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Architect's impression of the proposed exhibition space. Image: Paul Vonberg Architects.

Expanded Archive proposed as new home for Rustat memorial

Jesus College has submitted an application to the Diocese of Ely to relocate Tobias Rustat’s memorial from our Chapel to a permanent educational exhibition space in College.

Tobias Rustat’s father was a Jesuan. Tobias Rustat became one of our College’s largest benefactors before the twentieth century, helping to shape the College as we know it today. His personal wealth came from his career as a courtier in the mid-17th Century, and he sought to add to his wealth when he became an investor in several slave-trading companies, most notably the Royal African Company. Investors were fully aware of its activities and intended to profit from this brutal and sustained trade.

The proposed new home for the memorial will be part of an expanded College Archive. Our Archives reside in East House but do not have a permanent exhibition room. Part of the historic frontage of the College as viewed from Victoria Avenue, East House is a Victorian house that was once home to a senior tutor. One of the sizable ground floor rooms is currently used as a Song School by the choristers; we plan to extensively refurbish the room and convert it into a dedicated, accessible exhibition space. Rustat’s memorial will go on display next to other items from the College’s long history, including archaeological finds, works of art, books and documents, alongside panels giving historical context and critical analysis. 

Robert Athol, the College’s Archivist, said: “Researchers and the general public will be welcomed to the expanded Archive. This plan will allow for restoration and study of the monument, and it will enable people to engage with it as an artistic piece and as a vehicle for discussion about the history and legacy of enslavement.”

The plan also presents the opportunity to relocate the Song School to a dedicated music centre, which offers an exciting development for the Choir and the broader musical life of the College.

Tobias Rustat’s memorial

Rustat’s large marble memorial dominates the wall to your right as you enter the Chapel. The work of Grinling Gibbons’ atelier, Rustat commissioned the monument and celebratory inscription during his lifetime when he was already a major College donor. 

The Chapel stands at the heart of the College. In addition to its religious purposes, it is a place of welfare and pastoral care for all Fellows, students and staff. Following recommendations made by the College’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP) in November 2019 and November 2020, Council took the view that the memorial represents a celebration of Rustat, which is incompatible with the Chapel as an inclusive community and a place of collective wellbeing, and proposed that it should be relocated to an educational exhibition space.

The Master of Jesus College, Sonita Alleyne, said: “Our submission today is part of a process of critical self-reflection on the long-term legacies of enslavement and colonial violence. The Chapel should offer a welcoming space accessible to every member of our community. This is the right solution for our College.”

Next steps

On 9 May, the Observer reported on the Church of England’s upcoming guidance to review monuments for evidence of ‘contested heritage’ and potentially relocate or remove them. In this article, the Church of England’s Director of Churches and Cathedrals, commented: “The responsibility to ensure [church buildings] include, welcome and provide safe spaces for all is a vitally important part of addressing the way historic racism and slavery still impacts people today.” The College’s deliberation, discernment, and decision about the Rustat memorial have been undertaken in this spirit.

You can download the short introduction to our application or the full submission including the introduction

As a Grade I listed ecclesiastical building, the proposed change to the Chapel falls under Faculty Jurisdiction, operated by the Church of England. The Chancellor of the Diocese of Ely will now decide how to proceed – the link above outlines the various options. We hope that a decision will be made this year.

Other work of the LSWP

The Legacy of Slavery Inquiry started in May 2019, following the University’s Inquiry launched a few weeks earlier. The LSWP will continue with its work; please visit the Inquiry webpage for the latest news. 

Post-publication update

Following publication of this article, the final round of heritage body consultations on the relocation proposals were submitted between June - August 2021.