Geffrye debate continues amid growing pressure to remove the slave trader statue
- Credit: Dean Ryan
The Museum of the Home in Hoxton is set to reopen on June 12 with a statue of a slave trader outside - despite almost 80 per cent of locals wanting it removed.
The museum, which shows houses through time, is thought to be caught in the middle of public pressure to get rid of the monument to Sir Robert Geffrye - and Government efforts to keep it.
Last July, almost 80 per cent of respondents living nearby said in a public consultation that they wanted the statue gone, while an internal recommendation also suggested its removal. But last October, documents released by the Museum of the Home also revealed governmental pressure may have played a role in the museum's decision.
This week more than 100 Gazette readers gave their opinions on Facebook, with the majority calling for the statue's removal. The museum had been named after Geffrye, its benefactor, but changed name last year following widespread calls for removal of statues with links to slavery.
Robin Priestley, who lives locally, says he sees the figure "gloating over Hoxton" everyday.
He started a petition calling for the statues removal, which has been signed by 7,000, and would like to see the statue taken down and put inside the museum so people can learn more about it, without the "horrible man" being celebrated.
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Mr Priestley said: "At some point in history that statue is coming down and for me, if I was on the board, I would say: 'Do I want to be the last set of board members that refuse to take it down before the next lot do?'.
"It seems like a real choice for them: 'Do I want to be on the right or the wrong side of history?'"
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On Facebook, some said the statue's removal would be "erasing history" but others called for it to be placed in the museum or even "thrown in the river", like the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol.
Mike Howarth thinks Geffrye's statue should stay. He said on Facebook: "You can't hide history away but everyone can learn from it if it's there to see."
But Matt Saze commented that other controversial statues have been removed after revelations of crime were revealed: "I don’t see the Jimmy Saville memorials still up in Stoke Mandeville. Time to take it down."
Lilz Hearn commented: "Plenty of worthy candidates to pedestal instead of slave traders."
Some Gazette readers suggested putting the statue on ground level, while others called for a plaque to be placed near to it to teach people about Geffrye - who had been involved with the East India Company and Royal African Company.
Recently, Oxford's Oriel College has seen a similar controversy, after it chose to keep a statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes in place, despite calls to have it fall.
Like Rhodes, the contentious figure of Geffrye is not, according to the museum's board, going anywhere anytime soon.
The board of the Museum of the Home have opted to "keep and explain" the statue instead of moving or removing it.
A spokesperson for the museum said: "In light of new legislation proposed by the government in January 2021 to protect historic monuments at risk of removal or relocation, the board believes that its original decision is the only practical option for the foreseeable future."
The museum is currently "proceeding with ideas" about what explaining and contextualising the statue in its original position could look like.
The first step has involved installing a panel near the statue telling a "fuller history" of Geffrye, including his connections with the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans.
The spokesperson added: "The Museum of the Home will reopen in June 2021 with many more diverse and representative stories of home.
"We will also address the impact of colonialism in the context of what home means to people today, through our exhibitions, collections, objects and programming".
The museum is also planning a large scale installation in it's front gardens by BLKBRD Collective called Bearers of Home.
The installation is to feature iconographic statuesque imagery to "form a more inclusive picture of what constitutes community and whose stories should be remembered".
The spokesperson says the museum will be open about the history of Geffrye on site and online, making sure to "confront, challenge and learn from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the museum buildings".