PERHAPS the Black Lives Matters protestors were following a long and honourable British tradition when they pulled the bronze statue of slave-owner Edward Colston off its plinth and ducked it in the harbour.

The same thing has happened here in the North-East for centuries to monuments the people no longer wanted.

For instance, after the First World War, the British government tried to distribute 100,000 captured German guns to be mounted in town centres. But the returning soldiers hated the sight of the guns that had been firing at them for four years, and the grieving civilians wondered if their local trophy gun had killed their sons. Across the country, the guns were rolled away, usually after closing time with the police held back, and lost in a river – or in Coniston’s case, in a lake.

Stanhope’s trophy gun lasted outside the police station until the outbreak of the Second World War when, one night, it was rolled into the Wear.

Further back, in Newcastle, when James II became king in 1685, the council decided to show its loyalty by commissioning a huge statue on a 14ft Italian marble plinth showing His Highness mastering a rearing horse. It was to be the largest statue in the kingdom, its design in London overseen by Sir Christopher Wren, and cast in copper at a cost of £800 (at least £200,000 today, according to the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator).

It was to go outside the Guildhall in The Sandhill, which is now in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge but was then one of the most important centres of the riverside city.

The statue arrived by ship on Newcastle Quayside in late 1688, just as the Glorious Revolution was under way. James, the last Catholic monarch of England, had tried to impose his faith on the country against the wishes of Parliament, and riots had broken out, and James had fled for safety in France.

On November 5, 1688, his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange landed in Devon having been invited to take the throne, and on December 23, 1688, it was formally decided that the king had “vacated” the throne.

Newcastle must have been in uproar.

Some sources suggest that its monstrously expensive statue of James had been erected as planned in The Sandhill at a total cost of £1,700; other historians believe that it never made it out of its packing cases on the Quayside.

Either way, on May 11, 1689, an unruly mob attacked it, either pulling it off its plinth or breaking open the cases, and it was heaved amid great rejoicing into the Tyne – if only someone had been on hand with a cameraphone to record the satisfactory splash.

As has happened in Bristol this week, the statue was later fished out, although the Newcastle authorities were far more imaginative than just letting it go to moulder in a museum.

The council minutes record: “April 1, 1695. All Saints’ parish humbly request the metal of the statue towards the repair of their bells. Ordered, that All Saints’ have the metal belonging to the horse of the said statue, except a leg thereof, which must go towards the casting a new bell for St Andrew’s parish.”