Statues to be removed in London over links to slavery

Signs from a Black Lives Matter
Signs from a Black Lives Matter (PA Archive)
23:02pm, Thu 21 Jan 2021
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Statues of two politicians in central London will be removed over their links to the slave trade.

The City of London Corporation voted on Thursday to re-site monuments to William Beckford and Sir John Cass in Guildhall because they accrued wealth through the slave trade and symbolise “a stain on our history”.

This comes days after Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said Britain should not try to edit its past, as new legal protections meaning historic statues will be removed only in “the most exceptional circumstances”, came into force on Monday.

Under the new legislation, if a council intends to grant permission to remove a statue and Historic England objects, Mr Jenrick will be notified so he can make the final decision.

Robert Jenrick (PA Wire)

The City Corporation said it will remove and replace the statues in Guildhall, and is considering commissioning a new memorial to the slave trade.

Catherine McGuinness, the City Corporation’s policy chairwoman, said the decision was the result of “months of valuable work” by their Tackling Racism Taskforce, which was set up in June following Black Lives Matter protests in central London.

She said: “The view of members was that removing and re-siting statues linked to slavery is an important milestone in our journey towards a more inclusive and diverse city.”

The death of George Floyd while in the custody of police in Minneapolis sparked protests across the world, with the statue of Edward Colston dumped into Bristol Harbour and a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill vandalised with the words “is a racist”.

The Tackling Racism Taskforce co-chairwoman Caroline Addy said she is “really pleased” the committee voted for the “correct response to a sensitive issue”.

The toppling of Edward Colston's statue in Bristol last year marked a wider discussion on the place for controversial monuments in modern Britain (PA Wire)

She said: “The slave trade is a stain on our history and putting those who profited from it literally on a pedestal is something that has no place in a modern, diverse city.”

The statue of William Beckford, a two-time lord mayor of London in the late 1700s who accrued wealth from plantations in Jamaica and held African slaves, will be rehomed and replaced with a new artwork.

Meanwhile, the likeness of Sir John Cass, a 17th and 18th century merchant, MP and philanthropist who also profited from the slave trade, will be returned to its owner, the Sir John Cass Foundation.

Responding to their planned removal, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “For hundreds of years, public statues and monuments have been erected across the country to celebrate individuals and great moments in British history.

“Any removal should require planning permission and local people given the chance to be properly consulted – that’s why we are changing the law to protect historic monuments to ensure we don’t repeat the errors of previous generations.”

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