting our website at www.rhodesartscomplex.co.uk (until August 23) and after that at www.southmillarts.co.uk.



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