Contested heritage – A review of the Church of England guidance

In a guest post, Trevor Cooper, of the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance, looks at the issues surrounding “contested heritage”.

1. Introduction [1]

The killing of George Floyd on 25 May 2020, captured in a shocking video, was followed by protests across the world, including in the UK. These included a demonstration in Bristol on 7 June when a statue of Edward Colston was thrown into the harbour. This and other events galvanised public debate regarding statues with a connection to slavery. On 5 January 2022, having opted for jury trial, four of those who pulled down Colston’s statue were found not guilty of criminal damage, which has encouraged further public debate. Two churches in the Church of England have now sought approval for the removal of memorials.

This article summarises the current position in the Church of England (C of E) on memorials related to slavery, and compares it to the secular position, discussing a number of aspects that might usefully be subject to further development. It falls into four parts:

Secular Planning Law Background: a summary of the secular law for contested heritage;

Church of England: June 2020 to April 2021: the June 2020 position taken by the C of E, and developments in the first part of 2021;

Contested Heritage“: a description of the guidance published by the C of E in May 2021, and its use; and

Discussion “Contested Heritage: a discussion of five particular aspects of this guidance.

The Conclusion to this discussion is followed by a list of the references used in the post.

Throughout this note, the word “church” should be taken to include cathedrals. Continue reading