Gary Younge argues that no statues should be erected because perspectives of people’s achievements change over time, and so those celebrated in one age may be derided in another (Why every single statue should come down, 1 June). To me, this seems to be going too far.
It is highly unlikely, for instance, that one day, attitudes towards smallpox will change so radically that a memorial to Edward Jenner is no longer considered appropriate.
It is barely conceivable that one day, the supporters of Stoke City will be embarrassed by the statue of Stanley Matthews outside their stadium because they have come to consider him a poor footballer.
And I suspect that there will never be a campaign to tear down the memorial to the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson in my home town, Wisbech. One could go on.
I agree that monuments primarily reflect the values of the culture they were built for. I do, however, find it interesting that Gary Younge writes: “Nobody is seriously challenging the statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, because nobody seriously challenges the notion of women’s suffrage.”
In an era when democracy is being eroded by the far right, rampant misogyny and conspiracy theories, there are many who do argue against the right to vote and would happily see her statue removed. While cultural mores do change, shouldn’t we strive to publicly represent the paramount importance of democracy, equality and liberalism, which are so integral to the better future of our descendants? It may not be history, but it can still be vital.
Gary Younge’s thoughtful and entertaining article on public statues had one small omission. Why not emulate the Glaswegian example, where the equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington outside the Gallery of Modern Art has been behatted with a traffic cone since the 1980s? Puts the worthy chappie in perspective, and the cone-related merchandise in the museum shop is also a useful income generator.
Dr Ron Fraser
I disagree with Gary Younge about the fate of statues of unsavoury people. We need to be reminded of our past, the good and the bad guys. For example, the eulogy on the Edward Colston plinth could – as was once proposed – have been replaced by a more accurate and complete description, listing not only his fortune, but also the number of slaves who died in his service. The same could be done for most statues.
Gary Younge mentions the argument that “to change something about a statue is to tamper with history. This is such arrant nonsense … Statues … are not themselves history.” But he later writes: “Statues always tell us more about the values of the period when they were put up than about the story of the person depicted.” Precisely. That in itself is a useful source of history.
Pilar Quinteros’s sculptural head Janus Fortress: Folkestone, looking both to Europe and the UK, is made of chalk and plaster, and is intended to gradually erode and disintegrate. This is a perfect template for the construction of statues, inevitably of their time and place, thus avoiding potential future culture wars.
Dr Anthony Isaacs
I had a fantasy whereby a square somewhere in England would have a statue in each corner of me, Fr Alec Mitchell, Ian Grieve and Keith Flett, to mark the epistolary contribution we have made to national life. However, Gary Younge’s brilliant article has convinced me that this is not appropriate and that we will have to settle for the occasional email of acknowledgment from friends who read them.
Rather than tearing down statues, perhaps it would be in order to register our disdain for any ugly principles they represent by covering them in ordure. And as for those more highly elevated personages, we have pigeons aplenty.