16/06/2020London's Blue Plaques, statues and Black Lives Matter
English Heritage looks after 48 statues and monuments in London, including the Cenotaph and Marble Arch. They were not erected by English Heritage, but by various institutions, groups and individuals over a period of about 300 years. They belong to the state and English Heritage’s responsibility is to ensure that they are properly maintained.
English Heritage does not erect new statues in the public realm.
We are also responsible for the London Blue Plaques Scheme, which was set up in 1866 and previously run by the London County Council and the Greater London Council. The scheme commemorates significant historical figures on buildings associated with them, almost all of which are in private ownership. There are currently just over 950 plaques on London’s buildings and English Heritage installs around 12 new plaques every year.
Anna Eavis, English Heritage’s Curatorial Director, said:
'English Heritage looks after a number of statues in London and we need to ensure that the actions and the legacies of those commemorated are told in full.
Statues can offend but we cannot support deliberate damage to historic monuments. We believe that the best course of action is to provide as much information as possible about these monuments – their history and the context in which they were erected – and encourage debate and reflection on the sometimes painful issues they raise.
With the London Blue Plaques scheme, we have made real progress to better recognise those groups who have been traditionally unrepresented in history, including the black community. Now with the statues in our care, we need to ensure that the stories of those people already commemorated are told in full, without embellishment or excuses.'
BLACK LIVES MATTER
The Black Lives Matter movement has recently brought the significance and symbolism of such memorials to the fore. English Heritage recognises that commemorative monuments erected in the past may not reflect the values or perspectives of people today. We understand that those monuments associated with Britain’s colonial past are offensive to many.
We know that we need to do more to ensure that the stories and the sometimes painful and controversial actions of those commemorated by the London statues in our care are told in full. We welcome the establishment of the Mayor of London’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm and we look forward to contributing to this important debate and review.
As regards the London Blue Plaques scheme, there are no plans to remove any of the plaques from the streets and buildings of the capital. Our priority is to add more information online about many of the people who have blue plaques, in particular those whose actions are contested or seen today as negative. Our aim is to provide online as full a picture of their lives and legacies as possible.
At the same time, we are working hard to ensure that the London Blue Plaques scheme better recognises those who have been traditionally under-represented in history, including members of the black community. English Heritage took over the scheme in 1986 and shortly after the organisation became a charity in 2015, we made a commitment to improve the representation of BAME figures on London’s blue plaques. We established a working group to support us in the endeavour and now have a strong list of BAME plaques awaiting installation, with a healthy pipeline of nominations for consideration. Recently, the singer-songwriter Bob Marley was celebrated with a blue plaque and later this year, we hope to unveil plaques to the Second World War secret agent, Noor Inayat Khan, and the 18th-century abolitionist, Ottobah Cugoano.
As an organisation, English Heritage is committed to telling the story of England in full. We have been closely following the events of last week and reflecting on the connections between the past and present, and the importance of history to our understanding of what’s happening today. Black history is part of English history – we never forget this as we explore our rich, complex and sometimes difficult past.
For more information on English Heritage’s London statues, visit https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about-us/our-places/statues/
For more information on the London Blue Plaques Scheme, visit https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/