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Digital trail at St Paul’s reveals racial injustices

26 April 2024

Pantheons: Sculpture at St Paul’s Cathedral

Sir Charles Metcalfe MacGregor (1840-1887)

Sir Charles Metcalfe MacGregor (1840-1887)

A NEW digital trail at St Paul’s Cathedral is to unpick the history of its monuments to people connected to the East India Company, and the “past injustice” of the British Empire, it was announced on Tuesday.

The consequences of colonisation are still “deeply felt” in London communities today, the Dean, the Very Revd Andrew Tremlett, said.

The trail, which will circle the 15 monuments in the cathedral which commemorate individuals associated with the East India Company, is being co-curated with the Stepney Community Trust, which supports communities in east London. Research for the project was conducted by the Trust and historians from South Asian communities in the city.

Visitors can access it by scanning a QR code next to the associated monuments, which will take them to information on a dedicated section on the cathedral website. A leaflet guide will also be available in the building.

Dean Tremlett thanked the Trust for its “thoughtful and personal interrogation” of the statues. “Some of the historic monuments at St Paul’s memorialise individuals who are inextricably linked with the activities of the East India Company, representing the values and attitudes of a time when the British Empire was expanding dramatically.

“The consequences of this period of colonisation are still deeply felt in those affected communities today, and St Paul’s is responding through several streams of work, including how we reflect on these monuments, and create space for conversation around this complex history.”

An accompanying press release says that the trail will “shed light on the shared history between Britain and the Indian subcontinent. Authored by writers and researchers with ancestral roots in the region, the trail offers an important lens through which to view the monuments, shifting the spotlight onto forgotten characters and untold stories from the period.”

The project is being funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund — delivered by the Museums Association — and project-managed by Dr Renie Chow Choy. It also includes research produced by “Pantheons: Sculpture at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1796-1916”: an academic project hosted at the University of York’s Department of History of Art.

The Secretary of the Stepney Community Trust, Bodrul Alom, said: “It was from the City of London that the East India Company ruled its vast Indian empire, and, since the Second World War, Tower Hamlets has emerged as the place with the largest concentration of Bangladeshi people in Britain.

“We thank the individuals who produced such high-quality, thoughtful interpretations about the monuments. This is only the start of a process to help address the impacts of past injustice and create a better world for all.”

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