The City of London Corporation has been granted planning permission to fix a plaque to a statue of a historic figure linked to the enslavement of Africans during the transatlantic slave trade.
As part of its commitment to tackling racism in all its forms, the organisation’s Court of Common Council – its primary decision-making body – previously agreed to ‘retain and explain’ the statues at its Guildhall headquarters of plantation owner, William Beckford, who served two terms as Lord Mayor, and slave trader and former MP, Sir John Cass.
The William Beckford statue is located within the Grade I listed Great Hall and required Listed Building Consent for the works to go ahead, whereas the plaque for the Sir John Cass statue does not require this permission.
The City Corporation partnered with arts and heritage charity, Culture&, to commission designers, writers, and poets, and an inter-generational panel and accessibility panel were consulted to develop a response to both statues.
Following the approval of Listed Building Consent, both plaques will explain the men’s links with slavery and be installed in the New Year.
City Corporation Policy Chairman, Chris Hayward, said:
“This is the next step in our journey in addressing, in an open and honest way, the City of London’s historic involvement in the horrific slave trade.
“We have been reflecting upon, and recognising, this terrible chapter in our history, and we are united in our commitment to ensuring that people from all backgrounds feel safe and welcome in a modern, inclusive and forward-looking City.”
Chair of the City Corporation’s Culture, Heritage, and Libraries Committee, Munsur Ali, said:
“Whether cast in lead or sculpted in marble, the statues to Beckford and Cass signify a deeply shameful period in the City’s history.
“My colleagues at Guildhall are working closely with many talented individuals and organisations to ensure that this project is handled very sensitively and that, no matter how we try to contextualise this period in our history, these two men’s actions are called out and condemned in the strongest possible terms.”
Chair of the City Corporation’s Equality, Diversity, & Inclusion Sub-Committee, Andrien Meyers, said:
“The transatlantic slave trade was unspeakably cruel and inhumane and now, following the granting of this Listed Building Consent, the City Corporation has moved closer to explaining publicly how the City profited from this evil form of commerce.
“We can’t be blind to the fact that the City’s history is inextricably linked to slavery, which is a stain on our past, but we are taking positive action now and hope that this work will help educate future generations.”
Artistic Director of Culture&, Dr Errol Francis, said:
“It has been an honour to work with City Corporation representatives, and the designers, fabricators, poets, writers, and the intergenerational panel to make this important project happen.
“We look forward to the unveiling of the plaques when the public can gain a better understanding of the historic links of the City of London with the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans.”