Exeter Central Library, one of my favourite buildings, is going through a rebuild. As part of that, a scrubby bit of land in front of it is getting renamed as a Square.
Given the main public square is named after a bloke from the landed gentry who owned a lot of Exeter, I think this new square should be named after a woman of achievement connected to the city. Ideally one involved in improving literacy or advancing science. Doing that:
a) celebrates libraries as gateways to knowledge
b) celebrates knowledge as something that changes lives
c) highlights to girls and women that learning brings achievement and fame.
So, here are my top three candidates, in no specific order.
JK Rowling studied at Exeter University, and based Diagon Alley on Gandy Street (right next to the new Square). Whilst I’m not a fan of her writing, she has undoubtedly had an impact on children’s literacy. Her books also celebrate learning and libraries, so it’s a good fit.
- Coade Square
Eleanor Coade was a designer and industrial businesswoman in the 18th century. She successfully developed the type of artificial stone that is named after her, and successfully ran a business for 50 years. She was born in Exeter and lived here for her first 30 years.
- Carpenter Square
Mary Carpenter was a 19th century social reformer who campaigned for education, literacy and women’s suffrage and against slavery. She was born in Exeter, before moving to Bristol at about 10. Amongst other things, she founded a ragged school for the education of the poor.
Those are my preferred options. However, if we’re looking for any person of achievement who has connections to libraries and knowledge then there is also:
Charles Babbage is widely regarded as the father of computing. His work with his difference engine in the 19th century paved the way for Turing, Jobs and Berners-Lee. Given libraries are about access to knowledge, and now act as a means for people to access the internet, a connection to computers makes sense. His connection to Exeter is slight, having gone to a school in Alphington.
- Bodley Square
Thomas Bodley was an Elizabethan diplomat who founded the Bodleian Library in Oxford. He was born in Exeter.
This list came about in part from discussions on twitter, and how often I found myself citing these names as an alternative to Prince George Square.
Does the naming of a public space matter? Yes, undoubtedly. The name tells us what we value as a society. So we should pick a name that is aspirational and about the power of learning to transform lives. A name that shows what learning can achieve.
Have I missed anyone off the list?