UK: Historic ‘Little White Town’ Changes Signs After ‘Racism’ Complaints

Bideford, Devon, circa 1790. Engraved by James Bingley after a drawing by G. B. Campion.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The historic ‘Little White Town’ of Bideford in Devon, south-west England, is to change its signs over fears “the town council could be classed as a racist white supremacist [sic]”.

Bideford was dubbed “The Little White Town” by the Victorian author Charles Kingsley in the historical novel Westward Ho! more than 160 years ago, in reference to the many white buildings which give the town its character.

But town councillor and former town mayor Dermot McGeough complained that “The wording ‘Little White Town’ can be perceived as causing a racist slur and not politically correct” and should “be rectified immediately”. At a council meeting, he put forward a motion that “Following a number of complaints from parishioners, I propose that the words ‘Little White Town’ are removed from all signs within the town and at the town entrances”.

“If this wording is not removed, the town council could be classed as a racist white supremacist [sic],” McGeough warned colleagues, according to a local report by DevonLive.

A survey on this supposedly contentious issue found that 69 per cent of Bideford residents were in favour of leaving the town sobriquet unchanged, compared to just 31 per cent who thought it should change — so naturally, councillors voted in favour of changing it.

The town council did offer a sop of sorts to traditionalists like councillor Doug Bushby, who said the proposal was “political correctness gone mad”, by not dropping Bideford’s identity as “The Little White Town” entirely.  Instead, they decided that signs will now bear the rather clumsier moniker “Charles Kingsley’s ‘Little White Town’ (1855)” — to add “context”.

It has not been reported how much money will be squandered on the changes, but critics have questioned where the current mania for politically correct revisionism will end.

“[Town councillor] Peter Lawrence didn’t want to cause any offence but [I] did wonder where this might lead asking if ‘Bideford Black’ paint should be renamed ‘Bideford Slightly Dark’?” recounted Peter Christie, another town councillor, in a local newspaper column. (Bideford Black is a unique earth pigment mined in the area.)

McGeough’s efforts to alter Bideford’s identity showcase the determination of social justice-minded politicians to have their way on such issues. A previous attempt by town councillors to scrap ‘The Little White Town’ name in 2008 had failed in the face of local protests.

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