Contested monuments

20 November 2021: A message from the Trustees of the Friends of the City Churches

Statues and monuments have been very much in the news last summer, with some being conspicuously attacked or officially removed from view for commemorating people who profited from enterprises and investments which many people now find morally and ethically reprehensible – particularly those connected with slavery.

Whilst many now deplore the source of such wealth, there is no consensus about what to do with controversial public monuments, some of which have considerable historical significance and/or artistic merit. There are both measured and emotive arguments on both sides.

These questions touch many monuments in the City of London churches, as the City has always been a powerhouse for the creation and preservation of wealth. Wealth can be acquired in many ways, and the boundaries of acceptable practice have changed dramatically over the centuries. No doubt, future generations will find much to decry in our values, but that is not the central argument here.

The Friends of the City Churches is a charity dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the City churches and their architectural heritage. We offer support to individual churches principally through our Small Grants Programme and volunteer Church Watchers. Responsibility for the churches themselves lies with their respective clergy, administrators, parish councils and governors. Almost all work within the Diocese of London and the Church of England, and all appear on the National Heritage List for England maintained by Historic England, which also takes an active interest in their fabric. Conscientious people at every level in all these organisations are now addressing the question of contested monuments. There have been few concrete, irreversible decisions so far, beyond renaming some institutions and adding interpretive material to problematic displays.

We know that individual Friends hold a range of opinions on this, as on so many other subjects, but as a charity, The Friends of the City Churches must respect the decisions and jurisdiction of the many others directly responsible for the City churches and their welfare. It is inappropriate for the FCC to engage in controversies of this kind; we remain focused on our charitable activities and goals.


St Dunstan's ceiling detail