City of London to halt the removal of slavery-era statue

The removal of a statue depicting a former London lord mayor from the 18th century has been halted, after a committee of councillors opted to review further options.

Acting as lord mayor in 1762 and 1769, William Beckford made his vast wealth from plantations in Jamaica, which was largely staffed by enslaved people.

On 21 January City councillors voted to remove his statue, which stands in the City’s Great Hall, as the Square Mile seeks to distance itself from the finance sector’s historical association with oppression of minority groups.

READCity of London votes to remove slavery-era statues from the Square Mile

But in a further meeting on 18 February, councillors voted to revisit the plans and consider a range of options for the statue, including keeping it in place but contextualising its presence with a plaque detailing Beckford’s history.

Caroline Addy, a member of the City’s Court of Common Council who had championed the initial recommendation to remove Beckford, said at the 21 January meeting: “We still feel that it would be wrong to lord those two so prominently, it would be oppressive to descendants of those who suffered.”

She was supported by the City of London’s policy chair Caroline McGuinness, who backed the proposal to replace Beckford’s statue with a new installation to “mark the abolition of slavery and recognise the contribution of slavery toward the growth and expansion of the City of London”.

A City of London Corporation spokesperson said that following the February meeting, a working group will now be established to evaluate all options by September.

They added that “no further action will be taken in regard to the two statues until the Court of Common Council has considered the report from the Statues Working Group and agreed how to proceed”.

The change, first reported by Reuters, followed further comments by the government’s housing minister Robert Jenrick earlier this month in which he said objects of contested heritage should be retained and explained.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Emily Nicolle

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