Museum of the Home considering moving statue of slave ship owner

After local campaign London museum says Robert Geffrye statue could be moved to less prominent space

A statue of a slave ship owner outside a London museum may be moved to a less prominent place after a campaign for it to be taken down.

The statue of Robert Geffrye, a 17th-century trader and former lord mayor of London, at the Museum of the Home has been the subject of a tussle between campaigners and the government, which said museums must “retain and explain” controversial artefacts.

In a statement this week, the museum said: “We believe there is potential to retain the statue on site but in an alternative and less prominent space, where we can better tell the full story of the history of the buildings and Robert Geffrye’s life, including his involvement in transatlantic slavery.

The statue of Robert Geffrye
The statue of Robert Geffrye. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“We are confronting, challenging and learning from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the museum buildings, to fulfil our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

A consultation carried out last year by the museum and Hackney council in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd found a majority of the 2,000 residents who took part wanted the statue removed.

Last October, Oliver Dowden, the then culture secretary, told the museum: “It is imperative that you continue to act impartially, in line with your publicly funded status, and not in a way that brings this into question.”

This year the government announced legislation requiring listed building consent or planning permission to be obtained before any historic monuments could be removed.

The move came after activists forcibly took down a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slaver, and pushed it into Bristol harbour, and amid a growing debate about Britain’s colonial past and its links to the slave trade.

The Museum of the Home is in Grade I-listed almshouses that were founded by Geffrye, and was formerly called the Geffrye Museum.

When it reopened in June after a three-year renovation, a panel was installed beneath Geffrye’s statue explaining his connections with slavery and acknowledging the statue was “the subject of intense debate”.

Last month campaigners called for a boycott of the museum by teachers, youth groups and local residents until the statue was removed.

Sade Etti, a Hackney councillor, said: “Statues of those involved in slavery ought to be pulled down and removed. It is morally reprehensible to continue to support their existence.”

Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said the museum should “recognise the need for change and resist pressure from central government. It should remove the statue.”


Harriet Sherwood Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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