Robert Jenrick warns City of London they will damage its ‘rich history’ with bid to topple statues

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the City of London risks damaging its ‘rich history’ if it goes through with a BLM-inspired bid to topple two statues.

The City of London Corporation last month declared it would remove two huge sculptures depicting ex-Lord Mayor William Beckford and philanthropist MP Sir John Cass from its Guildhall headquarters over their historic links to the slave trade.

Councillors are set to discuss the proposals – laid out in a report by its Tackling Racism Taskforce – in a private meeting today. 

But Mr Jenrick is understood to have written to senior officials, including the Lord Mayor William Russell, urging them to leave the statue where it is.

He said it is in the ‘City’s own interests that heritage and tradition are given robust protection’ in a letter seen by The Daily Telegraph.

He stressed that while ‘history is ridden with moral complexity’, ministers want local authorities to ‘retain and explain – not remove – our heritage’.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick (pictured) said the City of London risks damaging its ‘rich history’ if it goes through with a BLM-inspired bid to topple two statues

Philanthropist MP Sir John Cass

Philanthropist MP Sir John Cass

Ex-Lord Mayor William Beckford

Ex-Lord Mayor William Beckford

The City of London Corporation last month declared it would remove two huge sculptures depicting ex-Lord Mayor William Beckford (right) and philanthropist MP Sir John Cass (left) over their historic links to the slave trade. 

Councillors are set to discuss the proposals - laid out in a report by its Tackling Racism Taskforce - in a private meeting today. The statues are located in its Guildhall headquarters (pictured)

Councillors are set to discuss the proposals - laid out in a report by its Tackling Racism Taskforce - in a private meeting today. The statues are located in its Guildhall headquarters (pictured)

Councillors are set to discuss the proposals – laid out in a report by its Tackling Racism Taskforce – in a private meeting today. The statues are located in its Guildhall headquarters (pictured)

Memorials to politicians, war heroes and authors all targeted due to links to slavery and racist beliefs 

Since Edward Colston’s statue was thrown into Bristol Harbour, there has been a wave of attacks from vandals on various monuments across Britain.

A statue to Winston Churchill was defaced with the words ‘was a racist’ and ‘f*** your agenda’ written underneath the memorial to the war time PM in Westminster Square, London.

Slave trader Robert Milligan’s was covered with a shord and the message ‘Black Lives Matter’ was placed on it in West India Docks amid calls for it to be taken down. It was later removed by Tower Hamlets Council.

Tower Hamlets Council removed a statue of slave trader Robert Milligan after it was covered and displayed the message 'Black Lives Matter' during last month's protests

Tower Hamlets Council removed a statue of slave trader Robert Milligan after it was covered and displayed the message 'Black Lives Matter' during last month's protests

Tower Hamlets Council removed a statue of slave trader Robert Milligan after it was covered and displayed the message ‘Black Lives Matter’ during last month’s protests

Less than a year after it was erected, ‘Nazi’ was scrawled underneath a statue of Nancy Astor, the first woman to take a  seat in Parliament, in Plymouth.

A monument to 19th-century politician Henry Vassall-Fox, the third Baron Holland, was left splattered with red paint in Holland Park. A cardboard sign reading ‘I owned 401 slaves’ was perched in the bronze statue’s arms, with the number painted on the plinth alongside red handprints.

A Grade II-listed monument to Admiral Lord Nelson, Britain’s foremost naval hero, which stands in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral, was sprayed with a black ‘V’ in the middle of a circle – an anarchist symbol.

Red paint spattered another stature of Lord Nelson at Deptford Town Hall in South London.

In Kent, a former councillor wrote ‘Dickens Racist’ outside a museum dedicated to the beloved 19th century author. Letters sent by the Oliver Twist author showed he wished to ‘exterminate’ Indian citizens after a failed uprising.

A statue of Civil War leader Oliver Cromwell in Wythenshawe Park, Manchester, had the words ‘Cromwell is a cockroach,’ ‘f*** racist’ and the Black Lives Matter acronym ‘BLM’ scrawled across it last month. Thousands of people were massacred during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

BLM was also scrawled across the Worcester Civil War memorial in Royal Park.

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Mr Jenrick pointed out that the plans for a new law on cultural and historic heritage were already in motion which would give the the Secretary extra powers to block statue removals.

It means that if any council intends to grant permission for removal of a particular statue but Historic England objects to it, he gets the final say.

In January, the Communities Secretary pointed out that the plan would stop statues being removed by the ‘decree of a cultural committee of town hall militants and woke worthies’.

But even with the proposed law change, The City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee announced it had voted to remove the statues of Mr Beckford and Sir John from their historic Guildhall headquarters.

The statue of William Beckford – a two-time Lord Mayor of London in the late 1700s who accrued wealth from plantations in Jamaica and held African slaves – will be removed, re-sited and replaced with a new artwork.

Meanwhile, the likeness of Sir John Cass – a 17th and 18th century merchant, MP and philanthropist who also profited from the slave trade – will be returned to its owner, the Sir John Cass Foundation.

Responding to Mr Jenrick’s letter, the council insisted removing them was the ‘correct’ thing to do and all planning permission procedures – and Government guidelines – will be followed.

Following the decision to remove them last month, City of London Corporation Policy Chair Catherine McGuinness said: ‘This decision is the culmination of months of valuable work by the Tackling Racism Taskforce, which has taken a comprehensive approach to addressing injustice and inequality. 

‘The view of members was that removing and re-siting statues linked to slavery is an important milestone in our journey towards a more inclusive and diverse City.’ 

The BLM movement was sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the US where he was arrested by police.

Protesters tore down a statue of Edward Colston on Sunday, June 7, on the same day a memorial to Winston Churchill in London was defaced with the words ‘was a racist’ written on a plinth underneath.

It prompted a wave of statues being targeted with graffiti or being attacked during protests, culminating in some statues, including ones of Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill, being covered up to be protected from vandals.

The Topple the Racists campaign launched a comprehensive list of statues it wanted to see removed as it believed the names behind the monuments held racist beliefs. 

The list – compiled by the Stop Trump Coalition – pinpoints the locations of 125 under-fire landmarks featured on a map.

The website lists the Beckford Statue on it’s map, with a caption reading: ‘Inherited sole interest in 13 sugar plantations in Jamaica and owned approximately 3,000 enslaved Africans.

‘Served in Jamaican National Assembly before returning to England in 1744.’

Outrage over statues led to Oriel College at Oxford University voting to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a colonialist politician in southern Africa in the 19th century.

Boris Johnson wrote last year: ‘We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history. The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations.

‘They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults.

‘To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come.’ 

They are among 125 under-fire landmarks featured on a map by Topple The Racists, a website pinpointing their locations

They are among 125 under-fire landmarks featured on a map by Topple The Racists, a website pinpointing their locations

They are among 125 under-fire landmarks featured on a map by Topple The Racists, a website pinpointing their locations

William Beckford and Sir John Cass: The two men whose statues are to be removed due to their connections to the slave trade

By James Robinson for MailOnline 

William Beckford 

William Beckford – often referred to as Alderman Beckford to distinguish him from his novelist son of the same name – was a well-known political figure in the 18th century.

A vastly wealthy man, he twice served as the Lord Mayor of London in 1762 and 1769.

But his and his family’s fortunes were built off the back of slavery in Jamaica.

His grandfather, Colonel Peter Beckford, left England for the Caribbean island in search of wealth.

A vastly wealthy man, William Beckford twice served as the Lord Mayor of London in 1762 and 1769. But his and his family's fortunes were built off the back of slavery in Jamaica.

A vastly wealthy man, William Beckford twice served as the Lord Mayor of London in 1762 and 1769. But his and his family's fortunes were built off the back of slavery in Jamaica.

A vastly wealthy man, William Beckford twice served as the Lord Mayor of London in 1762 and 1769. But his and his family’s fortunes were built off the back of slavery in Jamaica.

Peter later became the acting Governor of Jamaica in 1702 and reputedly owned 20 Jamaican estates, 1,200 enslaved Africans and left £1,5million in bank stock when he died in 1710.

The vast majority of his fortune passed to his eldest son – also named Peter Beckford – who was William’s father. It later passed to William – who was Peter’s sole surviving legitimate son.

William, who was born in Jamaica in 1709 and educated in England, inherited 13 sugar plantations after his father’s death.

When William’s brother died in 1712, the number of enslaved Africans he owned grew to 3,000.

On one of his plantations, in 1760, a rebellion took place and over 400 enslaved Africans were killed and many others brutally punished. It is said that the leader of the uprising was burnt alive.

Back in England, William pursued a life in politics and became an Alderman of London, Sheriff of London and twice Lord Mayor of London.

In 1770 he famously supported the MP John Wilkes in a speech representing the rights of the mercantile man to King George III.

He was considered a hero among political reformers for the speech. William died that year and a statue celebrating his career was placed in London’s Guildhall.   

William’s son, also named William, would become a famous writer, remembered for his Gothic novel Vathek.

Alderman Beckford’s contribution to the slave trade has recently been highlighted following the Black Lives Matter campaign last Summer.

The City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee has now voted to remove him from their historic Guildhall headquarters.

Sir John Cass

Sir John Cass was a merchant, builder and Tory MP who lived between 1661 and 1718.

He was the founder of a mixed school in London and posthumously his wealth was used to set up Sir John Cass’s Foundation – which still provides funding for a number of schools and educational projects in London.

Sir John Cass was a merchant, builder and Tory MP who lived between 1661 and 1718

Sir John Cass was a merchant, builder and Tory MP who lived between 1661 and 1718

Sir John Cass was a merchant, builder and Tory MP who lived between 1661 and 1718

But his legacy as a philanthropist has been brought into question in recent years due to his contribution to the African slave trade.  

In 1705 Cass became a member of the court of assistants – essentially a board member – of the Royal African Company.  

The company shipped more African slaves to the Americas than any other institution in the history of the Atlantic slave trade.

Cass held shares in the Royal African Company until his death in 1718.

During his life he served as a Tory MP for the City of London from 1710 to 1715 and was also elected a Sheriff of London. 

He founded a mixed school for 90 students in the buildings in the churchyard of St Botolph’s Aldgate in 1709.

With money from his will, trustees set up Sir John Cass’s Foundation to support education in London in 1748.

His charity funded the Sir John Cass Foundation School. Through a series of moves and mergers this became part of the City of London Polytechnic – now London Metropolitan University.

In June last year, Professor Lynn Dobbs, Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan University announced that the name of Cass would be removed from their Art, Architecture and Design School. 

The modern Sir John Cass’s Foundation still provides funding for a number of schools in London, including some that have Cass’s name. 

The Sir John Cass Redcoat School last year announced it would be changing its name to remove the reference to Cass, due to his connections with the slave trade. It is now Stepney All Saints School in August 2020.

Bosses at the Sir John Cass’s Foundation have also committed to changing its name in the future.

Sources: BeckfordsTower.org and Sir John Cass’s Foundation  

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