On 7 June, Black Lives Matter protestors in Bristol pulled down the city's long-despised monument to prominent merchant Edward Colston, due to its subject's involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Some commentators claimed this represented historical erasure. Others countered that continuing to honour a major slave trader with such a monument is morally indefensible, pointing out the crucial distinction between public monuments — which offer little or no context, and simply glorify the subject — and museum exhibitions, for example, which can educate visitors on a historical figure or era without honouring it.
At Londonist HQ we're excited to see this growing dialogue around how we choose to use our city's public spaces — and look forward to seeing what new public artworks London gains over coming years, such as these new sculptures commissioned by Hackney Council for unveiling in 2021.
Shortly after the removal of Colston's statue, a statue of noted London merchant and slave trader Robert Milligan was removed by Tower Hamlets council, in partnership with The Museum of London Docklands, on whose land the statue had 'stood uncomfortably' (the Museum's words) for years. Now, it looks like similar action could be taken in the City of London, with the public being asked to share their view on controversial landmarks within the borough.
This new consultation from the City of London Corporation invites you to have your say on the borough's approach to landmarks with links to slavery and historic racism — with the opportunity to suggest different courses of action. It's worth reiterating this consultation is specific to sites within the City of London, though other London councils are also conducting similar reviews within their own boroughs.
Monuments with links to slavery in the City include a statue of William Beckford that stands in the Guildhall. The twice Lord Mayor of London's inherited wealth was generated by slave labour on Jamaican sugar plantations.
The consultation will also take into account streets and buildings named after slaveholders, and invites suggestions on what course of action could be taken for problematic landmarks. Examples include simply leaving them in situ, reinterpreting them visually, or moving them elsewhere. Click here to have your say.