Jesus College Cambridge’s plans to remove racist slave trader statue under fire from Historic England
Architect’s impression of the proposed exhibition space for the Tobias Rustat memorial in Jesus College. Your information will be used in accordance with ourPrivacy Notice.
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Plans to remove a university memorial to a slave trader have come under fire from Historic England for harming the ‘artistic and historical importance’ of the chapel.
The government body said Jesus College’s plans to remove the memorial to notorious slave trader Tobias Rustat would mean the chapel would lose its historical and artistic significance, arguing that it should be preserved and explained.
The University of Cambridge college has applied to the Diocese of Ely to remove, from a chapel, the large marble memorial that is dedicated to the college benefactor who made his fortune by investing in a slave trading company that shipped more slaves to the Americas than any other institution.
The college has shared plans to move it to an educational space where the full history of the monument and Rustat’s work can be shared.
Who was Tobias Rustat? The son of a vicar, Rustat became a courtier for King Charles I in the 1640s.
He later became a director of the Royal African Company, one of the most notorious slavery companies. It was responsible for shipping 212,000 slaves, 44,000 of whom died en route.
The college has cited slave trade historian William Pettigrew, who claimed: “The Royal African Company shipped more enslaved African women, men, and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade.”
The college said investors like Rustat were “fully aware of the company’s activities and intended to profit from this exploitation”.
He donated thousands to Jesus College and later commissioned the ‘imposing’ memorial to himself.
The marble work portrays Rustat surrounded by a garland of flowers and a inscription. It came from the studio of Grinling Gibbons, a master sculptor.
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What does Historic England say? In a letter published as part of the college’s application to the Diocese of Ely for removal, Historic England said: “The removal of the monument would harm both its significance and that of the chapel.”
It added that it “understands the importance of this undertaking and shares in it” but said that to respect its historic and artistic importance, there replica hermes garden party bag
should be a “reinterpretation rather than removal”.
The letter described the monument’s artistic value as adding to the “richness of the chapel’s interior”, with its Baroque character contrasting the Gothic medieval building and the 19th century elements.
(Image: Chris Loades)
“Rustat’s monument is the most imposing monument in the chapel,” said the letter. It also adds to the historic interest of the chapel, it said.
It continued: “Knowledge of Rustat’s connections to the slave trade does not bear upon the artistic interest of his monument.
“It may bear upon the historic interest of the monument; but the monument commemorates Rustat as a loyal servant of his king and as a benefactor of the college; and the attention we now give to that part of his life which the monument conceals does not annul the historic interest of his life.”
In April, the government announced measures to make the removal of unlisted statues subject to obtaining planning permission. This would not apply to Jesus College’s memorial as it operates under the ‘ecclesiastical exemption’ but is indicative of the government’s stance. It said that problematic statues should be “retained and explained” rather than removed.
This was in response to the removal of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, the subject of fierce debates on both sides, and the subsequent reconsideration of statues of other slave traders and problematic figures across the country.