At the end of July, the Express & Echo ran an online poll asking readers what new Exeter Library Square should be called. Here’s my version of the story reporting the results.
Less than one-quarter of respondents to the poll voted for “Prince George Square”, even though the royal birth has been almost constantly in the media for the past two weeks.
“Bideford Witches Square”, which would recognise the last three people to be executed for witchcraft in England, was at almost level pegging. Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susannah Edwards are commemorated on a plaque nearby at Rougemont Castle.
Although in only third and fourth place, “JK Rowling Square” and “Bodleian Square” have perhaps the best cases. Rowling studied at Exeter University, and the author of Harry Potter, The Casual Vacancy, and The Cuckoo’s Calling has an obvious link to the library. Thomas Bodley was born in Heavitree and gave his name to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Most of the other candidates were a mix of famous Exeter names and organisations. As an indication of the weight that Exeter City Council should place on the poll, “The square that’s compromised by the ugly and unfriendly BT building” took fifth place ahead of them all.
How we name our streets and public buildings is a reflection of the values of history and our values today. It subconsciously and subtly affects our self-worth. City landscapes are often dominated by men, royalty and war, which gives men an inflated sense of their own importance, and undermines the self-esteem of women and girls. We need to see our public spaces named after women for the same reason we need to see women on our banknotes.
Residential roads in the new Newcourt development are all named after men or war. In my fairly recent suburb, the roads are all named after men. The link between the royal family and the military is strong; Prince George is likely one day to join the British forces and one day become their supreme commander.
It is time to redress the balance. The pen is mightier than the sword. We need to recognise arts, education and social justice, and we need to recognise women, not least those who have encouraged children to read, campaigned for public libraries, and paid their taxes to support them.
So Exeter City Council, please name the new space either after Rowling, or give it a neutral name. “Library Square” would do the trick.
Yes, on second thoughts agree with @goal_media that “Library Square” isn’t inspiring enough.
Yet another update:
So magslhalliday suggests her top three of Rowling Square, Coade Square, Carpenter Square (all good stuff), and then maybe Babbage Square and Bodley Square.
My father, who gives tours of the Bodleian Library, suggested to me yesterday (tongue in cheek) that Thomas Bodley gave nothing to Devon but exploited it for the benefit of Oxford. His wealth came from marrying the widow of a Totnes merchant who had made his money from pilchards. Do we want to commemorate such a man?!