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What’s in a name? For Colston Hall, a lot of history…

Colston Hall

Colston Hall

Beth Middleton explores whether Colston Hall should shy away from its slavery past or own it…

The slave trade has left an ugly mark on our city’s story

Bristol’s history is as dynamic and interesting as its citizens. From Cabot’s voyage in the 15th century to the Bus Boycotts of the 1960s, our city has a reputation for starting something new. Unfortunately though, Bristol’s history is far from unblemished. The slave trade has left an ugly mark on our city’s story – a mark that manifests itself in the architecture and the names of the streets and buildings.

Edward Colston: philanthropist, merchant and politician. Unfortunately this man’s vast wealth was generated by his involvement in the Atlantic slave trade.

Colston Hall, one of many city landmarks named after this prominent character, has been subject to much controversy. Several bands have refused to play there and at long last the inevitable has happened – a change of name is being seriously considered.

Now although this may not seem like a particularly noteworthy occasion in itself it sets a precedent.  If Colston hall should be censored and renamed then what about Colston Street, Colston Avenue, Colston Primary School, Colston Tower, Colston day and even Bristol’s Colston bun? And then, once Colston has been erased from the architecture of the city what about the Wills family? Their tobacco was cultivated by slaves. What about Sugar House? Corn Street? Merchants house? Guinea street? The list goes on and on.

Bristol flourished due to the slave trade

Bristol, like many of Britain’s most prominent cities, flourished due to the slave trade. Take Colston out of the equation and the city we live in was still built largely on profits from the slave trade. Its influence runs throughout the city. Simply erasing Colston’s name will not erase slavery’s legacy.

If all traces of Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade were removed from the city (if that were possible) would that not be on a par with denying Bristol’s involvement with the slave trade? Seeing as very few slaves ever stood on British soil it can be all too easy to forget Britain’s involvement but this should not be allowed to happen.

 Simply erasing Colston’s name will not erase slavery’s legacy

Those who wish to remove the name of Colston wish to do so to prevent the glorification of a man who profited from this horrendous venture. Would it not be better though to hold Colston up as a man who was, although not an evil man, swept up in an evil enterprise? He would better serve the city as a product of his time rather than a hero or a blank page in our history.

If Colston’s name is to be erased from the history of the city in an attempt to play down Bristol’s slave trade past the entire city might as well be abandoned and demolished. There is no corner nor cranny, no brick nor beam where slavery can be ignored.

We should instead use Colston’s presence to educate the people of Bristol and our many visitors about the slave trade past and respect those affected by the slave trade by not letting them be forgotten.

Instead of erasing the history that already exists we should create our own history by building a memorial to those that suffered at the hands of the slavers. In this way the city can show how much it has changed and the progress that has been made.

What are your opinions on Colston tower and the controversy that surrounds it? Let us know what you think!