Memorial plaque dedicated to Cecil Rhodes, 1906, by Onslow Whiting, commissioned by Sir Alfred Mosely.
Reasons for Designation
The Cecil Rhodes memorial plaque, 1906 by Onslow Whiting, commissioned by Sir Alfred Mosely, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as a fine example of an outdoor commemorative plaque by a notable sculptor, Onslow Whiting, dating to 1906;
* as an unusual and elaborate personal tribute designed to record an association with an existing building, rather than a stand-alone memorial in a funerary context.
* for the association of the plaque and 6 King Edward Street with Cecil Rhodes, a nationally and internationally important individual, whose life and work impacted fundamentally on the story of British imperialism in southern Africa in the late C19;
* for the association of the plaque with Sir Alfred Mosely, as named benefactor, himself a nationally important individual and significant medical and educational Anglo-Jewish philanthropist having been awarded the CMG in 1900.
Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902) was an imperial adventurer, mining entrepreneur, and politician particularly associated with South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia). He was also a noted philanthropist, particularly as a donor to educational causes, with a large legacy to Oxford University and the endowment of many hundreds of Rhodes scholarships at the University. Born in Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire he was sent to Africa at the age of 17. His early career was in the Kimberley diamond mines where he began to build his fortune. He amassed immense wealth and influence at the head of De Beers and the British South Africa Company. His entrepreneurial success was built in part on the exploitation of Black people through enforced labour, including the development of the compound system, in which Black workers were incarcerated for the duration of their contract. Rhodes latterly served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890-1896. He was also behind the creation of the Cape to Cairo railway and had connections to many institutions including the University of Oxford. Rhodes has always been the subject of intense controversy, even during his lifetime: ‘revered by his intimates, who regarded him as a towering colossus, and reviled by those who saw him as an unprincipled and unscrupulous adventurer' (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). He was wealthy and influential and the long-term impacts of his stated belief in British racial superiority, the exploitation of Black labour (see above), and the consequences of his politics and acts of annexation contribute to the continuing controversy of his legacy.
Rhodes' connection with the University of Oxford began in 1873 on his gaining a place at Oriel College. He was an intermittent undergraduate, attending for short periods when not in Africa, finally completing his pass degree in 1881. In 1899 he was awarded an honorary degree by the University. Rhodes left a sizeable endowment to Oriel in his will providing for 52 scholarships each year to Oxford. Rhodes stated that ‘No student shall be qualified or disqualified for election to a Scholarship of account of his race or religious opinions’. The beneficiaries, now numbering 103 per year and including women since 1977, remain known as Rhodes Scholars.
The plaque on King Edward Street was erected in 1906, four years after Rhodes’ death, by his friend and business associate, Sir Alfred Mosely. Mosely was an important Anglo-Jewish medical and educational philanthropist, who is understood to have overcome dyslexia, and was awarded the CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George) in 1900. The plaque marks the location of Rhodes’ residence during Michaelmas term in 1881. The plaque is the work of Onslow Whiting (1872-1937), a Letchworth-based sculptor and silversmith who taught at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London. Whiting is responsible for several listed memorials commemorating those who fell in the Boer War, including one also erected by Sir Alfred Mosely, and Letchworth's First World War memorial on Station Place.
The plaque is fixed to the street frontage of 6 King Edward Street, part of a late-C19 terrace.
The plaque is approximately 2m high, situated between a pair of first-floor sash windows. Of cast bronze, it comprises a relief bust of Rhodes within a shallow arched niche surmounted by the Oriel College crest of three lions passant. Below the bust is a square-framed inscription reading: IN THIS HOUSE THE RIGHT / HON. CECIL JOHN RHODES / KEPT ACADEMICAL RESIDENCE / IN THE YEAR 1881 / THIS MEMORIAL IS ERECT- / ED BY ALFRED MOSELY / IN RECOGNITION OF THE / GREAT SERVICES RENDERED / BY CECIL RHODES TO / HIS COUNTRY, beneath is a laurel wreath cast in relief.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Enhancement on 22 July 2022 to amend the description and add references to selected sources