Lost: Removed from Cecil Rhodes House 2021 by Camden Council
Chosen in 1950 during a period of immense social change and economic instability, the name of this Somers Town block – Cecil Rhodes House – replaced its originally designated name, Grangefield. The name paid homage to the diamond mining magnate and leader of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). In so doing, it honoured Britain’s empire and was rooted in racism.
Was this a coincidental move and one chosen to celebrate the London County Council’s newly-built high rise? Or was it a contentious choice to antagonise a flourishing political movement of anti-Imperialism and independence?
A few doors away, in Somers Town, a strong civil rights and Black activist movement was thriving. George Padmore, founder in 1937 of the International African Service Bureau, was by in late 1944, co-founder of the Pan-African Federation, lived on Cranleigh Street. Here meetings were held and articles written and discussed to promote the anti-colonial cause. Those involved included W.E.B. Du Bois, Kwame Nkrumah Surat Alley N. Gangulee, T. Subasinghe, Jomo Kenyatta and Krishna Menon.
The 1949 Conservative councillors of St Pancras, who were instrumental in naming the building, used as justification the fact that the Rhodes family had owned swathes of pasture land where Somers Town came to be built. The Rhodes family tomb can be seen today in the Old St Pancras Graveyard. In addition, the Conservative councillor of the area, Sir Alfred Beit, in post until 1945, came from a family with close business links to Cecil Rhodes through diamond mining.
The naming decision was controversial: The Labour councillors protested that the growing Black community in St Pancras would be offended, and argued that the name change was a ‘flagrant waste of public money’ as signs existed for Grangefield. To no avail, the conservatives blustered that Labour protests signalled they were, god forbid, ashamed of the Empire! The renaming went ahead, and ‘Grangefield’ went to the Maiden Lane Estate.
By 2021, Cecil Rhodes house was renamed ‘Parkview’, after consultation with its residents rejected the use of a person’s name, having had Camden Council suggest Robert Mugabe in the 1980s. Although a move to decolonise, the somewhat ‘swanky’ name Parkview allows St Pancras to obscure its links to the past.
By Mercedez Mendy