Thomas Guy statue uncovered for first time in two years

The statue of Thomas Guy outside the hospital he founded has been put back on public display for the first time since it was covered up in summer 2020 amid controversy about the benefactor's possible financial links to the slave trade.

Thomas Guy statue uncovered for first time in two years

The statue – by Peter Scheemakers – is owned by the Guy's and St Thomas' Foundation (formerly GSTT Charity and not the same entity as the NHS Foundation Trust of the same name) and sits on land owned by King's College London.

It was covered up in June 2020 after the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and the removal of the Robert Milligan statue from West India Dock.

Thomas Guy, who founded Guy's Hospital, made his fortune from shares in a company that – amongst other things – was involved in the slave trade.

An historical review commissioned by the foundation reached this conclusion: "Guy maintained a large financial stake in a company that transported 15,901 enslaved Africans across the Atlantic (with 12,864 disembarked) between the years that he was an investor. SSC stock was very liquid, and Guy could therefore have sold his shares at any time.

"It is telling, therefore, that he kept his investments in the company for nine years. Guy's £45,500-worth of invested capital in South Sea stock helped to finance the SSC's slave trade and its colonial aspirations from 1711 and 1720."

Others contend that Guy's financial ties to slavery were at worst indirect and shouldn't be allowed to overshadow his contribution to local healthcare over the past three centuries.

An application for listed building consent was submitted to Southwark Council in 2020 for permanent removal of the statue, but the application was withdrawn before a formal decision was made.

A year ago the foundation set out its aspiration to relocate the statue to a "less prominent" site whilst acknowledging that such a move was unlikely to win Government approval.

At that time, the then culture secretary Oliver Dowden accused the foundation of "pandering to wokery".

For much of the period since the controversy first arose, the site of the Thomas Guy statue has been shielded from public view by the presence of marquees hosting COVID-19 vaccination centres.

Now the foundation has removed the hoardings from both the statue of Thomas Guy at Guy's Hospital and the Sir Robert Clayton statue at St Thomas' Hospital to allow for "conservation work".

"The first step is an expert assessment of the statues to determine the extent of the conservation needed," the foundation said in a statement this week.

"This includes assessing deterioration to the statues' stonework from weather, cleaning and protection of metal elements and other details. The assessment process will take approximately eight weeks.

"The outputs from the assessments form an important part of a planning application that will be submitted at the end of the year to secure permission from Southwark and Lambeth councils to carry out both the conservation work, and install permanent interpretation at both statues.

"The intention is to submit the planning applications for this in December 2022 and, subject to approval, to be in a position to install the final interpretation in 2023."

Revd Dr Ellen Clark-King, the Dean of King's College London, said: "Like many organisations in Britain, at King's we know that we have a duty to address the legacy of colonialism, racism and slavery in our own work. As part of this, King's has begun its own history research project that will confront truths about our own connections and their challenging legacy – including the university and associated institutions and partners.

"As an organisation rooted in education and research, a critical part of our approach to being an inclusive place to study and work is to learn from and better represent our history so that we continue to make the King's of today and tomorrow a place of conscious inclusion and equity. As the project develops, we look forward to updating our community."

Tags: History, Health, Southwark, Education

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