In all the furore over the statue of Colston in Bristol and the subsequent threat to that of Churchill in Whitehall I am left pondering one question. Why do we have statues?
They are something I have never really thought about. They stand there unnoticed by most of us, in public parks, city centres and, of late, outside sporting stadia. It is only those who visit a town who stop to have a look while for the rest of us, they are merely places for seagulls to sit.
I can only think of one in my hometown, that of Emily Davidson, which was only erected a few years ago as the town’s most famous daughter (even though she didn’t live here).
Apparently there are around 800 public monuments in England. Some of these are works of art and the rest are statues of significant people. But significant to whom?
We have been told that the statues represent important people that have come to define our history yet this is not true. They represent a history that the people who erected them want to remember. They are expensive things and so can only be erected by people who either can raise sufficient money for their cause or who have money in the first place.
Those in the first group may well be relevant yet those in the second have more to do with the person, or their coterie’s sense of self importance than of shared history.
History is written by the victors and statues are used to impose this version of history upon us. They are not a part of our history but rather a projection of how those in power wish it to be seen. Their numbers are small and are an unrepresentative sample of the people who have shaped this country.
To be honest I care not for Colston or Churchill. They represent the yin and yang of human nature but I would not look to either for guidance or inspiration. To me they both represent the oppressive and unsavoury side of our history, something I cannot and should not deny.
I still don’t know why we have statues, perhaps they should all be consigned to history.