Monument statues aren’t really made in stone.

Edward Colston's monument

Edward Colston’s monument is dumped in Bristol Harbour but is later recovered for a museum (Image: STEVE REIGATE, REUTERS, GETTY, PA)

A statue of William Gladstone is located outside Bow Church, East London. It has always had its hands redecorated. Sometimes, it is removed by the council. The council usually returns the paint by morning. Since 1882, this has happened. This East End tradition has been the daubing of former Prime Ministers’ hands.

Concerns were raised about the possibility that statues could also be damaging to British history or British identity in 2020. This was after Edward Colston, a slave trader, had his effigy taken down in Bristol. But statues are always controversial. While they may have been part of British culture, protests against statues is part of American heritage.

What does it mean for us to have them? What determines what parts of history will be remembered? How should we deal with controversial statues?

These debates are not new, but they have been ongoing for many years.

Deuteronomy 12,3 says that the Bible commands the removal of statues: “Ye will hew them down the graven images their gods.” This led to the destruction of a large number statues during the English Reformation (16th century) and Puritanism (17th century). Many others were destroyed by the American Revolution and French revolution.

Victorians demolished statues and monuments that they thought were politically objectionable. Even Queen Victoria got involved: She is thought to have ordered the word “Culloden” be erased from the obelisk in Windsor Great Park that was dedicated to her great-granduncle,William, Duke of Cumberland.

The leadership of Cumberland at the Battle of Culloden (1746) was highly praised at that time. But when it became clear that he had ordered atrocities to be committed against Scots civilians and combatants, it was so offensive the queen demanded it be erased.

Theodore Bryant from Bryant & May, a local matchmaker, put Gladstone’s statue up in Bow in 1882. It was believed that he paid for the statue using a portion of workers’ wages.

Although these rumours weren’t true, they resonated with factory workers, discontented about their long hours and low wages, who then went on strike. Annie Besant, a social reformer from 1888 wrote that matchgirls went to the unveiling of the statue. She wrote, “Later they surrounded it.” She wrote, “They paid for it” They cries savagely.

Yelling and shouting, along with a horrifying story about how some people cut their arms to let their blood drip onto the marble. The statue’s hands have always been painted red because it’s the East End’s way to remember women who fought for better work conditions.

They protested against Gladstone but not the statue, which they saw as a symbol for Bryant’s vanity.

The divide about statues over the past year has been broadened to include conservatives who defend statues and progressives who want them removed. However, this hasn’t always been true.

Many communist statues fell during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and 1988. This was celebrated by many conservative westerners as an act of liberation. Many also rejoiced in Saddam Hussein’s removal from Firdos Square. This marked the end of the Battle to Capture Baghdad in 2003.

Churchill's statue

Churchill’s statue was defaced in London (Image: STEVE REIGATE, REUTERS, GETTY, PA)

Some Left-leaning people were less certain about the celebration of these statues being toppled, particularly the former.

While some statues can be considered great art, others are simple and unattractive. While some statues are a symbol of admirable virtues, others can be used to spread sinister propaganda. According to estimates, there may be at least 11170 outdoor monuments located in North Korea. Many of them are monuments to the “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong Un. It is difficult to see how many would be upset if they were taken down.

This controversial statue of Edward Colston was not built in his lifetime but 172 years later by James Arrowsmith, a Bristol businessman.

Arrowsmith believed that Colston would be a representative of Bristolian charity as a philanthropical figure. Colston was a slave tycoon. In 1689, Colston was appointed deputy governor of the Royal African Company, effectively, as chief executive. This company had an monopoly in slave trading.

Britain became an anti-slavery power in the 19th Century. By the time Colston’s monument was built in 1895 slavery had been declared an evil. The campaign to fund his monument intentionally avoided mention of slavery. The statue’s base featured a frieze that represented Colston’s red it was an ocean-going trade. It included a mythological scene with mermaids and not slave ships. The mayor of Bristol said only that Colston was mostly involved in the West Indies during the unveiling ceremony.

History was only rediscovered by historians in the 1920s. It would take another century for the statue to be taken down. There were many peaceful protests that took place against the statue, including one in 2018 where it was “yarn-bombed” with a knitted wool ball and chain around its feet.

Colston was also acknowledged in slavery by a group of people who worked together to add a plaque to the statue. However, no one agreed on the exact wording.

It had become a symbol of Colston’s history and the whitewashing campaign.

It is erasing history for a statue to be taken down that was intended to show a one-sided view of history?

These are complicated questions, so the public is invited to discuss them. Colston’s sculpture is on view in Bristol at a museum.

soviet founder lenin statue

A statue of Soviet founder Lenin in a sculpture park in Ukraine (Image: STEVE REIGATE, REUTERS, GETTY, PA)

Some statues are of historic interest and can now be moved to museums so they can be viewed and discussed in public places. Museums don’t always have enough space for large statues.

Outdoor sculpture parks were created in Budapest, Moscow, Moscow, and the Ukraine to preserve statuary from previous periods. All of these could have a positive impact on history. Many historians are now interested in the truth of history and have been involved in discussions about statues.

These statues are dedicated to historical figures. Who, what, where, and how did they accomplish their goals? We turn to documentaries, books, museums exhibitions and public history events for answers. They open up the past’s messy, complex, exciting reality.

However, despite the endless debates about statues, it is not easy to settle the issue for good or reach an agreement on the matter. Some have been up and down many times.

The statue of King James II, now in Trafalgar Square, was originally put up in 1686. It was then taken down in two years after he was elected deposed. The statue was again put up shortly thereafter, but it was then taken down in late 19th-century and dumped in some scrubland near Whitehall.

It was rediscovered years later and placed again in front of the New Admiralty. It was placed in Aldwych Tube Station during the Second World War to guard it against the Blitz. After the war it moved to Trafalgar Square.

You might not be there forever: King James II, governor of the Royal African Company Edward Colston ran later.

Somebody will eventually notice, and then complain.

Following the Black Lives Matter protests of last year there was a call for William Gladstone’s statues being taken down.

Alex von Tunzelmann book

Fallen Idols: Twelve Statues That Made History by Alex von Tunzelmann – out now (Image: STEVE REIGATE, REUTERS, GETTY, PA)

Gladstone was a young man who supported slavery. His father had plantations in the Caribbean. He later changed his mind and became strongly anti-slavery. Many believed that his statues should be kept in balance.

Gladstone’s family has stated that they won’t object to the statues being taken down. This is a reference to Gladstone himself’s belief in democracy. The statue of Gladstone in Bow has historical significance today. It is not due to Gladstone, nor is it a great work of art. But its paintings tell an amazing story about East End history. It is worthy of a place at Bow Church, provided that the cleaners do not disturb it.

  • Alex von Tunzelmann’s Fallen Idols, Twelve Statues that Made History (Headline – PS20) is now available. Express Bookshop can be reached at 020 3176 3832 for free P&P

Publiated at Tue 10 August 2021, 10:50:13 (+0000).

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