History Matters Project: a compendium of evidence
This is the fifth edition of our rolling compendium, which attempts to draw together a range of recent developments that turn on the place of history in the public square – including the removal of certain statues on public display, the renaming of buildings and places, and changes to the way history is taught in educational curricula. In cataloguing these examples, we do not offer any judgment on the actions of the individual or institution in question, today or in the past. Our aim is simply to provide a clear documentary record of what is happening – which can help inform public debate on these issues. At present, the evidence confirms that history is the most active front in a new culture war, and that action is being taken widely and quickly in a way that does not reflect public opinion or growing concern over our treatment of the past.
Policy Exchange renews a call for evidence asking museum directors, curators, teachers and the wider public to share their experiences and concerns about the ways in which history is being politicised, and sometimes distorted, sending their evidence to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Fife Council
- Tower Hamlets Council
- Lambeth Council
- Haringey Council
- Oxford City Council
- Shropshire Council
- Wandsworth Council
- St Peter’s Dorchester – John Gordon Plaque
- V&A – Decolonisation
- Natural History Museum – Charles Darwin Collection
- British Museum
- National Maritime Museum
- Parliamentary Art Collection
- Somerset House
- Haberdashers’ Adams School, Newport
- Sir Ian Blatchford – “Not the Job of Museums to Censor History”
1. Fife Council
Fife council has agreed to identify locations “which publicly celebrate and/or glorify people or places associated with Slavery with recommended actions which are educationally important”
The plan was agreed at a meeting of the full Fife Council:
“Fife Council acknowledges its duty to the Fife community to ensure fairness, transparency and equality are enshrined in everything that we do. We recognise that the issue of Slavery and those who benefited and suffered at its hands requires careful review to ensure greater understanding of its local consequences. The council therefore agree to the establishment of a Member Officer group to create a draft Slavery Action Plan for Fife which will include:
A) creation of an educational improvement programme which will allow the history of Slavery to be incorporated into Fife Schools
B) identification of any Fife locations which publicly celebrate and/or glorify people or places associated with Slavery with recommended actions which are educationally important.
The group should request input from local/national appropriate representatives from selected groups to help develop the draft Slavery Action Plan and the draft plan should be brought to the Policy and Co-ordination Committee”.
2. Tower Hamlets Race Inequalities Commission to look at statues and public spaces
The members of a new Tower Hamlets Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Inequalities Commission have announcedthey would review how “issues of race and equality are represented in the borough’s public spaces”. They have listed a range of possible outcomes “including but not limited to relocation, the addition of explanatory information, renaming or removal”.
“New race inequalities commission gets set for important work ahead
The members of a new Tower Hamlets Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Inequalities Commission have met for the first time this week (Wednesday 16 September), ahead of their detailed work to tackle racial inequality in the borough.
The commission has been formed in response to community feedback following the Black Lives Matter movement and the worldwide reaction to the tragic killing of George Floyd in June by a policeman in the United States. It has also formed to support action in the borough that will help people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in the fight against Covid-19 as they are far more likely to become negatively impacted by the virus.
Mayor John Biggs appointed Deputy Mayor Asma Begum to chair the new commission, which will gather evidence to investigate what practical changes and improvements can be made especially in the areas of health, employment and education, and community leadership.
The commission starts its work immediately and will hold a number of subject area focused sessions and other meetings, ahead of announcing its findings and an action plan early in the new year.
Councillor Asma Begum, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Youth and Equalities, said: “The ongoing historic events of recent months related to the Black Lives Matter movement and the Covid-19 pandemic continue to shine a light on the disproportionately negative impact on people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. For many people, these impacts are likely to be made much worse as we head into further economic recession.
“After a great deal of thoughtful community discussions and reflection over the summer, it’s great to have brought our commissioners together for the first time. We’re all really excited to hear from local people and to get stuck into the important work we have ahead of us.”
Over the summer, the council pledged to champion anti-racism and equality and asked residents to contribute to the ongoing conversation about how issues of race and equality are represented in the borough’s public spaces. The suggestions will be reviewed with a range of possible outcomes including but not limited to relocation, the addition of explanatory information, renaming or removal. In some cases, it may be decided that no action is necessary at all. In the coming weeks, more details will be made available about how the council will ensure genuine community involvement in reaching those eventual decisions.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
The commissioners have been chosen because of their professional expertise and detailed understanding of many of the underlying issues involved:
- Cllr Asma Begum, Chair (Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Youth and Equalities)
- Cllr Mufeedah Bustin (Cabinet Member for Planning and Social Inclusion – job share)
- Lord Simon Woolley (Director of Operation Black Vote)
- Safia Jama (Director of Women’s Inclusive Team)
- Dr Kambiz Boomla (Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Population Health Sciences at Queen Mary University of London)
- Ian Parkes (Chief Executive, East London Business Alliance)
- Vivian Akinremi (Deputy Young Mayor Tower Hamlets)
- Edwin Ndlovu (Director of Operations for East London NHS Foundation Trust)
- Pam Bhamra (Chair of the Tower Hamlets Housing Forum)
- Graeme McDonald (Managing Director of Solace and Solace in Business).
Posted on Thursday 17th September 2020
3. Lambeth Council – Monuments and Street Names
1 October 2020
Written by: Lambeth Council
“As Black History Month gets underway from today, Lambeth Council has announced a public listening exercise with residents and community/faith-based groups to decide on the next steps to assess and review locations in the borough with historic direct and indirect links to the trans-Atlantic slave trade (TAST) and colonialism.
A council review group was commissioned by Cllr Sonia Winifred, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Culture which found:
- A small number of Lambeth street names have clear associations with TAST and historic exploitative economic expansion during the early 18th century;
- A number of memorials and statues also commemorate key individuals’ who were involved in TAST, profited from TAST directly or via links with family;
- There are statues and tombs in the borough’s locations and cemeteries which mark families who were involved in TAST or profited from it, or similar economic policies which exploited people living in the Caribbean, India and Africa.
Cllr Winifred said: “I announced the review earlier this summer following the appalling killing of George Floyd in the USA and the mobilisation of the 2020 Black Lives Matter campaign. As a proudly diverse borough which has previously taken a lead on commemorating Black leaders in the late 20th century, we must now chart a new route forward to look at proposals to review existing troubling or historic links and assess whether we can legally suggest new names or commemorations to mark the lives and contributions to key people who have made Lambeth the place we know today. We will establish a community listening exercise later this month.”
The community listening exercise will include:
- Invitations to Lambeth residents, community, faith-based organisations and the wider voluntary community sector to debate and discuss the past and develop potential new names and commemorations in line with Lambeth today;
- Key linkages with Lambeth schools to review and amend the existing curriculum around the history of slavery and how the British economy developed in the 17th and 18th century, including decisions such as the use of slavery, its eventual abolition in 1807 and then implemented across the British Empire in 1811;
- A context-setting educational programme with Lambeth Archives and Lambeth libraries, both of whom have played a key role in the review of locations with existing historic links;
- An opportunity to commence a public debate on EDI and locations, including a new poll to enable the suggestion of new ideas and proposals to re-name key locations, where it is legally possible to do so.
The process is expected to be confirmed in mid-October, with the listening events set for later this month. Preparations are well underway to establish the public engagement exercise, ensuring it is meaningful and involves and engages the widest array of diverse communities possible who play such a positive and important role in the life of Lambeth.
Cllr Winifred said: “No one should assume this will be an easy process. Renaming is often controversial and will involve a range of views on the road ahead. There are also legal obstacles in the way that prevent a rapid re-naming of things like street names.
“It is also crucial that we engage as many residents, community groups, schools and private organisations/businesses in the debate itself and any decisions the council makes in future on new naming proposals. This needs to include key figures such as Olive Morris, Terrence Higgins (who was the first HIV+ person to die of the disease in Lambeth and whose name was so closely associated with the leading charity Terrence Higgins Trust, Mary Seacole and key locations and statues associated with events such as the Sharpeville massacre in apartheid-South Africa, among many others.
“There is much work to do on this agenda. An important new move will be establishing new EDI policy and performance targets around EDI, including race equality measures, within the council’s Borough Plan. A newly-reconstituted Lambeth First Partnership Board*, consisting of the council’s political leadership and key partners such as representatives from the Lambeth VCS, forum networks, educational and ‘anchor institutions such as King’s College London, London South Bank University and Lambeth College; the business sector and also key Government agencies and statutory partners, such as the Police and NHS.
“I very much look forward to leading this process – and am eager to hear the views and proposals for any changes from our residents and stakeholders. This is a sensitive issue and the council will lead this exercise in a way which acknowledges different views and opinions.”
The full list of locations and place-names reviewed by the process led by the board convened by Cllr Winifred will be made publicly available as the final announcement on dates and shape of the listening exercise and debate are agreed, later in October.
4. Haringey Council – Black Boy Lane
Haringey Council has announced a consultation for the renaming of ‘Black Boy Lane’.
Consultation for the renaming of Black Boy Lane
September 30, 2020
“The council has launched a renaming consultation with residents and businesses located on Black Boy Lane, as part of the wider Review on Monuments, Buildings, Place and Street Names in Haringey – which was launched on 12 June 2020, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The council believes that the names of our monuments, buildings, places and streets must reflect the values and diversity that we are so proud of in the borough. One of the street names that has been identified as not being reflective of this is Black Boy Lane.
Meanings change over time, and the term “Black Boy” is now most commonly used as a derogatory name for African heritage men.
As part of the consultation, the council is asking residents to consider new alternative names that celebrate some of the borough’s most notable influencers, and truly reflect the borough’s rich heritage.
The two names that have been shortlisted for residents to consider are, ‘Jocelyn Barrow Lane’ and ‘La Rose Lane’. The consultation will launch today, Monday 28 September and will run for a period of 4 weeks to Monday 26 October 2020.”
Cllr Ejiofor, Leader of Haringey Council, said:
“I’m pleased to see the launch of this consultation. We know that meanings change over time and street names such as Black Boy Lane may have a more contested history.
“If we are to truly demonstrate our commitment to and solidarity with the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement, we must seriously address these issues, and a real discussion on the way in which we memorialise historical figures is long-overdue.
“The renaming of Black Boy Lane is just the start of our wider Review and we will be working closely with our residents, local historians, communities and organisations to understand whether or not our street names and memorials in Haringey are appropriate for our society today.”
5. Oxford City Council
Oxford City Council has said it was “working to decolonise our understanding of history”.
30th September 2020
Making sure the Museum of Oxford reflects ALL our history
This year, Oxford City Council, the Museum of Oxford and Oxford Direct Services are working to “decolonise” our understanding of history, and to develop practical ways to instil a greater awareness of structural racism and anti-racism in our organisations. The museum is also now collecting stories relating to the Black Lives Matter and Rhodes Must Fall campaigns (the campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College).
Our Black History Month celebrations
We begin Black History Month by offering insight into the Windrush Years – highlighting the Museum of Oxford’s ‘Next Generations’ online exhibition, developed in collaboration with the Afrikan and Caribbean Kultural Heritage Initiative (ACKHI) and the Ber-Bedo Kelo Lonyo United Women’s Organisation (BKLUWO) group.
Michelle Codrington-Rogers, a Citizenship Teacher at Cherwell School in Oxford, the first black national president of the NASUWT teachers’ union and a member of the Oriel Review Group considering the future of the Rhodes Statue, will delve into what it means to decolonise education and reflect on her own lived experiences.
Oxford City Council
6. Shropshire Council: Robert Clive Statue, Shrewsbury
Shropshire Council has announced it had secured £7,000£ in grant funding from the West Midlands Museum Development Recovery Grants Scheme. This grant will be used to replace and add interpretation panels and labelling at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery and adjacent to the statue of Robert Clive.
“Steve Charmley, Deputy Leader of Shropshire Council, said:
“The Robert Clive Statue has now been an item at three recent council and committee meetings, the latest being Full Council on Thursday 24 September 2020, which I appreciate must seem a little strange. However, under the council’s constitution, we must consider petitions that reach a minimum number of signatures, as various petitions about the future of the Robert Clive Statue have.
“At Full Council on 16 July 2020 it was agreed that no immediate action would be taken.
“We believe we should not erase controversial history but, rather than celebrate and glorify such people and events, find appropriate ways to mark and learn from them. As such, it was agreed that the council’s museums service would apply for funding to better interpret our colonial past with a view to installing an interpretation panel by the statue.
“Since then, I’m pleased that we have successfully secured more than £7,000 in grant funding from the West Midlands Museum Development Recovery Grants Scheme for this important project. This grant will fund:
- The production of a short film exploring the current controversy surrounding the statue of Robert Clive located in The Square in Shrewsbury.
- The replacement and addition of interpretation panels and labelling at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery of collection items relating to Shropshire’s colonial past.
- The production and installation of an interpretation panel to be situated adjacent the statue of Robert Clive in the town square.
- To share the process of reinterpreting the colonial aspects of the Shropshire Museums collection with the sector, partner organisations and the wider community via our digital platforms.
“We will begin a consultation with relevant local groups shortly, and aim to complete the project by the end of April 2021.”
7. Wandsworth Council
Wandsworth councillors have pledged £10,000 for a statue commemorating John Archer, London’s first black Mayor. This project aims to celebrate John Archer’s achievements and engage the community in a positive way.
On 6th October, the council said:
“A Wandsworth Council campaign to honour and commemorate London’s first black mayor has moved forward with councillors agreeing to pledge £10,000 towards the cost of erecting a statue of John Archer.
The campaign was launched by council leader Ravi Govindia in June in response to calls from local community group Love Battersea for a fitting tribute to Mr Archer who was elected as Mayor of Battersea in 1913.
The aim now is to unveil the statue in a high-profile location in Battersea in 2022 with the council’s £10,000 representing the first steps in what will be a public subscription effort to raise the remaining costs.
Mr Archer, who had both Irish and Barbadian heritage, moved to Battersea in the 1890s with his wife Bertha and initially served as a councillor in Latchmere ward, successfully campaigning for a minimum wage of 32 shillings a week for council workers.
His rousing victory speech upon being elected Mayor included these words: “You have made history tonight. For the first time in the history of the English nation a man of colour has been elected as mayor of an English borough.
“That will go forth to the coloured nations of the world and they will look to Battersea and say Battersea has done many things in the past, but the greatest thing it has done has been to show that it has no racial prejudice and that it recognises a man for the work he has done.”
In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union and chaired the Pan-African Congress in London. He left the council in 1922 to act as an agent for one of the first MPs of Indian heritage – Shapurji Saklatvala, in North Battersea, but returned to the council in 1931 when elected once again to represent the Nine Elms ward. He served as the deputy leader of Battersea Council until his death a year later at the age of 69.
The borough has a long tradition of celebrating Mr Archer’s achievements.
In 2013 celebrations were held locally to commemorate the centenary of his election as Mayor, and in 2017 a ceremony was held at the town hall, attended by the High Commissioner of Barbados, as part of campaign to recognise the significant contribution of Barbadians to the UK.
The council also supported the installation of an English Heritage Blue Plaque that has been placed on his home in Brynmaer Road, Battersea.
And he was given wider national prominence in 2013 when the Royal Mail chose to feature him on a stamp commemorating ten Great Britons.
A report considered by councillors who approved the £10,000 grant stated: “Erecting a statue as a new installation in Battersea in honour of John Archer would recognise his achievements, allow us as a borough to celebrate him, and inspire our communities.
“As well as creating a focal point and celebrative piece of permanent public sculpture, this project aims to engage our community in a positive way during and after the journey by:
- Inspiring all young residents in the borough, but particularly those of black heritage.
- Linking it with a sense of pride for Battersea.
- Reinforce Wandsworth on London’s ‘art and heritage’ map.
- Sending a clear message that Wandsworth is inclusive and fosters aspiration for all.
- Developing (if feasible) a John Archer Trust for ongoing support of the statue and a John Archer arts and heritage trail and associated legacy projects.
“The local community will be at the heart of this project, with extensive engagement with grass-roots organisations, arts and community groups, places of worship, employers, schools and colleges.
“John Archer can be used as a learning focus for young people, around aspiration, democracy and inclusion, so school leaders will be among the first to be consulted on the direction of the project. This project will also acknowledge and include Love Battersea, who initiated the idea for the statue.
“Local and wider art specialists will be drawn into the project, including representatives from the Royal College of Art. A suggested legacy of the project could be to support the Royal College of Art to bring more artists of an African Caribbean or African heritage into sculpture work.
“Local champions will be identified to support the project and engagement will be made with key local organisations, which could include the Black Heroes Foundation and leaders from Black Majority Churches. Businesses and key agencies will be engaged.”
Council leader Ravi Govindia said: “John Archer was a true pioneer and one of the earliest role models of black achievement in London. We are immensely proud that he represented our borough and our hope now is to ensure that his legacy lives on.
“His priority was improving the lives of many in the community, the poor and disabled, and he was a passionate campaigner for what he believed was right. He fought hard against social and racial injustice.
“With racial equality and justice still at the forefront of people’s minds, my view is that a high profile statue celebrating his achievements and honouring a man who paved the way for future generations of politicians from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, is one way we can show our support for what he stood for.
“We sincerely hope that the public will support this endeavour so that we can raise a permanent memorial to this famous son of Battersea and mark his achievements forever.”
8. St Peter’s, Dorchester – John Gordon Plaque
The Parochial Church Council of St Peter’s Church, Dorchester has voted to remove a memorial stone commemorating 18th century plantation owner John Gordon.
In a statement, the church said:
“At a recent meeting of the Dorchester PCC it was agreed that a memorial to an 18th Century slaver will be removed from St Peter’s Church,
At the meeting, chaired by the Archdeacon of Sherborne, the Ven Penny Sayer, the future of the historic memorial was discussed and after much discussion the Parochial Church Council voted to apply to the Diocesan Chancellor for permission to remove the John Gordon memorial from the wall of the Church.
In the meantime a temporary cover will be made for the memorial while the plans go through the faculty (church planning permission) process.
The surviving relatives of John Gordon were consulted before the decision was taken by the PCC, whose resolve to take action was strengthened by Black Lives Matter and concerns expressed by the South West Dorset Multi-Cultural Network and Stand Up To Racism Dorset.
In recent months a notice has been on view beside it stating “This memorial is of its time, using language and commemorating actions which are totally unacceptable to us today.”
It is hoped that the faculty application will be looked upon favourably.”
The wording on the temporary cover is:
“The remainder of this memorial has been covered as it commemorates actions and uses language which are totally unacceptable to us today.
Following consultation within the church and the wider community, the Parochial Church Council has agreed to apply for its removal and to offer it to a museum.”
St Peter’s Church, Dorchester
Policy Exchange Call for Evidence
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has started talks with the Ethiopian embassy over returning objects in its collections to their place of origin. Tim Reeve, the deputy director of the V&A, told the Cheltenham Literature Festival that the move was part of the V&A’s work to “decolonise” its collections.
At the Event, Tim Reeve said:
“There is no dispute about whether or not they were borrowed; they were looted and that’s a story we have tried to tell very openly and very honestly at the V&A”
“Provenance is a big area for museums to invest in researching where these objects come from and how they came to be in these national collections. Being able to tell a much more rounded, holistic, accurate and honest story about those objects.”
“We are in very close discussions with the Ethiopian embassy about those artefacts and how they might in due course find their way back to Ethiopia”
“A long loan of those objects as a sort of an initial step is the kind of thing we want to discuss if the right kind of conditions are there and they are in agreement with the Ethiopian embassy.”
10. Natural History Museum – Charles Darwin collection
The Natural History Museum has responded to news reports that the ‘potentially offensive’ Charles Darwin Collections would be reviewed.
In a statement, the museum said:
‘Recently we started a review to better understand the history of our institution as a historical and contemporary global collection of natural history specimens. We will use this research to take a detailed look at our collection and our history so we can tell the full story of the origins of the collection and the people represented in the museum. The review is ongoing and no recommendations or decisions have been made. Our intention is to help add to the Museum’s rich history by contextualising and creating a more diverse set of stories and perspectives.’
Natural History Museum
Policy Exchange Call for Evidence
11. British Museum
The British Museum has said it does not intend to remove objects from public display.
A British Museum spokesman told Policy Exchange:
“The British Museum has no intention of removing controversial objects from public display. Instead, it will seek where appropriate to contextualise or reinterpret them in a way that enables the public to learn about them in their entirety.”
The museum released the following explanation following the statement:
“As mentioned the bust of Hans Sloane remains on display in the Enlightenment Gallery. It was redisplayed juxtaposed with objects that reflect that Sloane’s collection was created in the context of the British Empire and the slave economy. Sloane allows us to highlight the complexity and ambiguity of this period, he was a physician, collector, scholar, benefactor and slave owner. We continue to acknowledge Sloane’s radical vision of universal free public access to a national museum collection and the public benefit that is generated through the British Museum.”
The British Museum
Policy Exchange Call for Evidence
12. National Maritime Museum
The Telegraph has reported that The National Maritime Museum will capitalise on ‘momentum built up by Black Lives Matter’ to address ‘aspects of slavery relating to Royal Navy’. This would include reviewing Lord Nelson’s “hero status” according to internal documents seen by The Telegraph. The National Maritime Museum has released a statement in response to these reports.
“National Maritime Museum response to weekend news articles
This weekend, a national newspaper ran a misleading story about the National Maritime Museum. This article was based on information and quotations taken from internal documents gained under the Freedom of Information Act. Responses to these claims were provided to the newspaper prior to its publication. These responses did not appear in the article.
The National Maritime Museum has no changes planned regarding its ‘Nelson, Navy, Nation’ gallery or its commentary on Nelson.
If you want to know what our strategy and plans are, please do visit us and ask.
Paddy Rodgers, Director, Royal Museums Greenwich commented in response to the article:
“Royal Museums Greenwich did not issue a statement in response to the Black Lives Matter movement because we believe that change in society will only come through committed action and consequently we look to our work as a museum in contributing to that change.
RMG holds a significant collection in relation to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and we have contributed significantly to research, learning materials and exhibitions (ref the Understanding Slavery Initiative), which we regularly update. Indeed, we have just completed an intervention in one of our galleries to bring a more current perspective, that was planned over a year ago, this is currently viewable in our ‘Atlantic World’ gallery. We will do more.
Nelson is celebrated in two galleries dedicated to him at the Museum. Nelson’s enduring appeal is his complexity as both vulnerable and heroic, weak and strong, clever and naive. We have no plans to change our presentation or interpretation of him at present, but inevitably will do so in the future, to ensure his continuing interest to future generations.”
You can listen to Paddy’s interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in response to the articles.
(The interview can be found at 2:50:25 into the programme)
If you want to find out more, please do visit the Museum, where our current strategy review ‘Charting the Course’ is set out visually in all our sites.”
13. Parliamentary Art Collection
The Parliamentary Art Collection is being reviewed to “identify depictions of individuals and activities related to the British slave trade and the use of forced labour of enslaved Africans and others in British colonies and beyond.” Depictions of William Gladstone MP and Sir Robert Peel MP are to be reviewed under this process.
“In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Parliamentary Art Collection is being reviewed to identify depictions of individuals and activities related to the British slave trade and the use of forced labour of enslaved Africans and others in British colonies and beyond.
British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade began in 1562, and by the 1730s Britain was the biggest slave-trading nation in the world. The abolition movement in Britain, and the acts of resistance and rebellion by enslaved Africans in the Colonies, led to the abolition of first the trade, and then the use of enslaved labour in British colonies by Acts of Parliament in 1807 and 1833. However, many British people continued to have direct financial gain from the trading and use of enslaved labour and indentured labour in the West Indies, America, India and elsewhere.
This document lists works of art owned by the Parliamentary Art Collection which are related to the trading and the use of forced labour of enslaved men, women and children in British Colonies and beyond. This includes works of art depicting individuals that supported or financially benefitted from the British slave trade or enslaved labour, and those who fought for the abolition of trading and the use of forced labour of enslaved peoples.
The Parliamentary Art Collection documents the history and work of Parliament, and includes works featuring 17th, 18th and 19th century parliamentarians. As many were wealthy landowners and businessmen, they or their families were often directly involved in, and profited from, the forced labour of enslaved peoples and the trading of those people. Today this is recognised as abhorrent. The intention of the Parliamentary Art Collection is not to venerate people who have supported and committed acts of atrocity, but to truthfully reflect the history of Parliament, our democracy and the people who played a part in it. The interpretation of these artworks is constantly under review. We will continue to explore ways to better explain and contextualise works in the Collection through our website and in other interpretive material.
The following list of artworks is not comprehensive, and this document will be updated as new research is undertaken, becomes available or acquisitions are made. There is no definitive list of MPs with close connections to the transatlantic trade, or those who had financial interests in the use of enslaved labour and indentured labour in the West Indies, America, India and elsewhere. However, they will be numerous, and some will be included in artworks on display in Parliament. There are also instances of MPs whose views changed over their time in Parliament, for example those with economic interests in the use of enslaved peoples and the slave trade who later fought for abolition. Finally, this list of artworks does not include every instance where a figure may appear in a work of art, for example in the case of group portraits, but instead provides details for works where the subject is the sole or a major feature.”
The list includes the following historical figures:
Sir Robert Peel MP
William Ewart Gladstone MP
Thomas Gladstone MP
Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville
William Beckford MP
Henry Lascelles 2nd Earl of Harewood
George Stevens Byng, 2nd Earl of Strafford
Rt Hon Edward Ellice MP
Rt Hon Henry Goulburn MP
George Henry Goulburn
William Alexander Mackinnon MP
Sir Gerard Noel Noel, 2nd Baronet
Sir John Rae Reid, 2nd Baronet
Sir George Henry Rose MP
Sir George Cornewall MP
General Sir James Duff MP
Arthur William James Duff, 2nd Earl of Fife, M.P.
John Fuller MP
Lord John Rolle
John Rolle, 1st Baron
Admiral Lord George Rodney MP
Edward Littleton, 1st Baron Hatherton MP
Sir Frances Baring MP
Sir Alan Gardner MP
The Right Honourable Charles Lord Hawkesbury Earl of Liverpool
Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool
The full list is available here.
14. Somerset House
A review of Somerset House’s history in relation to Britain’s colonial past has been announced:
“To our knowledge, the historical information about Somerset House readily available in the public domain largely represents white historical perspectives. There is a lack of clarity on the impact of the current and previous building, and the legacy of those who have occupied it over its 400+ year history, on the lives of people of colour. In undertaking this work, we aim to broaden the historical understanding of Somerset House, to make it a more open and accessible space for all.
We are now looking for an individual or group with experience of conducting historical research and analysis within a social context. It will be particularly beneficial to have performed this in the broader context of race and colonialism. You will have a qualification and recognition in a related field and have demonstrated the ability to combine your historical research into a cohesive written account.”
“The brief should result in a central document, which will be used by Somerset House as the basis for updating how we talk about our history going forward. Our in-house marketing department will interpret these facts for a wide variety of audiences online and in the building, such as our website, in signage and tour information. We may also use the document as a basis for anti-racism training, staff inductions, and commissioning artists to make new work.”
15. Haberdashers’ Adams School, Newport
‘Clive House’ at Haberdashers’ Adams School in Newport has been renamed ‘Wilfred Owen House’. Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive was the first British Governor of the Bengal Presidency.
In a statement, the school said:
Over the summer, following an extensive consultation with current and former pupils and staff, the school took the decision to rename one of its existing Houses, Clive House. Suggestions for the new name were made by current pupils and staff and the soldier and war poet Wilfred Owen was selected following a vote. Commenting on the name the Head of Clive Phil North said “Shropshire born Wilfred Owen was a compassionate and forward-thinking man who saw the enemy as human beings and was outraged by the suffering of the young men around him. I’m very happy that the school community has chosen to honour his memory and look forward to leading Owen House from September 2021.”
16. Sir Ian Blatchford, Director and Chief Executive, Science Museum Group
The Director and Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group has said it is “not the job of museums to censor history”. In an article in the Telegraph, he said “we should be adding to our nation’s rich story not subtracting”.
“How to get the balance right between telling an honest, full story about our past, and avoiding a parade of clumsy ahistorical judgments? One answer to this is my mantra: additions not subtractions. This means a strong preference for revealing the story of the men and women forgotten by, or airbrushed out, of history and give them their due respect because they are part of the sum of human knowledge.
For some time, we have reflected on the need to address omissions in our galleries because history is not a rigid box of facts; it evolves as fresh evidence comes to light, even if that means reflecting on uncomfortable aspects of our history. A fine example of this is new research by the National Railway Museum on the unofficial “colour bar” that was prevalent in the Fifties and Sixties and which denied promotion to black employees that British Rail had recruited among the Windrush generation.
Similarly, we are including the facts of Empire in our displays and so, for example, the textiles galleries and interpretation at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester now make explicit cotton’s links with slavery. However, our tone will recognise that the museum visitor is not a witness who needs to be led to a conclusion by activist language. Long experience has shown us that telling a story straight, with facts and evidence, always wins the day.
I have received a number of letters and emails making strident assertions about the violence of Empire, the museum’s complicity in concealment, and an insistence that we “call out” the racism of certain historical figures. At times like these one needs to pause, and then separate the wheat from the chaff. There are some truths and genuinely fresh evidence that must be addressed, as a decent evolution of history.”
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