London to Re-Site Statues of Two Politicians Tied to Slave Trade

Posted in the 18th century in the news by Editor on January 24, 2021

Left: Replica of a statue by Louis-François Roubiliac of Sir John Cass (1661–1718), original from 1751. As noted in the Wikipedia entry on the statue, the original bronze sculpture “stood for many years on Aldgate High Street, before being relocated to the John Cass Institute in Jewry Street in 1869. The statue was finally relocated to the Guildhall in 1980.” Right: John Francis Moore, Statue of William Beckford (1709–1770), 1772 (London: Guildhall).

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As widely reported, including in this piece by Tessa Solomon for ARTnews (22 January 2021). . .

The City of London Corporation, which manages London’s historic center and financial hub, has voted to remove two monuments to British politicians linked to the transatlantic slave trade. The statue of William Beckford, a two-time mayor of London who made his fortune in plantations in Jamaica in the late 1700s, will reportedly be re-sited and replaced with a new work. The monument to Sir John Cass, a 17th-century member of Parliament, philanthropist, and merchant who profited from the Royal African Company, a major force in the slave economy, will be returned to the Sir John Cass Foundation. His name has already been stripped from the City University of London’s business school. . . .

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For the decision in light of a forthcoming UK government policy aimed at safeguarding historic monuments, see Gareth Harris’s article for The Art Newspaper (22 January 2021). Pushed by Boris Johnson, the new policy goes in to effect in March.

Both statues were discussed over thirteen years ago in this essay by Madge Dresser, “Set in Stone? Statues and Slavery in London,” History Workshop Journal 64.1 (Autumn 2007): 162–99, the abstract of which opens as follows: “This article examines public monuments in London and their relationship to slavery and abolition, a topic that has attracted remarkably little empirical research.”

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