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.
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 Board committed to transformative change within the Museum's workforce and programming. Read the original statement from the Board of Trustees (pdf)
Since then the response from the public and Museum partners has caused the Board to reflect and discuss the decision further.
The Board and Museum team are continuing to review, discuss and explore options for the statue, with community, creative and funding partners.
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.
2,187 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 (pdf), published in response to Freedom of Information requests.
Other information the Board considered
The feedback from the consultation was not the only factor considered by the Board when they made their original decision. The Board also took into account other information including
- the Museum's manifesto and diversity action plan
- responses from Museum community groups
- staff views
- sample postcode data from a petition about the statue
- guidance from the DCMS and Historic England
- independent research into Geffrye
- wider context of contested history in the UK.
What happens next?
We are grateful to everyone who has taken time to share their views. We have been overwhelmed by the responses of our communities and partners.
Contextualising and reinterpreting the statue
The Board and Museum team are continuing to review, discuss and explore options for the statue.
In the meantime we will reinterpret the statue honestly and transparently to tell the history of Geffrye's career and his connections with the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans. And we will acknowledge that the statue is the subject of fierce debate.
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.
As we continue to explore options for the statue, 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
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.
About Sir Robert Geffrye
Sir Robert Geffrye (1613–1704) was an English merchant, who made part of his money from his involvement in the exploitative East India Company and Royal African Company and his persistent investment in the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans. He part owned a slave ship called the China Merchant.
He profited directly from the buying and selling of human beings. These profits were very likely sufficient to fund the core part of his legacy.
Geffrye is not connected to the founding of the Museum or its collections.
Detail about the statue
The replica statue of Geffrye you see today, was installed to replace the original in 1912 before the building opened as a museum in 1914.
The original statue was placed to commemorate Geffrye's legacy in providing the funds for the almshouses. The buildings were completed in 1714, the statue was placed in 1724.
When the almshouse residents moved out to Mottingham in Kent (in 1912) the Ironmongers' Company took the statue to the new almshouses.