Minister summons heritage charities to meeting over empire row

15 Feb 2021 News

Oliver Dowden, culture secretary

Heritage bodies have been summoned to meet with the culture secretary next week, amid an ongoing row over how they represent British history.

A total of 25 organisations have been asked to attend a roundtable next week with Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, including the National Trust and National Lottery Heritage Fund, according to reports in The Telegraph.

Dowden criticised the National Trust last year, when research commissioned by the charity mentioned that Winston Churchill had been prime minister at the time of the Bengal famine.

Heritage charities have also been under pressure over what to do with statues on their grounds which memorialise historical figures with links to colonialism and the slave trade.

The Canal and River Trust was among the charities which decided to remove statues for this reason last year.

Minister: No 'purging' of history

According to reports over the weekend, Dowden said in a letter to the ‘common sense’ group of backbench Conservative MPs that “whilst I agree that we should use heritage to educate people about Britain’s rich and complex history, this work should never be driven be ideology”.

He also wrote: "Proud and confident nations face their past squarely; they do not seek to run from or airbrush the history upon which they are founded.

"History is ridden with moral complexity, and interpreting Britain's past should not be an excuse to tell an overly-simplistic version of our national story, in which we damn the faults of previous generations whilst forgetting their many great achievements.

“Purging uncomfortable elements of our past does nothing but damage our understanding of it."

Culture war

The summons comes two weeks after Baroness Tina Stowell, the outgoing chair of the Charity Commission, said that charities risked committing “an act of monumental hubris” if they ignored the views of what she called “decent, respectable people”.

“Charity must not become collateral damage in any kind of culture war”, she added.


The National Trust confirmed it would be attending the meeting, as did the British Museum and International War Museums.

DCMS declined to provide a list of the 25 organisations invited to meet the minister.

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