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‘We must not shy away from presenting the whole picture’: Outgoing English Heritage chief Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence urges wider discussion on both the merits and flaws of Britain’s past

  • Sir Tim Laurence said historical charity should not back down from controversy 
  • Outgoing chairman said unpopular decisions would be necessary for progress
  • English Heritage has so far avoided much of the criticism aimed at other bodies
  • Comments come after several institutions try to remove slave trade antiques

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English Heritage should not back down from controversy and should seek to present ‘the whole picture’, outgoing chairman Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence said. 

The charity should also be prepared to make unpopular decisions while ‘trying new approaches’ to become more inclusive, the Vice Admiral added. 

It has so far avoided much of the cancel culture criticism aimed at other historical bodies, including the National Trust and many museums and academic institutions across Britain.  

Sir Tim has been the chairman of the charity since 2015 and served as its commissioner before it gained charitable status. 

Sir Tim Laurence, husband of Princess Anne, said the charity should not back down if its decisions are unpopular

Sir Tim Laurence, husband of Princess Anne, said the charity should not back down if its decisions are unpopular

English Heritage awards blue plaques (pictured) to places of historical significance and has been updating its online entries to add links to the slave trade since 2020

English Heritage awards blue plaques (pictured) to places of historical significance and has been updating its online entries to add links to the slave trade since 2020

The body, which awards the frequently seen blue plaques to mark places of historical significance, has been updating its online profiles since 2020 to include historical figures’ links to the slave trade. 

In an article for The Daily Telegraph, the husband of Princess Anne said it was important that the whole picture be presented. 

‘The transatlantic slave trade – a ghastly stain on our nation’s history – is explained at sites where there is a connection. But so is the story of England’s role in the abolition movement.’ 

Other historical items that campaigners have sought to have removed from their traditional places this year include a memorial to Tobias Rustat from Jesus College, Cambridge

Other historical items that campaigners have sought to have removed from their traditional places this year include a memorial to Tobias Rustat from Jesus College, Cambridge

Sir Tim goes on to give the example of Kenwood, in Hampstead, which was the home of Lord Mansfield, whose 1772 ruling proved a turning point for the abolitionist movement. 

English Heritage should not back down if its decisions prove unpopular or be wary of controversy, Sir Tim added.  

‘We must try new approaches to make sure every part of our society feels welcome and well-informed, even if it generates criticism,’ the outgoing chairman continued. 

‘It’s good to test what works and what doesn’t, as long as one is prepared to recognise the latter and change course accordingly.’ 

The comments come just a month after the Wellcome Collection, based in London, scrapped its popular ‘Medicine Man’ exhibit

The exhibit, which had been on display since 2007, ‘neglected to tell’ the stories of those ‘we have historically marginalised or excluded’, the charity that runs the museum said. 

The items which had been displayed includes wood, ivory and wax models from around the world and a variety of cultures, some of which date back to the 17th century, as well as curiosities such as Charles Darwin’s walking sticks. 

Criticism of the move was swift, with many questioning the wisdom of closing the attraction. 

A man and woman stand in the Wellcome Collection's 'Medicine Man' exhibit, with a photo showing Henry Wellcome dressed in Indigenous people's clothing behind

A man and woman stand in the Wellcome Collection’s ‘Medicine Man’ exhibit, with a photo showing Henry Wellcome dressed in Indigenous people’s clothing behind

The painting 'A Medical Missionary Attending to a Sick African', which is in storage at the Wellcome Collection. On its website, the Wellcome Collection says: 'It depicts colonial hierarchies and racial stereotyping – part of history that should not be forgotten, but which could not be sufficiently countered and contextualised in the Reading Room without re-affirming those oppressions'

The painting ‘A Medical Missionary Attending to a Sick African’, which is in storage at the Wellcome Collection. On its website, the Wellcome Collection says: ‘It depicts colonial hierarchies and racial stereotyping – part of history that should not be forgotten, but which could not be sufficiently countered and contextualised in the Reading Room without re-affirming those oppressions’

Other historical items that campaigners have sought to have removed from their traditional places this year include a memorial to Tobias Rustat and a ‘racist’ clock in Gloucestershire

An ecclesiastical judge refused to allow a Cambridge college to remove the memorial – which it claimed was a odious memento of the slave trade – saying it should remain as a reminder of ‘the imperfection of human beings’. 

Earlier this year, the new chairman of the National Trust slammed the ‘woke’ direction of the organisation and said it would no longer become embroiled in political rows. 

René Olivieri, who took over as chairman in February, said in an interview that while we are entitled to raise questions about the history of the Trust’s 200 plus buildings, ‘new views’ cannot ‘eclipse’ other perspectives.

Speaking to Country Life magazine, Olivieri said: ‘It’s important – as far as conservation allows – to make these buildings and their contents more interesting to more people.’

Source: Daily Mail UK

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