Council's U-turn over plans to tear down statue of British colonial general 'too close' to a college

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·4 min read
The statue is located just outside Exeter College. (Exeter City Council)
The statue is located just outside Exeter College. (Exeter City Council)

A council has U-turned over plans to remove a statue of a famous war leader, which had been deemed inappropriate since it was “too close” to a college.

The monument of General Sir Redvers Buller on his horse has stood on the corner of New North Road and Hele Road outside the entrance to Exeter College for more than 100 years.

But its future was recently cast into doubt when Exeter City Council announced a review of its location in response to the Black Lives Matters protests.

The authority had unanimously voted to apply for permission to relocate the figurine.

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The review said: "The current location is inappropriate because it is outside an educational establishment, which includes young people from diverse backgrounds."

Its relocation was estimated to cost a minimum of £25,000 and would need planning permission involving a public consultation, the BBC reported.

After backlash and protests against moving the statue, the council has confirmed that it has dropped the plans and it will stay where it has been since 1905.

Conservative Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, said the news was “a victory for common sense”. He said: “I'm glad Exeter City Council listened to the clear concerns from residents and engaged with me. We shouldn't cast our history aside.”

The statue is located just outside Exeter College. (Exeter City Council)
The statue is located just outside Exeter College. (Exeter City Council)

Buller was a highly decorated general, best known for leading the British Army in the Second Boer War. He also won the Victoria Cross during the 1879 Zulu War.

But critics have alleged that he was partly responsible for the creation of British “concentration camps” during the Second Boer War, where thousands of people died.

The decision comes after the government recently revealed plans for a new law on cultural and historic heritage which will “make clear that historic monuments should be retained and explained".

It would give the secretary of state power to call in any application and ensure the law is followed.

Councillor Phil Bialyk, leader of the council, confirmed it would no longer be submitting a planning application to relocate the Buller statue in light of this latest development in central government.

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But Bialyk said: "I must stress that we will be addressing the issues which first brought this to the attention of many councillors."

He added: “The council should look to make sure we are doing all we can to be aware of the particular images and messages that public art and monuments may express, and strive to make these as representative of our inclusive and diverse communities as possible.”

As part of the review, a relative of General Buller made an impassioned plea for it to stay.

David Michael Buller Curtis conceded that the Victorian-era general was far from perfect, but argued that he was a "compassionate, sympathetic and liberal man who in fact helped many both at home and abroad".

He wrote: "Please consider this before knee jerk removal of statues (Sir Redvers Buller) or nameplates in Exeter or elsewhere.

"Buller was an admired, sometimes controversial figure who helped develop logistical and tactical ideas in the British army going forward into the 20th century.

"He was noted for his empathy with his men and his bravery under fire as well as a certain lack of tact.

"By no means perfect? Undoubtedly so, but I would hesitate before dismantling an important part of Devon’s history."

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Dr Todd Gray, from the University of Exeter, said General Buller was "a very straightforward wealthy elite empire man" who distinguished himself in the army in the Boer War in South Africa in the 1880s before his competence as a leader was criticised.

He added: "It's part of that public humiliation, of him being thrown out of the army, that produces this statue which is one of the most iconic in the South West. It is a tremendous statue."

Dr Gray added that the "triumphant" nature and prominence of the statue outside Exeter College "annoys some people".

The statue of Buller, who was born in Crediton, Devon, has previously been vandalised and had banners hung from it saying “wanted for war crimes”. The statue was given Grade II listing preservation status in 1953.

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