Geffrye, his statue and its future
There is a statue of Sir Robert Geffrye on the Museum's buildings to acknowledge his donation to build the almshouses.
The statue reflects the historic connection the Museum buildings have to 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.
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.
Discussions and debate about the statue
Following an initial process of reflection, debate and research, and a public consultation conducted in partnership with Hackney Council, in July 2020 the Board of Trustees of the Museum decided to keep and explain the statue of Robert Geffrye in its current position.
The Museum wanted to seek 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, to have their say on this important issue.
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 shared.
Other information the Board considered
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 Geffrye.
Since the Board made their decision the response from the public and Museum partners has caused the Board to reflect and discuss the decision further.
In January 2021, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, announced that new legal safeguards will be introduced for historic monuments at risk of removal or relocation.
In the light of this, the Board believes that its original decision is the only practical option for the foreseeable future.
The Board and Museum team are continuing to review, discuss and explore options for the statue.
As part of these discussions, our director, Sonia Solicari, took part in a DCMS Select Committee on 6 October 2020 examining decision-making around physical heritage with Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, and specialist conservation architect Elsie Owusu OBE. Watch it back here
Contextualising and reinterpreting the statue
We are proceeding with explaining and contextualising the statue in its original position.
The first step has been to install a panel near the statue telling a fuller history of Geffrye, including his connections with the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans, and acknowledging that the statue is the subject of much discussion.
We will confront, challenge and learn from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the Museum buildings, and fulfil our commitment to diversity and inclusion.
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.
We want to work with all our communities to fulfil the Museum's vision to create a diverse and dynamic cultural experience around home.