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Oxford Inscriptions: Cecil Rhodes statue on Rhodes Building


Rhodes Building

E    L A R G A   M V 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]

The enlarged letters are a complicated chronogram giving the date of construction:

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)

If you treat them as roman numerals and rearrange them in descending order, you get MDCCCLLVIIIIII, which adds up to 1911 but it is not a proper Roman numeral, as it should be the much neater MCMXI.

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

In all, there are seven life-size statues including Rhodes on this building, all sculpted in Portland stone by Henry Alfred Pegram. King Edward VII and King George V were chosen because the former died and the latter came to the throne in the year the building was being erected (1910), and the other four are former heads of the college:

All seven statues are pictured here.


Campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes

Oriel College initially decided in January 2016 not to remove this statue, but to add “a clear 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 campaign to remove this statue was taken up again by Rhodes Must Fall in June 2020 (in conjunction with Black Lives Matter (BLM), following the death of George Floyd in the USA), and on 17 June 2020 the Governing Body of Oriel College voted to launch an independent Commission of Inquiry into the key issues surrounding both the Rhodes statue and the King Edward Street plaque and to appoint the Master of St Cross College, Carole Souter, as the Chair for the Commission. In May 2021 that Commission recommended the removal of the statue.

The following notice was put up by Oriel College in October 2021:

Rhodes notice October 2021

The above notice refers to this Oriel College webpage entitled “Contextualisation of the Rhodes Legacy

The Rhodes plaque in King Edward Street, Oxford

This bust and inscription of Cecil Rhodes is on the wall of another Oriel College building at 6 King Edward Street

See also

Media articles on the proposed removal of the statue and plaque of Rhodes in Oxford (2015/16 and 2020)

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

New Statesman

Telegraph

Daily Mail

Guardian

Independent:

Daily Express

Oxford Chancellor dismantles Cecil Rhodes statue row with brilliant Nelson Mandela point

International Business Times

Catholic Herald (blog)

Huffington Post:

BBC News

Reuter's

CNN (Cable News Network, USA)

 

Stephanie Jenkins