The Sunnybank loop is a local training run I have done regularly since my early running days. At just over 6.5km it is short enough to do in a limited timeframe but has good short sharp and long gradual hill sections within it as a tester.
During my recent marathon training I completed five consecutive laps of Sunnybank loop as a last long run before tapering. I christened it the ‘headf**k’ run as it was designed to build mental resilience, something found wanting on previous marathons. Following each lap I’d deliberately return to my house, round the tree outside it then head back out. The newly opened Jamaican barbecue joint half the way around didn’t help matters. The waft of barbecuing chicken every 45 minutes was pure salivating agony. The fifth and final lap was torture and I was 10/1 against carrying on but persevere I did and completed it in just under three hours as planned.
After approximately 2km one passes the Lord Clive pub. It’s a typical nondescript post war housing estate pub and although I’ve never been in they do advertise Northern Soul nights which is a good sign. The pub’s name intrigued me and the sign clearly showed that Lord Clive was historical figure however I kept forgetting to investigate further after each run. A forgetfulness probably induced by the hilly sections that followed the pub. My ignorance lifted when he featured in a book I read last year called Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Dr Shashi Tharoor. It’s a fascinating read that’s broadened out from Tharoor’s own participation in an Oxford Union debate in 2015 about colonial reparations.
In history lessons at school I was taught scarcely little about the British Empire. The curriculum dictated that I knew Harold Godwinson got an arrow in the eye at Hastings, that Henry VIII liked wedding cake, that the canals and railways were manic, that cotton was king and that the Nazis were very bad indeed but I was taught next to nothing about the land masses coloured red on old maps. When Empire was brought up it was viewed as a benevolent entity that helped rather than hindered those it governed over and the opposing view just did not arise. What I did learn was self taught.
Robert Clive was born in 1725 in Shropshire into a landed gentry family. He had started out as an agent of the East India Company, a private company established in 1600 to trade with the Mughal Empire in India. This seemed to work on a more or less equal footing until the Mughal Empire, weakened by war with Persia and internal strife, began to rupture. European tensions also spilled over on to Indian soil and Clive became prominent in the Company’s own private army. A fine military leader he led forces to victory against the French at Arcot (1751) and Bengal, the richest Indian state, at Plassey (1757). These two campaigns laid the foundations for the East India Company’s takeover of Bengal and the subsequent establishment of the British Raj. What started as a purely capitalist enterprise turned into a full on colonial land and resources grab.
The East India Company’s policies under Lord Clive changed India seismically. The policy of divide and rule was instituted and puppet rulers were put in place. Previously a major exporter of finished products it became an exporter of raw material that was processed in Britain then resold at high prices in India. The loss of industry forced an urban to rural population migration. This movement together with high taxation and agricultural practices brought about widespread poverty and subsequent famines killed millions. All the while Bengal’s riches left Calcutta aboard ships bound for Britain.
It seems Lord Clive enriched himself handsomely from his Indian exploits and his avarice knew little compunction. Though he claimed that he’d acted with ‘moderation’ Clive nonetheless became a very wealthy and influential individual. He bought himself a parliamentary seat and a large estate in County Clare with his Indian loot. Coincidently the estate, renamed Plassey after his famous victory, lies not far from my Granny C’s birthplace. Tharoor states it simply, “the British had the gall to call him ‘Clive of India’, as if he belonged to the country, when all he really did was to ensure that a good proportion of the country belonged to him.” (Inglorious Empire, Shashi Tharoor, p.10).
Like all nations we bask in the sunlight of that which gives us pride. We celebrate those that fought and fell at Flanders, Gallipoli, Dunkirk and Normandy yet the silence is deafening regarding those that extorted the riches from others and made this country what it is. Signposts to Britain’s imperial past surround us so it’s crucial that we know our history, the good and bad, own it and reflect upon it.
It is a little known fact that Lord Clive could also run a sub four hour marathon. Nah, I made that up but I had to get it back to running before the end somehow.