Home   Canterbury   News   Article

Canterbury Cathedral statues with links to slavery will not come down, sources say

Bosses at Canterbury Cathedral are expected to reject a suggestion from the Archbishop that statues with links to slavery be removed from the Kent landmark.

Like many historic buildings across the country, the Cathedral came under pressure to review its monuments at the height of Black Lives Matters protests in June last year.

Richard Hooker at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: René & Peter van der Krogt
Richard Hooker at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: René & Peter van der Krogt

During the demonstrations, a statue of the 17th-century merchant Edward Colston was thrown into Bristol Harbour, sparking calls for others with links to slavery to be toppled.

Speaking at the time, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Cathedral's statues would "need to be put in context", adding: "Some will have to come down, some names will have to change."

But sources close to the Cathedral have told the Gazette it is "highly unlikely" any statues will be removed when the results of an internal review are considered later this month.

It looks likely that any monuments with links to slavery or colonialism will instead have plaques clearly displaying contextual information.

The move is welcomed by University of Kent historian Dr Ben Marsh, who last year identified a number of statues in the Cathedral of figures with unsavoury pasts.

They include priest Richard Hooker, who acted as the mentor for the Anglican clergy of the first English slaveholding colonies.

Another is the former Dean of Canterbury, Isaac Bargrave, who hailed from a family who “cemented their position” thanks to overseas trade and settlement.

A further controversial statue is that of George Stanhope, who viewed Native Americans as “heathens” and spearheaded the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel, which accepted slavery as “fundamentally sanctioned by both natural law and the bible”.

A statue of William Juxon, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, who had forged connections to the early English slave trade, includes “four black Moors” heads’ on his coat of arms, was also identified.

But Dr Marsh believes statues are in need of “re-curation” rather than damaging or defacing.

University of Kent historian Dr Ben Marsh
University of Kent historian Dr Ben Marsh

"Most professional historians would like to see full contextualisation — that’s what good history is about — it’s not about judging," he said.

A Cathedral spokesman says its own initial internal review to identify items such as memorials, statues or heraldic images that may have links with colonialism or the slave trade is now nearing completion, after being delayed by lockdowns and staff furlough.

The statement continued: "This interim review will be discussed by the Cathedral’s governing chapter later this month, before being assessed and reviewed by a wider external group, representing a diversity of expertise and cultural perspectives.

"We hope that this process will be complete – and any recommendations made public - within the next two to three months.

George Stanhope at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: René & Peter van der Krogt
George Stanhope at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: René & Peter van der Krogt

"The outcome of the Cathedral’s own review – in conjunction with the central guidance currently being created by the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England – will then determine how any items at Canterbury Cathedral connected with slavery, colonialism, or contentious figures from other historic periods, are displayed with clear objective interpretations and contextual information, and are presented in a way that avoids any sense of aggrandisement.

"We hope that by providing this context – and acknowledging any associated oppression, exploitation, injustice and suffering connected with these objects – all visitors to the Cathedral can leave with a greater understanding of our shared history and be inspired to undertake further learning and discussion."

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More