The statue of Sir Robert Geffrye
Following a process of reflection, debate and research, and a consultation conducted in partnership with Hackney Council, the Board of Trustees of the Museum has taken the decision not to remove the statue from the Museum's buildings.
The statue of Sir Robert Geffrye
The Museum of the Home is housed in almshouses built in 1714.
There is a statue of Sir Robert Geffrye on the Museum's buildings to acknowledge his donation to build the almshouses.
Debate around the statue
Alongside many other cultural organisations across the UK, we have a responsibility to act against injustice, and this includes acknowledging the legacy of colonialism and slavery within our history.
The statue of Sir Robert Geffrye on our building is a symbol of the historic connection the Museum buildings have to an English merchant whose wealth was partly derived from investments in transatlantic slavery.
We acknowledge the pain caused by the connections between the Museum buildings and the forced labour and trading of enslaved Africans. 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.
Following the global prominence of Black Lives Matter in summer 2020, there has been much debate within the Museum and its wider communities about what this statue symbolises today.
In response the Museum launched a public consultation to encourage people, particularly local residents to have their say. The feedback from the consultation was considered alongside other information when the Board discussed the future of the statue.
The Board's decision
In July 2020 the Board of Trustees decided not to remove the statue.
The Board takes the view that the Museum should respond to the issues raised by this debate by continuing with its vision of change at a fundamental level by making the Museum's workforce, creative partners, content and programming more representative and inclusive.
The Board believes that the Museum should reinterpret and contextualise the statue where it is, to create a powerful platform for debate about the connection between the buildings and transatlantic slavery.
The Museum has a responsibility to reflect and debate history accurately, and in doing so to confront, challenge and learn from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the Museum buildings.
Contextualising and reinterpreting the statue
When the Museum reopens to the public 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.
We will also acknowledge that the statue has been subject to fierce debate in 2020.
We will invite and work with Black artists and the community in Hackney to use the statue and the history of the Museum's buildings as a platform for discussion and creative response.
Many people took time to share their views in the public consultation. Overall, the response was in favour of removing the statue.
However, feedback showed that what to do with the statue is a complex debate, full of nuance and different opinions.
On balance the Board has taken the view that the important issues raised should be addressed through ongoing structural and cultural change, along with better interpretation and conversation around the statue.
It is difficult to capture all voices in an open consultation. In future we want to work with all our communities to fulfil the Museum's vision to create a diverse and dynamic cultural offer 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.
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.
The statue is set in the niche above chapel on the side of the building facing Kingsland Road.