Nadine Dorries, the UK Culture Secretary, has officially given the Cecil Rhodes plaque at Oriel College listed status. This means the plaque, located on King Edward Street adjacent to the College, cannot be taken down.
The plaque, by Onslow Whiting, has been in place since 1906 and was paid for by Sir Alfred Mosely, a Hatton Garden diamond merchant.
The decision to mark it as listed comes despite Historic England’s earlier decision that the plaque lacked the “richness of detail” required for listed status. Dorries, however, sees it as having “special historic interest”.
The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) commented, “We are committed to retaining and explaining our heritage so people can examine all parts of Britain’s history and understand our shared past.”
Cecil Rhodes, a 19th century imperialist and South African business magnate, was a student at Oriel and left the college £100,000 when he died in 1902. This is equivalent to about £12.5 million today.
However, Rhodes has remained a thoroughly controversial figure, both in Oxford and globally, as a result of his contribution towards colonialism and apartheid. Since 2015, a group known as Rhodes Must Fall Oxford has specifically lobbied and protested against the legacy of Rhodes and his statue outside Oriel.
After the BLM movement in June 2020 and heightened pressure to remove the statue and plaque, Oriel College’s student body overwhelmingly voted to remove both and its governing body also published a report saying it wanted to remove both. The college said it remained ‘committed to’ this but later backtracked on this decision because of cost and difficulties involved. The Cecil Rhodes statue is already Grade II listed.
In its response to The Oxford Student’s inquiries about DCMS and Historic England’s decision, Oriel College said, “The College is aware of the decision to list the Cecil Rhodes plaque on King Edward Street. Oriel’s Governing Body made a series of decisions last year on the publication of the Rhodes Commission’s report and remains committed to the actions announced at that time. We are proud of the progress we have made so far in expanding our programme of student scholarships and academic research posts, alongside other outreach initiatives, and look forward to continuing this work in the future.”