Petition to remove HG Wells statue divides local opinion

A PETITION calling for the town’s statue of HG Wells to be removed has divided local opinion.

Some residents have defended the famous novelist, saying claims he was a racist are “over the top”.

The statue of author H.G. Wells in Woking town centre’s Wells Plaza

The seven-foot tall bronze statue was unveiled in 2016, originally by The Lightbox, before being moved to the pedestrian area between Victoria Way and Chobham Road, which was named Wells Plaza in a ceremony by Woking Mayor Cllr Beryl Hunwicks in September last year.

Since the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol on June 8 during a Black Lives Matter protest, there have been calls for images of other figures to be taken down, including a petition on the website Change.org regarding the Woking centrepiece.

“HG Wells was a racist who also happened to love eugenics,” said petition organiser Joshua Reid. “Woking’s statue of him must go! An article in the Guardian in 2017 explained to Woking Borough Council why the statue was, and still is, unfit to stand.

“As with Rhodes and Colston, this man should in no way be glorified. We cannot even start to claim to be a society free from racism if this statue continues to stand. We say it has to go, and it has to go now.”

The petition sparked more than a hundred comments on the Horsell Village Wire, a local Facebook group – HG Wells chose Horsell Common as the location for his Martian landing in the hugely popular science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds. 

“This seems pretty OTT,” wrote Jonny Cope. “In spite of some controversial writings early in his career, Wells was generally pretty progressive for his time on race, particularly in his later years (see his writings on South Africa).”

Geoff Langrish added: “Wells’ extensive writings on equality and human rights, most notably his most influential work, The Rights of Man (1940), laid the groundwork of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations shortly after his death.”

The petition has so far received 86 signatures. Woking Borough Council said there were no plans to remove the statue: “Woking is a diverse and inclusive borough where all lives matter and communities work together to tackle inequality and say no to all forms of racism.

“The HG Wells statue commemorates the time that he lived in Woking and his achievements as an author. As far as we are aware, Wells apologised for comments attributed to him during his early career.”

The bronze sculpture of Wells, called Novelist & Thinker, was created by local artist Wesley H Harland. It takes inspiration from many of Wells’ best-selling novels. Resting in the hand of the author is the cavorite-sphere spaceship from The First Men in the Moon; on the back of Wells’ chair, the date 802,701AD, the year the time traveller meets the Morlocks and Eloi in The Time Machine; and, creeping across the base of the statue, is alien red weed from The War of the Worlds.

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