Explanatory plaques fixed to London statues linked to slavery

William Beckford statue  (City of London Corporation)
William Beckford statue (City of London Corporation)

Plaques are being fixed to the statues of a former Lord Mayor of London and MP explaining their links to slavery, after it was decided the statues would stay on display at City of London Corporation headquarters.

The corporation has been granted planning permission to fix a plaque to William Beckford’s statue, which is displayed at Guildhall, in the new year.

A Lord Mayor in 1762 and 1769, Beckford’s vast wealth derived from the 3,000 slaves he owned in Jamaica across 13 sugar plantations. Beckford inherited the considerable wealth that his grandfather Peter Beckford had accrued from Jamaican sugar plantations.

A plaque will also be placed next to slave trader and former MP Sir John Cass but it did not require planning permission.

A 2021 independent report commissioned by Sir John Cass’s foundation, which changed its name to The Portal Trust, identified “Sir John Cass’s role not just in investing in the Royal African Company, but in his active management of the slave trade from its London base”.

Sir John Cass statue (Getty Images)
Sir John Cass statue (Getty Images)

An anti-racism taskforce set up by the City initially recommended the two statues’ removal in 2021, but a new statues working group overruled them and recommended they stay, provided their links to slavery would be explained.

The City has worked 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.

Munsur Ali, the chairman of the City Corporation’s Culture, Heritage, and Libraries Committee, 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.”

The death of George Floyd while in the custody of police in Minneapolis sparked protests across the world in 2020, with the statue of Edward Colston dumped into Bristol Harbour and a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill vandalised with the words “is a racist”.