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.
The vote follows an announcement from the U.K. government of laws intended to safeguard historic monuments in England. According to a report in the Art Newspaper, the proposed plans would require individuals to obtain “building consent or planning permission” before removing any of the nation’s 12,000 historic statues. If approved, the law will come into effect in March. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, monuments worldwide have come under scrutiny for perpetuating racist legacies. In Bristol, a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled by protestors and dumped into the city harbor.
In response to the global protests, the City of London Corporation convened a task force to assess the legacies of the monuments and landmarks through its historic square mile. The group recommended the removal of the the Beckford and Cass statues which decorate its municipal Guildhall building, a decision that may now meet opposition from the U.K. government. The building is also a grade one-listed building, a designation given to structures of historical importance, meaning any alterations to the property will require planning permissions.
In the meantime, a new working group will begin brainstorming suitable replacements for the Beckford statue and audit “street names and other cultural items that are associated with historic acts of racism,” according to a task force document reviewed by the Art Newspaper. Catherine McGuinness, City of London Corporation Policy Chair, said in a statement: “The view of members was that removing and re-siting statues linked to slavery is an important milestone in our journey towards a more inclusive and diverse City.”