Following the removal from public display of offensive statues of the slave traders Edward Colston (in Bristol) and Robert Milligan (on the Isle of Dogs), our mayor Sadiq Khan has said London’s landmarks – including street names, the names of public buildings and plaques – will be reviewed by a commission to ensure they reflect the capital’s diversity.
In Cripplegate the fact that the landmark Cromwell Tower is named after a man who oversaw mass murder in Ireland offends many. We trust the name will be changed very soon. There are many other names and monuments in the City of London that should be looked into and with this post we will highlight a handful of them. One piece of public art that should be speedily removed and put into storage is an early eighteenth-century statue of a crouching young black man holding up a sundial in the Inner Temple Gardens. We don’t want to reproduce this work but anyone who wishes to do so can see a photograph here by scrolling down the page for its Inner Temple Kings Bench Walk entry, or else look at a nineteenth-century drawing of it by W. R. Lethaby here. The Inner Temple is one of the four Inns of Court, the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales. All barristers must belong to one of them. They have supervisory and disciplinary functions over their members. It is therefore quite extraordinary that two different Inner Temple websites make it clear that those caring for the gardens and the sculpture ought to know it is racist:
“After Clement’s Inn was destroyed, a kneeling leaden blackamoor by Van Ost was transferred from its gardens to those of the Inner Temple.” https://web.archive.org/web/20191104150008/https://www.innertemplelibrary.org.uk/inner-temple/history/the-gardens/
‘…the decorated iron gates date from c1730, as does the statue of a kneeling blackamore by Van Ost.” https://web.archive.org/web/20200609133606/https://www.innertemple.org.uk/estate-garden/the-inner-temple-garden/history-of-the-garden/
A wikipedia entry explains the art genre terminology used on both these Inner Temple websites:
“Blackamoor is a European art style from the Early Modern period depicting highly stylized figures, usually African males but sometimes other non-European peoples, in subservient or exoticized form. Blackamoor is often found in sculpture, jewelry, furniture, and decorative art… The term Blackamoor is now viewed by some as racist and culturally insensitive.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackamoor_(decorative_arts)
Yesterday a new Wikipedia page was created to list works implicated as problematic in light of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s review of public art and monuments, although the Inner Temple Gardens Van Ost (AKA John Nost) sculpture had yet to appear on it at the time we posted this blog:
In June 2020 the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, established the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm to “review and improve diversity across London’s public realm to ensure the capital’s landmarks suitably reflect London’s achievements and diversity”. Khan said “When you look at the public realm – street names, street squares, murals – not only are there some of slavers that I think should be taken down, and the commission will advise us on that, but actually we don’t have enough representation of people of colour, black people, women, those from the LGBT community.”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_public_statues_of_individuals_linked_to_the_Atlantic_slave_trade
At the time of writing, Wikipedia’s partial list of slave trade related London statues included a number commemorating English monarchs whose investments and governorship in the Royal African Company implicate them in the black holocaust; a company Edward Colston – whose statue has just been removed from public view in Bristol – also used for slave trading. At least two of the royals on the Wikipedia list at the time of writing are featured in public art currently visible in the City of London. Before we posted this, the Wikipedia piece listed the statue of Queen Anne in St Paul’s Churchyard but not the statue of the same monarch on the Public Records Office (now the Maughan Library of King’s College, London) in Chancery Lane. Both these City of London situated statues of Queen Anne should be removed. For a picture of Public Records Office Queen Anne statue and more details about it see: https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/public-record-office-queen-anne
The Wikipedia entry on problematic monuments lists statues of Charles II in Soho Square and Chelsea but not – at the time of writing – the effigy of him on the Temple Bar Gate where Fleet Street meets The Strand, or if you prefer the City of London meets Westminster. In light of Khan’s diversity programme, the best thing to do with the Temple Bar Gate – which includes the statue of Charles II – is to mothball it; and with this the nearly thousand year history of exceptionalism as regards the relationship of the City of London to the rest of England, dating back to the treaty this municipality made with William I in 1066. Obviously we don’t just wish to see the City’s many problematic monuments mothballed, we want to see its undemocratic business vote abolished too!
Moving from slavery to the broader issue of the colonialism and the colonial exploitation of which slavery was a part, the memorial to Admiral Arthur Phillip in Cannon Street Gardens is clearly problematic. As is the statue of Captain John Smith in the City’s Bow Churchyard. Edward Colston whose statue in Bristol was pulled down by Black Lives Matter activists was a member of the Mercers Company, the premier livery company of the City of London. The way in which all the older livery companies and many of their members appear to have benefitted financially from slavery requires examination, and in our opinion the best thing we could do with the liveries is to abolish them alongside the business vote.
Finally, another useful resource we came across yesterday was the website Topple the Racists: Take down statues and monuments in the UK that celebrate slavery and racism. At the time of posting, Topple the Racists featured none of the public art we mention above. The only monument it highlighted in the City was the following one, which unsurprisingly is to be found at the Guildhall, where the feudal and monumentally undemocratic City of London council meets:
William Beckford (1709–1770), Basinghall St, London , EC2V 7HH. MP for Shaftesbury 1747–54 and for City of London 1754–1770. 1755 Sheriff of London. 1761 MP for City of London. Lord Mayor of London 1762, 1769 and 1770. Inherited sole interest in 13 sugar plantations in Jamaica and owned approximately 3,000 enslaved Africans; served in Jamaican National Assembly before returning to England in 1744. https://www.toppletheracists.org
We trust both Topple the Racists and the Wikipedia List of public statues of individuals linked to the Atlantic slave trade, will be updated soon to include many more monuments that require removal from both the City of London and beyond – including, of course, those mentioned here that they don’t yet feature.
The header shows the east side of Inner Temple Gardens, Inner Temple, the Inns of Court, London. Photograph, formatting, and caption by George P. Landow. Taken from here: http://www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/legal/1c.html