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Geffrye, his statue and its future

There is a statue of Robert Geffrye on the Museum's buildings to acknowledge his donation to build the almshouses. The statue reflects the historic connection of the Museum buildings to Robert Geffrye, an English merchant who made part of his money from his investment in transatlantic slavery.

Geffrye is not connected to the founding of the Museum or its collections.

Exterior of the Museum of the Home from Kingsland Road, by Jayne Lloyd Exterior of the Museum of the Home from Kingsland Road. The statue is beneath the clock, above the door. © Jayne Lloyd

The legacy of transatlantic slavery within our history

We acknowledge the pain caused by the connections between the Museum buildings and the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans.

There is much debate within the Museum and its wider communities about what the statue of Geffrye symbolises today.

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 have a responsibility to act against injustice, and this includes confronting the legacy of colonialism and transatlantic slavery within our own history.

The Museum's position on the future of the Geffrye statue

Museum of the Home strives to be a welcoming place for all. We feel that the statue of Robert Geffrye on the front of the Museum's buildings does not promote the sense of belonging that is so important for our visitors, and fundamental to the Museum's values.

We have been listening to many views and considering all options concerning the display of the Geffrye statue.

We believe there is potential to retain the statue on site but in an alternative and less prominent space, where we can better tell the full story of the history of the buildings and Robert Geffrye's life, including his involvement in transatlantic slavery.

Action to date

As currently stated, we believe the statue could be retained on site but in a less prominent space, allowing us to better tell the full story of the history of the buildings and Geffrye's involvement in transatlantic slavery.  

  • From November 2021 staff at the Museum have worked with and supported Voyage Youth to explore sensitive solutions to the display of the statue of Robert Geffrye in an alternative and less prominent position, telling the full story of the history of the buildings and Geffrye’s life, including his involvement in transatlantic slavery.
  • Voyage is a social justice charity tackling racial imbalance in London. They empower and enrich the lives of young black people and transform disadvantaged communities. The group of young people (aged 15-21), who are working in residence at the Museum of the Home, have been involved in paid work placements, recruitment opportunities, an ongoing co-produced workshop programme and Green Career Fairs.
  • Working in partnership with Voyage Youth, the Museum ran an open call for a designer to develop ideas of what a new display of the statue in an alternative location might look like. POoR Collective were appointed, and the designs are currently being reviewed by the Museum before being shared for feedback more widely.

The Museum of the Home Heritage and Communities Committee

In June 2023 the Museum’s Heritage and Communities Committee was formed as a sub-committee of the Board of Trustees to:

  • Support the Board of Trustees in its commitment to consider all options concerning the display of the Geffrye statue with a view to retaining the statue on site but in an alternative and less prominent space.
  • Ensuring the Museum works with and for its audiences, communities and other key stakeholders (including major funders) in representing heritage and the history of the home.

The Heritage and Communities committee is chaired by Trustee Alain Clapham and includes representatives from Voyage Youth, ensuring young people have an impact in a significant decision-making process at the Museum. We hope this work will inform our exploration of colonial legacies in our collections and buildings in a collaborative process with our local communities.

Next steps

As a Grade I-listed building, there is legislation that the Museum must consider in making any decision.

In October 2023 the government published Guidance for custodians on how to deal with commemorative heritage assets that have become contested. The Museum is working with this guidance and with Voyage Youth to formulate a plan for further consultation on the possible relocation of the statue. We currently aim to publish details of the consultation methodology and a timeline for consultation by Spring 2024.

Voyage Youth will continue as our youth partners in residence.

Still film image from "Waiting for myself to appear" by Michael McMillan Still film image from ‘Waiting for myself to appear’ by Michael McMillan in collaboration with Dubmorphology

Contextualising and reinterpreting the statue

We are continually developing and delivering a curatorial programme to explain and contextualise the statue on site. 

Since the Museum reopened in June 2021, we have:

  • Installed a panel at ground level beneath the statue with a brief overview of who Robert Geffrye was. This includes his connections with the forced labour and trading of enslaved people from Africa and acknowledges that the statue is the subject of intense debate.
  • Commissioned Michael McMillan to make the film Waiting for Myself to Appear, exploring ideas around Black women's identity, gender, diaspora migration and home. The film is a permanent exhibit in Almshouse 14.
  • Reinterpreted the information and displays in Almshouses 14 to further explore the building’s connection to Robert Geffrye. Almshouse 14 is open to the public for booked visits, with more openings to come in 2023.
  • From March to June 2022, ran a series of workshops with a Hackney-based professional poet in collaboration with The Poetry Society. Together our Young Poets, a group of local young people aged 15-25, created work from their own perspectives around the debates the statue stirs in our community. This resulted in live events and the publishing of an anthology, Lessons in Gravity, exploring themes of power, identity and the legacy of colonialism related to the statue of Robert Geffrye.

 

A person speaking into a microphone with an audience smiling at them while listening in the background Young Poets / Photo: Museum of the Home

Initial Consultation of stakeholders and the community

In July 2020 the Museum sought feedback on the future of the statue and held a public consultation to help inform the Board's decision-making process. The online consultation was designed as an easy, accessible way for as many people as possible, particularly local residents and Museum visitors, to have their say on this important issue. It was conducted in partnership with Hackney Council to increase local reach.

Over 2,000 people took time to share their views. Overall, the response was in favour of removing the statue. There was a wide range of responses and suggestions, including how the Museum should share the historic connections between the buildings and Geffrye. Read the summary of the public consultation about the statue July 2020 (PDF).

Responses from Museum community groups, members of staff and sample postcode data from a petition about the statue were also collated.

The Board also took into account other information including: the government's position to 'retain and explain'; the building’s Grade I-listed status which means any decisions to change the building require planning permission; and independent research into the life of Robert Geffrye.

Decisions of the Board of Trustees (Timeline)

Following an initial process of reflection, debate and research, and the public consultation, in July 2020 the Board of Trustees of the Museum decided to keep and explain the statue of Robert Geffrye in its current position.

Read the original statement from the Board of Trustees - July 2020 (pdf)

In November 2021, following further discussions, the Board updated its position to include the potential to retain the statue on site but in an alternative and less prominent space, where we can better tell the full story of the history of the buildings and Robert Geffrye's life, including his involvement in transatlantic slavery.

Since then, the Museum has been exploring alternatives for the display of the statue of Robert Geffrye.

Structural and cultural change

Alongside the debate about the statue, the Museum is committed to a transformative programme of structural and cultural change to become truly representative and inclusive, through our workforce, creative programming and partnerships.

Our Real Rooms Project to rethink and redisplay the period room sets at the Museum is an example of our commitment to better reflect the diversity of modern London throughout the Museum’s galleries. More details about the Real Rooms project can be found here.

For more details of our current programming see here.

For more details on how the Museum is governed see here.