A Hoxton museum has signalled that it wants to move the controversial statue of a slaver from its position above the doorway following months of intense pressure from anti-racism campaigners.
The Museum of the Home said it thinks the monument of Sir Robert Geffrye, who profited from enslaving people from Africa, could be moved to a less prominent site at the venue in Kingsland Road.
In a recent statement, it said: “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.”
The museum would have to apply for listed building consent to remove the statue of Geffrye, a former Lord Mayor of London, which sits above the former almshouses he helped to fund.
It comes in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, which prompted reviews of statues of people who profited from slavery.
This autumn, campaigners including Hackney Stand Up to Racism, Hackney and Islington National Education Union, the Claudia Jones Organisation and Kurdish and Turkish community group Day-Mer called for a boycott of the museum until the statue is taken down.
The museum’s management said: “We have been listening to many views and considering all options concerning the display of the Geffrye statue.”
Sasha Simic, a member of Hackney Stand Up to Racism, said: “It is good that the museum acknowledges that having a statue of a slaver standing over the museum is a problem and that they publicly declare they’d like to take it down.
“It’s no good the museum arguing that they will remove the statue when the government lets them. They know that isn’t going to happen.
“If they seriously want the statue down they will have to cross the government and bring it down.”
Last year, the museum ran a consultation in partnership with Hackney Council over the future of the statue. It attracted 2,000 responses, with the overwhelming majority wanting to see the statue removed.
However, then culture secretary Oliver Dowden told the museum the statue should stay and that it should “explain” Robert Geffyre’s role in the slave trade.
Cllr Carole Williams, Hackney’s cabinet member for employment, skills and human resources, told him that “local people said under no uncertain terms that a statue of a slave trader has no home on their doorstep”.
The museum said it is waiting for new government guidelines “on effective decisions concerning heritage” and the rules about listed building consent.
When the museum reopened in June 2021, a panel was installed beneath the statue which explains Geffreye’s connections with the forced labour and trading of enslaved people from Africa.
This panel “acknowledges that the statue is the subject of intense debate”, it said.
Next spring, the museum will reopen an almshouse which will have displays about Robert Geffrye.
The museum added: “We are confronting, challenging and learning from the uncomfortable truths of the origins of the museum buildings, to fulfil our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”