Opinion: Should we airbrush Harlow’s history?

History / Thu 11th Jun 2020 at 06:57am

By Michael Casey

A FEW years ago, I went to check a fact regarding Holy Cross Church in Tracyes Road, Harlow.


I discovered it had removed all reference to Father Tony McSweeney, who was parish priest between 1993 and 1997. It may have been removed after he was jailed for child abuse.

In his court cases, no reference was ever made to any crimes committed whilst parish priest in Harlow. Fact is he was parish priest there. Perhaps, a lot of parishioners don’t want to be reminded of the fact.

Perhaps they should have mentioned it. I know there was a paragraph detailing his time there because my father Kevin Casey (1930-2005) wrote it. I think he would have agreed to the edit. There would have been a heated debate in the Casey household.

In 2016, Harlow Council removed a photograph of one of their former chairs. The photo was of Ian Jackson who in 2016 pleaded guilty to downloading images of child abuse. He was chair of Harlow Council in 2004. That fact will also remain. Many may say, that he lost his right to be on a roll of honour.

I guess this is where we immediately revert to Godwin’s Law, that is to say, when an argument grows, you start to make comparisons to Nazi Germany. Here we go. If you look up a list of German leaders, there is a list from Louis the German in 843 all the way through to Angela Merkel. There is no little gap between 1933 and 1945 for you know who.

This piece is a response to the fact that Harlow Labour councillors and supporters have been very active in calling for a change in the name of the Rhodes Centre in Bishops Stortford. I wonder if we should have a look at the place names and buildings in Harlow?

Let us take quite a recent one. Kitson Way. That’s the road that runs behind Wetherspoons. I understand that this was one of a number of road names adopted in the eighties, along with Mandela Avenue and Allende Avenue.

David Kitson (1919-2010) was a member of the anti-apartheid movement.. His skill set including making bombs. His bombs killed people and he did many years in jail. Yes, we are now going down the “one man’s freedom fighter is another mans terrorist line” but now councillors have gone down the removing names road in Bishops Stortford, I just wonder if they want to have a look at that one? If not, what is your message to the family of Ethyl Rhys?

Others may say, and they may well have said it when the street was named, that he was a warrior against an evil regime and there may be no difference had they named it after Barnes Wallace.

Some might say that Harlow has got it right when it comes to Hester Woodley. You can read a potted history below.


Harlow, in partnership between its historians and its church leaders has kept the memory alive. It continues to this day. Should that change? Should the whole tone of the remembrance change? Should the Woodley family be condemned for having a slave in the first place? Fact that ceremonies have had Hesters descendants in attendance, shows Harlow has got it right and should be applauded.

Finally, our statues and sculptures. As we said, a few days ago. Are we now going to conduct a “moral audit” Are going to have a look at it the backgrounds of the artists and sculptors or the person they are dedicated to.

On Monday, I referenced a comment by former Labour council candidate Jake Shepherd. He was referring to the destruction of the statue in Bristol.

He said: “Public art belongs to the public. Enough of this criminal damage tosh – if the public decide to dispose of a statue in the public realm, let them. That’s what public art is all about!”

Righty ho. I know of one piece of sculpture in Harlow (which shall remain nameless) that is dedicated to a person, who was described to me (by their husband) as “anti-catholic”. He said she wasn’t happy about the relationship between the Nazis and the Vatican. (Godwin’s law again!).

Many will say that this is a healthy debate and about time. I have no idea if I am right or wrong. As someone who has an O Level, A Level and an Honours degree in History, I see a lot of the arguments through the prism of historical inquiry and less as a journalist.

At this point I will return to journalism.

Michael Casey
June 2020

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1 Comment for Opinion: Should we airbrush Harlow’s history?:

2020-06-11 18:40:15

This is a bit rich coming from Labour party activists, when the most biggest racist Nazi,ever to walk this planet was a left wing socialist. The initials A, H, comes to mind.

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