The removal of controversial statues risks the UK’s collective past being “torn away” and could lead to “trouble”, the chair of Historic England has said.
Sir Laurie Magnus told MPs that contested heritage should not be removed and instead should be “recontextualized”.
He said if the UK tries to “erase whole swathes” of its history, it would lead to a “lot of upset and trouble” among “most people” across the country.
Speaking to the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, Sir Laurie said: “The best way to address contested heritage, is to recontextualize, re-interpret, but leave these statues standing when they are in a public place.
“Don’t take them away and put them in a museum, because people then have to go to a museum. Leave them where they are and recontextualize them.”
He added: “Our collective past is going to be just torn away, slowly, piece-by-piece.
“Our collective past is there, it represents a memorialisation going back hundreds of years, built at a time which reflected the views and values of those who lived at the time.
“If we start tampering with the historic fabric connected with our collective past because things are contentious then you start changing the basis in which you can understand it.
“And I think understanding is really important.”
Sir Laurie went on to tell MPs that Historic England, which is a government body, is looking to engage with owners of controversial statues to “find solutions” for them to remain on display
He also said the organisation “must do better” to ensure greater diversity in its decision-making bodies, with just under five per cent of staff coming from a BAME background.
Also speaking to the committee was Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, who backed the removal of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in June and the renaming of Colston Hall last month.
Picture: Protesters dragging the statue of Edward Colston to Bristol harbourside during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. (Ben Birchall/PA),