Plans for City tea trade statue pulled over claims it ‘celebrates colonialism’

A proposed statue commemorating London’s role in the tea trade has been sent back to the drawing board amid claims it celebrates “colonialism”.

The planned two-metre-high bronze sculpture on a stone plinth shows a tea plucker with a basket full of leaves back to back with a London docker unloading the finished product.

The application was submitted to the City of London Corporation by the London Tea History Association. 

The organisation, set up in 2015 by a group of industry veterans, said it wanted to create a “monument to the tea trade in the City of London to celebrate the City’s historical links to the trade”.

However, the proposal has been rejected by the CLC’s City Arts Initiative, which said campaigners should “resubmit” their application amid concern it could offend. It told the Standard there was “no agreed site” for the statue and that it was not clear who would be responsible for its upkeep.

It said: “An additional concern raised was that the City of London may be seen to be celebrating colonialism so this would need to be taken into consideration within the text appearing on the sculpture.” London’s connection to the tea trade stretches back to 1679 when leaves imported from China were sold at auction for the first time. At its height, the trade supported dozens of specialist brokers and warehouses, which sprang up to meet the demand. 

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Describing its choice for the statue, the London Tea History Association said: “The tea plucker and the London dock worker are represented here and honoured for the role they have played in this vast business for over 350 years. 

“We have depicted every man and every woman — those who have given decades and generations of service to the tea trade. And the history is told with these people being centre stage, elevated as they surely should be, on a solid foundation of stone.

“This project will bring to life a part of the City’s history that has been somewhat lost from the public’s eye. The tea trade was privately run without governmental input. It was never involved in colonisation or for any governmental gain except for revenue collection.”

The CLC, which rejected the application last month, said: “The project has been rejected on the basis that there is no agreed location and that more work needs to be done to address this and a number of issues. The applicants have been invited to resubmit a proposal following a further review of this project.”

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