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Goldsmiths, University of London has launched a public consultation on the future of four statues on the front of Deptford Town Hall.
People in the Lewisham area are being asked what they think should happen to the statues of Sir Francis Drake, Cromwellian admiral Robert Blake, Lord Horatio Nelson, and an anonymous representative naval figure. These four figures either have links to Britain’s role in slavery or the colonial system that supported slavery. Options include retaining the statues with further explanation, altering some or all of the statues, or removing some or all of the statues.
The consultation takes place in the context of a national conversation about historical statues which Historic England recognise “have become symbols of injustice” and protests over statues representing figures with links to colonialism and slavery. The consultation responds to one of the demands of GARA (Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action), a Black + Person of Colour-led student protest group launched in 2019.
The consultation opens today on 1 September 2021. People have until 17 October 2021 to submit their views on the statues online at explore.gold/statues or by filling in and returning a pre-paid postal survey sent to around 8,500 homes in the New Cross area.
Opened in 1905 as a municipal building, Deptford Town Hall was acquired by Goldsmiths in 1998 and since then has been used as a space for teaching, administrative offices, and public events including exhibitions and concerts. As a Grade II listed building any significant alterations to its façade, which faces onto the busy New Cross road, would need planning approval from Lewisham Council, who would notify Historic England.
Professor Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths said: “Deptford Town Hall is a local landmark so it is only right that we ask local people what they think about the statues which embody the complex legacy of the area’s maritime heritage.
“We want those living in the area to engage openly and honestly with troubling aspects of the history these statues represent and tell us how they want these issues to be addressed. These statues were carved in 1905 to reflect the wishes of the local community then and it is vital that, a little over a century later, any decision on their future reflects the wishes of our local community now.”
With a focus on the views of Goldsmiths’ closest communities, the consultation is also open to the wider public including those with an interest in the building or Deptford’s maritime heritage.
The College does not have a policy position on the statues and is undertaking a public consultation to understand the depth of feeling on this matter.
The results of the consultation will be part of a range of information shared with Goldsmiths’ Council, the most senior decision-making body of the College, as part of discussions over the future of the statues.
If a decision is taken to make changes to the statues and the building Goldsmiths would need to make a planning application to Lewisham Council. As part of any such application, local authorities must now consider legislation published in January 2021 which the government introduced to “protect England’s cultural and historical heritage”.
For full details of the consultation visit: explore.gold/statues