Statues and our changing view of the past

Statues and our changing view of the past

This lesson plan explores our changing views of the past. The people that different generations look up to depend on the times they live in. Todays hero or heroine could be tomorrows villain.

A statue is a free-standing sculpture usually of someone famous put up in a public space to celebrate the life or achievements of that person. It is seen as a great honour to have a statue commissioned of you. Positioning a sculpture in a town centre or high on a plinth means that many people will see the sculpture and that person will be remembered by future generations. What happens when the local community view of that person and their achievements change? Should we take down the sculpture or should we keep it as a reminder of how the world has moved on?

This lesson plan has three short films and a classroom activity to help you explore the idea of how we deal with elements of the past of which society now has a very different view.

Key Stage:

KS3 History
Ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745 -1901. Non-statutory examples include: Britain's transatlantic slave trade: its effects and its eventual abolition.


A brief introduction to the topic of the slave trade and a provocation of a debate in the classroom about how we deal with aspects of the past which are now unacceptable. Learning activities involve three films about statues of famous people. This lesson can be used:
As part of a Year 7 introductory unit on the relevance of studying history.
To develop research and investigative skills.
To develop discussion skills.
To start a project on the transatlantic slave trade and the role of Liverpool, Bristol, Plymouth and London.

Gordon Banks Statue

This statue of Gordon Banks in Stoke on Trent was commissioned by the local council because he is considered by many to be England's greatest ever goalkeeper and he played for Stoke City for many years. The statue reminds people who see it of a football great and it became a focus for tributes when Gordon died in 2019.
Discuss whether the council were right to spend public money on a statue of Gordon Banks.

A Statue of Robert Milligan

Robert Milligan was the driving force behind the building of the West India Dock in London. Previous to the building of the dock, ships were unloaded at riverside wharves and theft of goods was common. This statue was put up in 1813 to commemorate his work and a local street was named after him. Watch the film and ask the students what they think of Robert Milligan. The statue was removed in June 2020 by the local authority to "recognise the wishes of the community". Was this the right decision?

Street names in Liverpool

During the eighteenth century Liverpool was the slave trading capital of Britain and large numbers of enslaved Africans crossed the Atlantic in Liverpool slave ships. This trade generated huge wealth for Liverpool and stimulated investment in the city. Many slave traders fought strongly against the movement to abolish slavery including James Penny.
Should we change the name of streets named after slave traders? Watch this film and vote on the motion.

Suggested Classroom Activity

In June 2020 a statue in Bristol was torn down by protestors. This event forced other towns and cities to think about the statues in their area and make decisions about how they should deal with them.
Our worksheet has a BBC news article from Plymouth to analyse and then facts and opinions to absorb before writing an 500 word opinion piece of your own.

Download Statues_worksheet.pdf

Development Activity:

Elsewhere on CultureStreet there is a short film about The International Slavery Museum, Liverpool Docks. From here many slave traders involved in transatlantic slavery would load and unload their ships.
The International Slavery Museum.

Learning Objectives:

Through using this lesson plan students should:
-Make connections, draw contrasts over long arcs of time
-Develop ideas through investigations, demonstrating critical understanding of sources.
-Learn about a significant turning point in British history, in this case the slave trade and its eventual abolition.
-Learn about events beyond living memory that are significant nationally or globally.
-Learn about the lives of significant individuals in the past who have contributed to national and international achievements.
Learn how art and design both reflect and shape our history, and contribute to the culture, creativity and wealth of our nation.
-Study of an aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils’ chronological knowledge beyond 1066.

Research, Notes and Links:

Download this lesson plan