This is a tricky thing to write and I’ve needed to think hard about what I wanted to say.
A few weeks ago, a statue in Bristol was torn from its plinth and thrown into a river. That statue was of noted slave trader Edward Colston and became a focal point of protests linked to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
This act seemed to finally send a message to local authorities around the country that our towns and cities are overdue a stocktake of monuments, buildings, and street names that commemorate people who made their money from trading in human beings.
Now here’s the rub. Since becoming a Victorian obsessive as a teenager (rock and roll), I’ve spent most of my life trying to preserve the monuments and buildings of the past. Whether it’s been petitioning councils, shouting at MPs, joining The Victorian Society, or donating to charities like Save Britain’s Heritage. I’ve been a right mouthy git when it comes to opposing the destruction of stuff made before I was born. So, it would be an understatement to say that the events in Bristol left me conflicted.
On the one hand, I want to see Britain face up to the sins of its past. I want to see less flag-waving and land of hope and glorying and more soul searching. I want us to finally admit that Britain may have ruled the waves but turned those same waves red.
On the other; I want to see our statues and sculptures preserved, no matter how unpleasant their subject matter because those people existed, and those things happened. We as a nation commissioned some of the finest artists in the land to build monuments to monsters. We need to face that reality and not brush it under the carpet.
So, instead of destroying the artefacts of our past, move them to the museums where they belong. Not on raised plinths but at floor level, so we all can look them in the eye and say, “what you did was wrong.”