Protesters fail to topple Geffrye slavery statue at Hackney museum under attack from two sides

GeffryeBus©DA20:©, protesters against Robt Geffrye statue at Museum of the Home, Haggerston, Lon, 301020
Geffrye©DA12:© Museum of the Home, then called the Geffrye for the man behind in the statue, Robert Geffrye 030612
Take it down! Top: protesters at the Museum of the Home in Haggerston yesterday, and, above, before the Geffrye, as it used to be, closed for a multimillion-pound rejig
Geffrye©DA15:© protest against founder statue Museum of Home (Geffrye) Museum, 136 Kingsland Rd, Haggerston E2 8EA, 171115
Bloodied: the statue hands were symbolically splashed in an earlier protest this month

* Update spring 2021: The museum reopening is scheduled for Saturday 12 June this year. 

* Update December 2020: It shall not be moved, the museum decides

AS IT TRIES TO shrug off its Geffrye skin, the Museum of the Home is showing signs of desperation in its attempt to appeal to everyone. An on-site protest last night met with a light show obscuring the prominently situated and recently controversial Robert Geffrye statue with a Black Lives Matter display. 

When BLM protests were high on the news agenda, and in the wake of the tearing-down of a slavery-connected statue in Bristol, Somerset, this year, the museum said it would not take down the statue. Against the demands of Hackney council, contributors to a public consultation and protesters, it would “reinterpret and contextualise” the statue in situ. 

Since the Conservative government’s Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, told the museum’s director, Sonia Solicari, in June this year 2020 that the statue should stay in place, she has uhmmed and aahed. The museum is the recipient of £11 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Geffrye©DA14:© Robert Geffrye statue (in 2020 under attack for having owned a slave ship) at Geffrye Museum (now ” of the Home), Kingsland Rd, Haggerston, Hackney, 1980414 ©
“Knight, councillor and ironmonger”: the description of Robert Geffrye/s is infamously inadequate

Loving Dalston sought clarity from the museum. It would not directly comment when asked whether Solicari had told Dowden that museums had the right to make their own decisions regardless of grants. Instead, the museum referred Loving Dalston to a Culture Ministry select committee meeting on 6 October 2020, examining how the differing interests of property owners, local authorities, government and communities could be reconciled.

The online meeting, which you can see here, offers little encouragement to anyone hoping that Solicari, though she seemed to want to remove the statue and “recontextualise” [this is how she speaks] it, might put her job on the line by standing up to the Culture Secretary. It is worth noting that the institution she heads is non-departmental, a public body separate from government. 

She said, however, that the Government and Historic England favoured a “retain-and-explain policy”. But she was “not clear” whether that meant the tribute to the slavery-investing philanthropist could not be moved.

She just may have found a way to a compromise. Hackney people will hope she can use that wiggle room to balance the demands of the forces opposing her from two sides because the museum had been on course to make its mark in our museum-city.

Having secured £15 million of extra funding five years ago, most it from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the museum was embarking on its long-delayed makeover, which will include a café in the derelict pub on the southeast corner of the museum site and a new entrance opposite Hoxton station.

GeffryeBus©DA20:©, Geffrye sign on 149 bus in Hackney pointing to Museum of the Home, Haggerston, Lon, despite protest against Robt Geffrye statue, 301020
Signing off? It’s that man Geffrye again: route indicator in a bus

The Geffrye, as it was in 2015, had to scrap a previous scheme by architect David Chipperfield, which would have arrogantly demolished the Victorian-era pub and not utilise the museum’s closeness to the Transport for London Overground station. Camden architect Wright and Wright came up with the viable scheme.

David Altheer 301020

BLM©DA200720:© Black Lives Matter sign at Hackney Wick 220720

* Backstory: Geffrye offers Hackney a Plan B and wins £500k; Shame and hopelessness of homelessness; Saved: Hackney’s Geffrye pub; Shakespeare live in the Geffrye’ garden; Hackney hesitates to take in SyriansThe lost honour of Walter Tull, heroic soldier and black Spurs star 

* Links to articles in The Guardian do not imply any approval of the newspaper’s foundation involvement with slavery.

* The Museum of the Home, at 136 Kingsland Road, Haggerston E2 8EA (020 7739 9893), is closed for building work if not also for Covid-19 regulations. Disability access

All pictures on this page, including BLM sign photographed at Hackney Wick, ©, for sale for reproduction: see last paragraph of Contact.

Light touch: the museum has been in darkness for work on its makeover

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