Thomas Guy statue: Historic England backs charity's plans

Historic England has commended the Guy's and St Thomas' Foundation's "thoughtful" plans to install new signage around the statue of Thomas Guy at Guy's Hospital.

Thomas Guy statue: Historic England backs charity's plans

The statue of hospital founder Thomas Guy was put back on public display last autumn after more than two years encased in wooden hoardings.

The statue became the subject of controversy in 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in the USA when the future of public memorials to people with links to the slave trade became a contentious subject.

The Guy's and St Thomas' Foundation – which originally intended to remove the statue of Thomas Guy because of his links to the South Sea Company – now wants to install new interpretation boards around the statue and has applied to Southwark Council for permission to alter the setting of the listed artwork.

Earlier this month Historic England issued its formal response to the planning application to add the new signage to the railings around the 289-year-old statue.

In a letter to Southwark planners, the Government-backed heritage body said: "Historic England commends this application as a thoughtful response to the questions raised by contested heritage.

"The proposals would both conserve the high significance of the historic statue and give appropriate expression to the complex history associated with it. "

Historic England also noted that "the bronze statue of Thomas Guy is a major work of Peter Scheemakers, the celebrated 18th-century Flemish-born sculptor".

Summarising the controversy, Historic England said: "Thomas Guy had a successful career as a bookseller, specialising in the publication of Bibles for Oxford University.

"From 1711, Guy invested profits from his business in the South Sea Company (SSC), which participated in transatlantic slavery.

"Guy sold his shares prior to the 1720 crash when their value was high, thereby increasing his wealth. This history is the cause of the contested nature of the statue.

"During his lifetime, Guy donated and gave his time to a number of charitable causes.

"In 1722 he acquired a lease of land from the governors of St Thomas’ Hospital to build a new hospital with the intention of providing care for those deemed ‘incurable’.

"The construction and running of the hospital was funded by Guy and his estate, and this statue was commissioned after his death to commemorate his legacy."

The proposals have also been welcomed by Southwark's conservation areas advisory group (CAAG) who said they were "delighted that Peter Scheemakers' statue is to stay because it is fundamental to the courtyard, [and] Thomas Guy is a really significant public sculpture for Southwark, to be welcomed back in our townscape".

The CAAG also "welcome the application for permanent boards fixed to the railing given there is a really important narrative for the site, for the history of the hospital, the connection with the South Sea Company and slavery".

Southwark Council has so far received 113 objections to the proposals and three comments in support.

One objection denounces the proposal to add signage as "woke nonsense" whilst another calls on the council to "stop pandering to the 1% of diversity woketards".

• For more information see planning application 22/AP/4284 and listed building consent application 22/AP/4285.

Tags: History, Health, Southwark, Planning & Development

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