Historic Bristol music venue Colston Hall ditches name shared with 'toxic' slave trader. Could the Colston bun be next?

Robert Mendick
Colston Hall will be renamed to ditch its 'toxic' legacy - SWNS.com

An historic concert hall is ditching the name it shares with a 17th century slave trader as campaigners vowed to scrub a ‘toxic’ legacy that also includes a city centre statue, several schools and even a sweet bun.

The decision to rename 150-year-old Colston Hall in Bristol follows a campaign led by anti-racism activists and included a boycott of the venue by Massive Attack, the city’s most famous band.

On Wednesday, campaigners vowed to keep up the pressure to expunge Edward Colston’s name from Bristol. 

The statue of Edward Colston in the centre of Bristol Credit:  SWNS.com

Schools, a pub and a number of streets are named in his honour while a prominent statue and a stained glass window in the cathedral also commemorate him. There is a even a Colston bun, traditionally distributed to children on Colston Day.

The bun is listed as one of the targets on the Countering Colston campaign website.

The decision to change Colston Hall’s name was, however, facing a furious backlash. One eminent historian warned that purging the city of the slave trader was a “slippery slope” while locals branded the move “political correctness gone mad”.

The Bristol Music Trust, which runs Colston Hall, said the venue would be rebranded by 2020 as part of a £50 million refurbishment.

The hall has played host to many of the world’s greatest performers including The Beatles, David Bowie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan.

“The name Colston does not reflect the trust’s values as a progressive, forward-thinking and open arts organisation,” said the trust’s chief executive Louise Mitchell, adding: “Effectively, I’ve been selling a toxic brand up to now.”

The Rolling Stones at Colston Hall gig Credit: David Redfern

Katie Finnegan-Clarke, who led the Countering Colston - Campaign to Decolonise Bristol movement, said: “We really are delighted. We will now continue to target all of the buildings named in honour of Edward Colston. We want his statue taken down and put in a museum. The schools must also be renamed. We haven’t got strong feelings about the bun.” 

Ms Finnegan-Clarke, who describes herself as an ‘intersectional feminist’, was a pupil at Colston’s Girls’ School and has written to her alma mater requesting a name change.

The school declined to comment.

Colston, a Bristol MP, made his fortune as deputy governor of the Royal African Company which between 1672 and 1698 transported around 100,000 enslaved Africans to plantations in the West Indies and America.

Campaigners point out Colston’s cargo included women and children as young as six - with each one branded with the company’s initials on their chest- and that more than 20,000 slaves died during the crossings.

Sir Anthony Seldon, a political historian and vice chancellor of the University of Buckingham, criticised the decision by Bristol Music Trust to cave in.

“The slave trade was noxious,” said Sir Anthony, “But we learn better lessons from history, not by trying to obliterate the past, but by trying to understand it and the context in which people acted.

“Changing names is the beginning of a slippery slope.”

On Facebook, one protester wrote the move was “political correctness gone mad”, while another said “past should not be airbrushed out”.

Paul Frost, landlord of the Colston Arms pub, said it would be “dangerous to expunge him [Colston] completely from history” adding: “I have never had a single complaint about the name of the pub.”

But he said if the pub’s owners believed the name offensive it would be for them to change it.

Rhodes Must Fall campaigners Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/ Getty Images

The row over Colston has echoes of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, in which students in Oxford demanded the removal of a statue to the British colonialist Cecil Rhodes erected at Oriel College.

Following angry protests students at the Oxford Union voted 245 to 212 in favour of taking down the statue, but it was announced in January last year that the statue would remain, after donors threatened to withdraw gifts and bequests worth more than £100 million if it was removed.

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