Slavery statues in City of London to be removed

Lord Mayor

Statues of two prominent figures in the Square Mile with links to the Transatlantic slave trade will be removed and re-sited, the City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee has decided. 

The committee voted today to move statues of William Beckford and Sir John Cass which currently stand in its historic Guildhall headquarters. 

The City Corporation will set up a working group to oversee the removal of the statues and the works that could replace them, and will also consider commissioning a new memorial to the slave trade in the City. 

The move had been recommended by the City Corporation’s Tackling Racism Taskforce, and will be accompanied by measures aimed at boosting diversity in staffing, governance, education, business and policing. 

Last year, the City Corporation held a consultative exercise asking people for their views on statues and other landmarks in the Square Mile linked to slavery, which garnered more than 1,500 responses. 

City of London Policy Chair Catherine McGuinness said: “This decision is the culmination of months of valuable work by the Tackling Racism Taskforce, which has taken a comprehensive approach to addressing injustice and inequality. 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.” 

The statue of William Beckford, a two-time Lord Mayor of London in the late 1700s who accrued wealth from plantations in Jamaica and held African slaves, will be removed, re-sited and replaced with a new artwork. 

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Meanwhile, the likeness of Sir John Cass, a 17th and 18th century merchant, MP and philanthropist who also profited from the slave trade, will be returned to its owner, the Sir John Cass Foundation. 

Tackling Racism Taskforce Co-Chair Caroline Addy said: “I’m really pleased Policy and Resources Committee has agreed what we think is the correct response to a sensitive issue. The slave trade is a stain on our history and putting those who profited from it literally on a pedestal is something that has no place in a modern, diverse City.” 

The Policy and Resources Committee also approved measures aimed at improving diversity in the Court of Common Council – its primary decision-making body – including appointing a dedicated officer responsible for member diversity.

Recommendations by the Tackling Racism Taskforce to boost diversity among staff by introducing anonymised recruitment for all pay grades, extra training and a ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme have already been approved.

Tackling Racism Taskforce Co-Chair Andrien Meyers said: “I’m really proud of the wide-ranging work the Taskforce has carried out to promote inclusion in the City Corporation, our schools and institutions and the City as a whole, which support our commitment to ensuring the Square Mile is a place where people of all ethnicities and backgrounds feel safe and welcome.” 

The Tackling Racism Taskforce was set up in June in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests.

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