Last Friday, the Bank of England announced that it would be removing busts and 10 oil paintings depicting seven different governors who were known to have had connections with the slave trade during the 1700s and 1800s. The bank made the decision after conducting a thorough review of its own collection and history that began last summer when Black Lives Matter protests began to spark ongoing debates about cultural artifacts in Britain and whether they should be retained. Many UK cultural officials believe that problematic statues should remain in place despite their problematic histories.
“The review is now complete and artworks depicting former Governors and Directors, where we have been able to establish links to the slave trade, have been removed from display,” a spokesperson for the Bank of England said in a statement. “We have also appointed a researcher to work in our Museum to explore the Bank’s historic links with the transatlantic slave trade in detail. This work will inform future Museum displays interpreting these connections.”
Back in February, UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden announced his intent to tell cultural leaders that retaining statues depicting colonialist figures or figures linked to the slave trade was tantamount to essentially a central issue of national identity. In removing their portraits of slave trade-linked figures from their walls, the Bank of England is spiritually pushing back directly against the wishes of the leaders of their nation.
The names of the slave trade-connected figures featured in the paintings that have been removed include Gilbert Heathcote, a governor and the Bank’s founding director James Bateman, Robert Bristow, Robert Clayton, William Dawsonne, William Manning and John Pearse. These works had previously been on display both within the bank itself and an its in-house museum.