Dacre Must Fall by Julia Clayton (Lucent Dreaming Issue 10)

I can’t remember where I read the quote ‘there’s nothing so invisible as a monument,’ but it certainly applied to the statue in the neglected square outside my flat. It wasn’t one of those statues that people interacted with, dressing them in Everton shirts or Liverpool hats, like the Beatles at the Pier Head or the Antony Gormley men on Crosby Beach. Right through the whole Coronavirus pandemic I never once saw a facemask on it. There was something self-effacing about it, set back from the patchy lawn with predatory rhododendrons encroaching further each year. Nobody ever ventured close enough to read the moss-covered inscription on the plinth.
So, when a friend forwarded the ‘Dacre Must Fall’ post to me on Facebook, I thought there must be some mistake. The photograph accompanying the post left no doubt that it was the statue in the square below: a middle-aged man, in marble, sporting mutton-chop whiskers and a toga, solemnly studying the contents of the open scroll in his hands.

It’s time to educate yourselves, people! Edward Colston was just the start – now it’s time to decolonise our streets by ditching the statue of eighteenth-century slaver Thaddeus Dacre in Ambrose Square, Liverpool. As well as profiting from the labour of enslaved Africans on their St Kitts plantations, the Dacre family also owned several ships which were used to transport slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean.

I grew up round here, you know, surrounded by Dacre Library, Dacre Lane, Dacre Park (everyone called it ‘the Dazzie’) but they were just words, places you went without thinking about their names. Like most of the kids round here, I went to Dacre Primary School. Nobody ever told us how the school got its name. Thinking back on it now, I don’t think we did learn anything about the history of the slave trade at primary school, even though we were surrounded by grand Georgian buildings built on its profits. Back then there wasn’t such a thing as Black History, not even Mary Seacole.
By the time I received the Facebook post, there were already plenty of comments calling for the statue to be pulled down and for all things Dacre to be re-named. Some people wanted to take immediate action by toppling the statue and dragging it down to the Mersey which seemed a bit ambitious as it’s nearly two miles from here to the river, though at least it’s all downhill. The statue had once felt like a familiar acquaintance when I glimpsed it from the window, like the people I’d nod to when I saw them out dog-walking or collecting their newspaper, but now that I understood what it represented, it felt sinister, lurking with evil intent amid the dark, waxy leaves of the rhododendrons. I wondered what was on the scroll; you couldn’t tell from ground level. On the third morning, after I had received the Facebook post, I looked out of my kitchen window and saw that someone had sprayed SLAVER across the statue’s plinth in bright yellow paint.
Things gained momentum; the Dacre Lane street sign was defaced, and the primary school said they would consult with parents about changing the school’s name. I attended a socially distanced vigil in the square, clutching my thermos and blanket. A curator from the Museum of Liverpool Life came to the vigil as well; she collected some of the banners and placards for the museum’s social history collection. There were a few attempts to pull the statue down from its plinth, but it’s much harder to topple a solid marble statue than a hollow bronze one. Somebody managed to smash off the marble scroll though; it seemed to have some sort of design on it, maybe for a ship or a machine. The historian in me felt uncomfortable about the destruction of evidence from the past, but I also knew that this island had a long tradition of toppling statues, going all the way back to when Boudicca’s followers decapitated a bronze statue of the Emperor Claudius and chucked it into a river.
Gradually however, the outrage over the statue subsided. The local branch of the Victorian Society issued a statement which said that, although the city of Liverpool did indeed have many statues of people whose wealth derived from the slave-trade, the gentleman in Ambrose Square wasn’t one of them. It turned out that someone had bothered to read the inscription on the plinth: the statue commemorated a Thaddeus Dacres, a Lancashire mine-owner who appeared to have no connection with the slave-trade. The scroll that the marble figure had been holding showed the design for the Dacres Pump, a revolutionary invention used to suck bad air out of mine-workings.
One of the right-wing broadsheets ran a rather gloating feature about how the protestors (or ‘vandals’ in their wording) had got it wrong; they said that Thaddeus Dacres was one of the good guys, a Victorian philanthropist who’d built a model village for his workers at the Dangerous Corner colliery, complete with a Temperance bar, Library and Mechanics’ Institute. The article reported that the miners’ cottages were still there, now encrusted with porches and conservatories, and that the Mechanics’ Institute was now a tapas bar. The journalist even managed to find a villager who remembered going to the Mechanics’ Institute as a child; he said they used to cut all the racing pages out of the newspapers, to discourage gambling among the colliery workers.
Now if there’s one thing I like, it’s a model village – not the small-scale kind, but workers’ villages like Saltaire and Bournville and Port Sunlight. I consider myself something of an expert on Lancashire’s model villages, so I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of the one at Dangerous Corner. Scrolling through the online catalogue for the Liverpool Central Library, I discovered that they held a collection of papers relating to Thaddeus Dacres. My friend Roger, one of the archivists, said he’d get the Dacres papers out for me, but he warned me that there were sixteen large boxes’ worth.
The first few boxes just contained domestic stuff: invoices for wine and items of taxidermy; plans for an art gallery at Thaddeus Dacres’s country house; an application for a coat of arms – pretty standard stuff for someone on the up in the 1850s. However, by the seventh box alarm bells were beginning to ring; inside the box were a couple of bronze tokens stamped with the title ‘Dangerous Corner Colliery’ and the legend ex carbo lux. I’d seen similar ones before and I realised that these were truck tokens, issued in lieu of wages, which could only be spent at the overpriced company shop in the village. Underneath the tokens I found a printed list of regulations controlling the lives of the residents in the village: no drinking, no political meetings, compulsory attendance at Chapel on Sundays. The final regulation tersely stated that if a man was killed or incapacitated whilst employed at the mine, his wife and children would no longer have the right to remain in their company-owned cottage.
The documents in the eighth box revealed that the air-pump had actually been invented by one of the colliery engineers, Mr Rimmer. There was a string of solicitors’ letters threatening Mr Rimmer with the loss of his job, and eviction from his company house unless he agreed to sign over the patent to Dacres in return for a negligible sum. I even found the statement he had been forced to sign, confirming that Dacre had invented the machine himself.
Roger said he was surprised at how long I’d spent with the Dacres archive, nobody had ever shown much interest in these documents before. He asked me if I’d found what I wanted. I told him that I hadn’t found what I expected to find.

On my way home from the Central Library I stopped at a car accessories shop and bought a can of red spray-paint. Then I went down to the square after midnight and I sprayed the word BASTARD onto the statue’s plinth.

Buy issue 10 today.
Lucent Dreaming is an independent creative writing magazine publishing beautiful, imaginative and surreal short stories, poetry and artwork from emerging authors and artists worldwide. Subscribe to Lucent Dreaming now, support us on Patreon and follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

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