In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer and the horrific murder of George Floyd, Bath Abbey have looked into the colonial past of their some 1500 monuments.
Feedback so far has been great. ‘This is the year of the staycation, so we are starting to see people from further afield.’ Says Polly Andrews, Bath Abbey’s Learning Officer, of their visitors, ‘but we have had members of the congregation, so people who are very close to home and close to the heart of the Abbey.’
‘We are trying to gather that feedback, and really get a sense of how people are responding. Certainly, we want the content of the exhibition to go as far and as wide as possible.’
If you are visiting the Bath Abbey’s exhibition they would love to hear your reactions to the exhibit.
Bath Abbey are currently considering publishing feedback on their website after the exhibition closes on the 5th October 2021.
This will then be an indispensable public resource, enabling people to reflect on our nation’s involvement in slavery and colonialism for years to come.
After an investigation into their past, they have found that there are many connections between the monuments and the transatlantic slave trade.
Polly states that Bath Abbey didn’t want to ‘neglect’ the findings of their investigation.
‘Everyone needs to do a lot of consultation with their communities, so that decisions about taking down monuments or hiding them, which should never be taken lightly, should be in tune with what the people directly involved directly connected feel’.
Members of the BAME community in Bath stated that they wanted the monuments to remain and be talked about, not taken down.
This led to the opening of the exhibition.
‘We’re trying to address a really unfair and horrific past’, says Polly, ‘People have said “we didn’t know any of this was the truthful story”, but there are ‘at least’ 72 mentions of the West Indies and 34 mentions of India and Bengal on the monuments’. In total, the Abbey has over 200 connections to slavery.
Three figures are the focus of the exhibition: an adventurer, a plantation owner, and a captain. Bath Abbey place the trios relationships with The British Empire under a microscope, remaining both honest and sensitive.
Words by Jonathan R Parsonage