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Oxford Inscriptions: Cecil Rhodes statue on Rhodes Building


Rhodes Building

E    L A R G A   M V N n I FI C E N T I A   C A E C I L I I    R H O D E S

[By means of the generous munificence of Cecil Rhodes]

This inscription to Cecil Rhodes (1853–1902), who left £100,000 to the college in his will, is on the front of Oriel College’s Rhodes Building, facing Oxford's High Street.

The enlarged letters are a chronogram giving the date of construction (1911):

L  +  M  +  V  +  I  +  I  +  C  +  I  +  C  +  C  +  I  +  L  +  I  +  I  +  D
50 + 1000 + 5 + 1 + 1 + 100 + 1 + 100 + 100 + 1 + 50 + 1 + 1 + 500 = 1911

The Rhodes Building fills the whole stretch of the High between Magpie Lane and Oriel Street, and seven houses had to be demolished to make room for it. The new college building was not universally regarded as an enhancement to the street; in his memoirs of 1927, W. E. Sherwood wrote that Oriel had “broken out into the High, … destroying a most picturesque group of old houses in so doing, and, to put it gently, hardly compensating us for their removal”. And James Morris in Oxford (1965) wrote: “If you are very old indeed, you are probably still fuming about the façade built in the High Street by Oriel College in 1909, which most of us scarcely notice nowadays, but used to be thought an absolute outrage.”


The campaign by “Rhodes must Fall” to get this statue removed

Oriel College decided in January 2016 not to remove this statue, but will add “aclear historical context” to explain why it is there:

Following the receipt on 6 November 2015 of the petition from the “Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford movement, Oriel College issued a statement on 17 December 2015 about this statue of Rhodes which included the following:

Rhodes notice

“The future of the statue raises complex issues, which cannot be resolved quickly. In the absence of any context or explanation, it can be seen as an uncritical celebration of a controversial figure, and the colonialism and the oppression of black communities he represents: a serious issue in a College and University with a diverse and international mix of students and staff, and which aims to be a welcoming academic community. Any changes to the building – including the addition of a permanent information board to explain the history and context, removal or replacement of the statue, or the commissioning of new works of art – would require planning consent. The statue, and the building on which it stands, is Grade II* listed, and has been identified by Historic England as being of particular historical interest, in part precisely because of the controversy which surrounds Rhodes.

“In view of these complexities, the College has decided to launch a structured six-month listening exercise on the statue, running from early February 2016, seeking the views and ideas of students and staff of the College and the wider University, alumni, heritage bodies, Oxford City Council, residents of Oxford, and other members of the public, as we seek a positive way forward. This is a commitment to seek views in as inclusive a way as possible on how controversial associations and bequests, including that of Rhodes to Oriel, and the record of them in the built environment, can be dealt with appropriately.

“In the short term, we have put up a temporary notice [shown right] in the window of the High Street building, below the statue, clarifying its historical context and the College’s position on Rhodes.

The other image of Rhodes in Oxford

Oriel College intends to submit a formal planning application to the city council to remove another image of Rhodes:
this bust and inscription
on the wall of 6 King Edward Street


See also

Press articles on the proposed removal of the statue and plaque of Rhodes in Oxford

Rhodes statue
Rhodes statue with anti-pigeon netting, December 2015

New Statesman

Telegraph

Daily Mail

Guardian

Independent:

International Business Times

Catholic Herald (blog)

BBC News

Stephanie Jenkins, 2013