OPINION

Monumental follies

Andrew Donaldson |

03 August 2022

Andrew Donaldson writes on statues to the great and not so good, and Carl Niehaus on a plinth

A FAMOUS GROUSE

CECIL Rhodes, that old racist, is once again in the news. This time the controversy concerns the decision by the UK’s cultural secretary, Nadine Dorries, to grant listed status to a memorial plaque on the exterior of a building owned by Oxford’s Oriel College.

The plaque, which features a bust of Rhodes, is not to be confused with the statue on Rhodes House, another Oriel building nearby. Both bust and statue gaze down on the merely mortal from their first floor mountings and, in order to be suitably offended, passersby must crane their necks to gaze upwards at the maniac. Dudgeon and outrage aside, it seems that neither of these memorials will be falling anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the work of a British artist, Hew Locke, appears to offer a solution to further sparing such memorials from the wrath of Fallists, be they in South Africa or further afield, and in the process giving them new life. 

We are, however, getting ahead of ourselves, and so back to Hertfordshire’s finest imperialist… ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

A decision was taken in June 2020 by Oriel’s governing body to remove his statue from the Rhodes House exterior. A committee investigating the matter ruled however that attempts to do so would probably fail as both the statue and the building are Grade II listed and warrant preservation. A legal challenge, it was felt, would be too costly and not worth the risk. So there it stands.

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The Rhodes plaque, meanwhile, can be found on the King Edward St building where Rhodes was in residence as a student in 1881. Although the building is in Oxford’s conservation area, the heritage body, Historic England, ruled in 2020 that the plaque lacked the “richness of detail” for listed status.

Permission was nevertheless required for its removal and, upon receipt of a petition from the Oxford Fallists in November 2015, Oriel College announced it would be approaching the city council for such consent.

They claimed the wording on the plaque, erected in 1906 by the former Cape diamond merchant and Rhodes associate Sir Alfred Mosely, was “a political tribute” from a “private individual”; as such, its “continuing display … is inconsistent with our principles”.

No planning application was apparently ever submitted and Dorries last month awarded the plaque Grade II listed status, sparking condemnation from historians and academics who accuse the Tories of cultural warfare and glossing over the brutality of colonialism.