Image: From the Guardian with the caption “These gravestones have now been removed from the churchyard at St Margaret’s, Rottingdean, in East Sussex and will be recut to remove offensive language. Photograph: Jon Santa Cruz/Rex/Shutterstock”
The Church of England will issue guidance this week to churches to review monuments with reference to slavery, racially offensive language, and the like. Some churches and cathedrals have already taken action.
Although decisions will be made at a local level, the guidance stresses that ignoring contested heritage is not an option. Among actions that may be taken are the removal, relocation or alteration of plaques and monuments, and the addition of contextual information. In some cases, there may be no change.
Action has already been taken in a number of places. Bristol Cathedral has removed a window dedication to Colston; St Margaret’s church in Rottingdean, Sussex, has removed two headstones in its graveyard which contained racial slurs; and St Peter’s in Dorchester has covered up a plaque commemorating a plantation owner’s role in suppressing a slave rebellion.
At St Margaret’s Rottingdean, a Grade II listed 13th-century church on the Sussex coast, the gravestones of two music-hall singers who died in the 1960s have been removed following a consistory court judgment that their inscriptions contained words that were “deeply offensive”.