‘We can’t cancel the past’: Ex-West Indies President dismisses renaming Warner Park over slavery links

Warner Park Sporting Complex in Saint Kitts
The Warner Park Sporting Complex is named after Sir Thomas Warner who established Saint Kitts as the earliest English colony in 1624 - Getty Images/Michael Steele

The case for renaming a stand at Lord’s over Sir Pelham Warner’s historic links to slavery has been seriously undermined after it emerged there were no plans to change that of the Warner Park Sporting Complex on the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts.

Bruce Carnegie-Brown, the chairman of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), sparked a major backlash last week following an interview with Telegraph Sport in which he revealed the naming of the home of cricket’s 65-year-old Warner stand was something that ought to be kept “under review”.

Carnegie-Brown later told members there was “no intention to rename the Warner Stand” but his comments inevitably reopened a long-standing debate about cricket’s historic links with the slave trade.

Warner, who died in 1963, was known as the Grand Old Man of English Cricket and his association with the club spanned almost 70 years. He played 15 Tests for England, served as chairman of selectors and managed the Bodyline tour of 1932-33.

He was born almost 70 years after the abolition of slavery but his family derived its fortune from sugar plantations in the Caribbean. His grandfather, Colonel Edward Warner, owned tobacco and sugar estates in Trinidad and Dominica, which were worked by slave labour from Africa.

The Warner Park Sporting Complex is named after the first of the clan to settle in the West Indies, Sir Thomas Warner, who established St Kitts as the earliest English colony there in 1624 and imported thousands of African slaves.

But a direct involvement in the practice has never led to any move to “cancel” the Warner on whose land now stands a cricket stadium that was built for the 2007 World Cup and is still an international venue today, according to the man behind its construction.

Ricky Skerritt was until recently president of the West Indies Cricket Board, having previously spent more than a decade in the government of St Kitts & Nevis, including as sports minister. He has been a member of the St Kitts Cricket Association for half a century and has served as its secretary.

The 67-year-old also happens to be a member of the MCC’s very own World Cricket Committee.

“Warner Park has been a centre of my recreational and skill-development life,” he told Telegraph Sport. “Because I played soccer in Warner Park for St Kitts, I played cricket in Warner Park for St Kitts. I’ve built Warner Park’s pavilions and so on to turn it into a stadium. And, in the, say, 55 years I’ve been in Warner Park on a frequent basis, at no time have I encountered anybody else say, nor have I myself wondered aloud, ‘Should we rename this park because Warner was who he was?’

Stressing a name change would only be considered “if somebody came forward with a reasonable argument”, he added: “People just say let the past be the past.

“We can’t cancel the past. Let’s make best use of what resources we have today and let’s build on it and let’s improve our own lives and the lives of our people.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any massive move to correct any names of the past that somehow contributed in their own way to what was development at the time.

“I was not aware that it was an issue at the MCC. I’m not a member of the MCC. I have to tell you that I am a member of MCC’s World Cricket Committee. I think I’m the only non-MCC member on that committee. The World Cricket Committee doesn’t deal with issues like that.

“I’m aware of the conflicting ideas and beliefs and reflections that have been taking place around cricket in the UK. I mean, it’s been well-publicised in terms of the report that came in on equity and fairness and so on.

“I was there for a couple of weeks this past summer when the report had just come in, so I could understand why there would be these debates taking place. But I’m not emotionally attached to that. I’m not involved. I don’t have any opinions on it. I just hope that cricket, in the final analysis, benefits from whatever is done.”

Asked if he understood the argument of those who say people shouldn’t be held to account for the sins of their ancestors, he replied: “Absolutely. I really understand the emotions involved.

“It’s not that somebody committed a crime as a teenager and 50 years later you hold them to account for it – this is a different situation. But I am not opinionated on it.

“I think the members of MCC have to decide what is best for the MCC and what is best for cricket.”

MCC declined to comment.