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Protesters clash with Hoxton museum’s board over slave trader Robert Geffrye’s statue

PUBLISHED: 14:02 04 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:51 05 August 2020

Hackney Stand Up To Racism held a demonstration to protest against the Robert Geffrye statue outside the Museum of the Home. Picture: Dean Ryan

Hackney Stand Up To Racism held a demonstration to protest against the Robert Geffrye statue outside the Museum of the Home. Picture: Dean Ryan

Archant

Protesters gathered outside a Hoxton museum after calls to remove a slave trader statue from its entrance were “ignored.”

Trustees from the Museum of the Home decided against removing the slave trader statue to create a powerful platform for debate . Picture: Dean RyanTrustees from the Museum of the Home decided against removing the slave trader statue to create a powerful platform for debate . Picture: Dean Ryan

Hackney Stand Up to Racism (HSUTR) held a protest on August 1 outside the Museum of the Home following an announcement by its board of trustees that the statue of slave trader Sir Robert Geffrye will not be removed.

The museum launched a public consultation over the status of the statue and later admitted, in a statement released on July 29, that “overall, the response was in favour of removing the statue”.

Protester and member of HSUTR Sasha Simic said: “To call a public consultation on the fate of Geffrye’s statue and then ignore the demand for the statue to fall suggests the whole thing was a deeply cynical exercise designed to buy time in the hope the Black Lives Matter movement would dissipate and it would be business as usual.”

READ MORE: Backlash as Hoxton’s Museum of the Home announces slave trader Geffrye’s statue will stay put

The museum's decision comes despite holding a public consultation on the matter where most people were in favour of removing the statue. Picture: Dean RyanThe museum's decision comes despite holding a public consultation on the matter where most people were in favour of removing the statue. Picture: Dean Ryan

The museum’s managers “believe the museum should reinterpret and contextualise the statue where it is, to create a powerful platform for debate about the connection between the buildings and transatlantic slavery”.

The museum is housed in almshouses built in 1714 - a form of charitable housing often provided to people no longer able to pay rent. In Robert Geffrye’s case they were constructed at his bequest, mainly, to house widows of Ironmongers.

The money to build them came from Sir Robert Geffrye, an English merchant, who profited from the slave trade through his involvement in the East India Company and Royal African Company, his investment in the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans and part-ownership of a slave ship.

The board said feedback from the consultation revealed a “complex debate, full of nuance and different opinions” and added in its statement: “We acknowledge the pain caused by the connections between the museum buildings and the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans.

A protester urges the museum to A protester urges the museum to "take it down". Picture: Dean Ryan

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“The Black Lives Matter movement has demonstrated a profound need for people and institutions to educate themselves about the legacy of structural racism and colonialism. We are committed to reflecting this at the museum when we reopen.”

The board also said the museum will continue its vision of change “at a fundamental level by making the museum’s workforce, creative partners, content and programming more representative and inclusive”.

Museum management considered removing the statue after Black Lives Matter protesters pulled down a slave trader statue in Bristol. Picture: Dean RyanMuseum management considered removing the statue after Black Lives Matter protesters pulled down a slave trader statue in Bristol. Picture: Dean Ryan

But protesters like Sasha believe the museum’s board is being “disingenuous” in the arguments put forward to keep the statue where it is.

He said: “It is not necessary for Geffrye’s statue to remain on its plinth in order for a process of learning from uncomfortable truths to proceed. The statue can be removed and displayed in the museum with a full inventory of Geffrye’s links with the slave trade next to it.”

At the protest Dalston councillor Soraya Adejere added: “I’m not about to send my child to a venue where she has to look up to an image which represents cruelty, oppression and subjugation.”

The museum’s trustees announced they were considering removing Geffrye’s statue after Black Lives Matter protesters pulled down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June.

Black Lives Matter protests have been held across Hackney since the death of George Floyd in the United States in May . Picture: Dean RyanBlack Lives Matter protests have been held across Hackney since the death of George Floyd in the United States in May . Picture: Dean Ryan

Sasha said:” Colston’s statue stood for 120 years before it was overthrown in minutes by people who could no longer stomach a monument glorifying a monster who got rich from the enslavement and transportation of 84,000 men, women and children.”

Another statue of 18th century slave trader Robert Milligan was removed from its place outside the Museum of London Docklands after officials decided it “was no longer acceptable to the local community”.

For the Museum of the Home’s full statement on it’s decision click here.

To find out more about Hackney Stand Up To Racism (HSUTR) visit www.facebook.com/HackneySUTR/


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