Bristol’s concert hall is a Colston legacy

Bristol’s concert hall is a Colston legacy


norman lebrecht

June 07, 2020

Demonstators in the southwest port city today toppled the statue of the 17th century Bristolian slave-trader Edward Colston.

Belatedly, no doubt.

But Bristol’s concert hall still bears the name of its philanthropic founder.

So what’s to be done about reidentifying Colston Hall?


  • Stephen Maddock says:

    They have already announced that when it reopens after its current redevelopment project it will have a new name. And not before time.

  • V.Lind says:

    They announced years ago that after the new hall was transformed it would be re-named. There is no reason not to — the hall was not built with Colston’s money. It was named for a prominent Bristolian who as well as being a slave-trader was a major philanthropist.

    They have every right to change the name. That was then, this is now and the Bristol authorities decided when they took over the facility that it would be renamed. They have never been ambiguous about it.

  • christopher storey says:

    There is a sad irony that in protesting about the actions of one set of undisciplined thugs, the protesters reveal themselves to be just another bunch of undisciplined thugs

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. They simply should have petitioned to have the statue removed and installed into a museum, where it could be annotated with correct information. Mob rule is always wrong.

      • Adrian says:

        Mr Bortslap, forgive me but as a composer should you not salute progressiveness over tradition for tradition’s sake?! Bristolians have petitioned for YEARS to have that statue taken down; Bristol Council have consistently ignored them. Yesterday’s dunking was beautifully symbolic; the dry statue had only ugly symbolism. And no one got hurt.

    • John Rook says:

      Ah yes, but they have the moral high ground, you see…

    • Craig says:

      So the Marines who pulled down Saddam’s statue in Baghdad were ‘undisciplined thugs’ were they?

      Of course, the proper way to deal with the statue would have been to debate about it endlessly in national newspapers, before victimising whichever ‘radical leftists’ wanted immediate and direct action to have it removed, and then do nothing about it anyway.

      Sorry that you didn’t get your pipe dream of a happy, quiet resolution. Instead we got an image that will never be forgotten.

    • Miko says:

      I thought the toppling and dunking were done with highly disciplined and commendable precision.
      Bravo Bristol.

    • Symphony musician says:

      There is a sad irony that in generalising about the protesters you reveal yourself to be an undisciplined thinker.

  • CRMH says:

    Much of Bristol is built on the fortunes of the Wills family, who made their money in tobacco. When will their legacy be demolished? The university would be the first to go…

    • HmmB says:

      Yes also they used to use Wills Building for lunchtime recital, didn’t they? I felt always unconfortable entering there. 🙂

  • keith says:

    Philanthropist: “a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes“.

    Edward Colston: “it is estimated that the company [Colston’s] transported around 84,000 African men, women and children, who had been traded as slaves in West Africa, of whom 19,000 died on their journey to the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas“.

    So, promoting the welfare of those of the right color presumably.

    • V.Lind says:

      I don’t think the company was Colston’s, though I believe he became a director of it. He severed ties with it at some point, doubtless having made a packet through the trade. But he did use the money to support schools, almshouses, churches and the like, hence his reputation as a philanthropist.

      Sadly, he lived in times when slavery was a major international trade whose legality was not in question. Happily those times have changed. But the suggestion above that the statue be removed to a museum and placed in historical context beats the action that was taken. Its removal will only mean that the next generation may never know how much of Bristol’s economic development was due to a reprehensible trade.

      It’s a vexed question. I can see that to every person of colour in Bristol the sight of that statue must have been a daily affront, and to many white people as well, who would not like the notion of honour that a statue entails. But I am uneasy about revisionist history, too. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, as Santayana said…

      • Adrienne says:

        Surely the sensible thing would be to return the statue and ensure that, at its base, there is a plaque describing Colston’s history in full, factual detail – good and bad.

        That would enable people to make up their own minds. Unfortunately, to some, allowing people to make up their own minds does not ensure the “correct” result.

        • John Kelly says:

          That could be done. Also we could put back up statues of Confederate Generals in the US with plaques that say “Lost Civil War” or something similar. Come to think of it in Germany we could have statues of Rommel or others with explanatory plaques……………I am not sure this idea would go down well……….

  • Mark Pemberton says:

    It is only called Colston Hall because it is on Colston Road.

  • fflambeau says:

    How about: Bristol Hall?

  • KR Thomsson says:

    You should forgive and move on! Renaming will just make the matter pathetically worse. Old institutions should retain their historical names not only as a stark reminder as of a dark past, but as a starting point for a discussion how history has shaped us and how we can avoid repeating the atrocities of our ancestors!

    Just look at the US today, with its collective head so far up it own behind that it constantly repeats its barbarisms over and over again. An enlightened population with a knowledge of its past do not let the axis of evil of the threshold continuously!

    • Craig says:

      But oh no, how is anyone going to know slavery is bad if there’s not a statue there to remind us?

      The balance of voting on posts on this blog makes the demographic of those who read this blog abundantly clear. The world is changing very fast, and I’m sorry it’s faster than a lot of you would like, but things like Colston are issues on which we could only move forward.

      • SVM says:

        Actually, societies do have the unfortunate tendency to forget things very quickly. It is very easy for us to delude ourselves into thinking that slavery is a closed chapter in human history, something that happened to people far removed from us in place and time… and yet the working and living conditions faced by many in the world today still amount to slavery. It is very easy for us to overlook the exploitation and misery that enabled the prosperity still enjoyed today by cities such as Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Dubai, and Singapore. As the UK government charts the future of our trading relationships with the EU, the EEA, and the rest of the world, it is more important than ever that we recognise and confront the dark side of international trade.

        So, I am in favour of keeping the statues of slave-traders, because they serve as an admonishment to the passer-by to constantly question whether we have defeated the scourge of slavery. As matters stand, we have no right to enjoy a clear conscience. Too often, we are all just as complicit in facilitating modern slavery as the citizens of Bristol in Colston’s day. Too often, we give our custom to suppliers and retailers with questionable ethics, consuming their products and services whilst turning a blind eye to how they treat their workers, how they treat the environment, and how they circumvent the tax system. Too often, we allow our pension-pots and bank balances to be invested in these same companies.

        If we are to make the world a better place, we *must* change our patterns of consumption (and also consume less). For the last several years, I have boycotted Amazon, one of the worst offenders. What do you do?

  • Adrienne says:

    Edward Colston was born in 1636, for God’s sake. The World was a very different place. People need to grow up.

    Gandhi had views which I think most people would consider racist today, but he was not white so that’s OK and no doubt his various statues are safe.

    • IC225 says:

      Actually, the mob in London had a pop at the Gandhi statue too. Not the brightest bunch…

    • keith says:

      If it is wrong now, it was wrong then. There were petitions against slavery even in the seventeenth century. The point is that people (many, still not all) have grown up and no longer tolerate values that prevailed in the past.

      What has Gandhi to do with this? Whatever his views, he did not make a fortune from selling human beings and sending many of them to their deaths. You are revealing your own prejudices.

      • Adrienne says:

        I explained in my first comment what Gandhi has to do with this. People who regard certain people as inferior find it easier to justify, or at least rationise, slavery, so there is a connection.

        It was certainly not universally regarded as wrong then, and it still goes on in different forms today. I certainly do not need to be lectured by some middle class hypocrite, usually but not always white, who has suddenly discovered that the UK slave trade was bad. Wow, who knew? If they’re that concerned, they should do something actually beneficial and attack modern slavery. They could even post a selfie in the process.

        Lastly, I’d be very interested to hear what you think my prejudices are.

        • les whittaker says:

          That’s a good point. Much easier and safer for a bunch of virtue signalling, middle class hypocrites to protest against an inert statue.

          No cost to themselves whatsoever.

        • keith says:

          You cannot equate Gandhi, who may have had racist views, with Colston, who trafficked human beings, sent many to their deaths, and profited enormously from it. And don’t change the subject. Will not be lectured to but will lecture.

  • Leo Doherty says:

    The slave trade was a crime against humanity and its perpetrators should not be honoured.

    • Elizabeth Owen says:

      Lets not forget that black people sold black people to Arab traders and they all sold them to white people so we are all in this irregardless of colour.

  • Theodora says:

    What about renaming it Wilberforce Hall?

  • Frankster says:

    When you go down this road, the end is not at all clear. An important music festival in France is the Folle journée in Nantes. Nantes was a major transfer point for slaves going to America. The Spoleto Festival USA is held every year in Charleston, S. C., the port where 40 percent of all slaves entered the US.

  • Joe Shaw says:

    Edward Colston died in 1721. In the following century:

    “Bradford gained the reputation of being the most polluted town in England. There were frequent outbreaks of cholera and typhoid, and only 30% of children born to textile workers reached the age of fifteen. This extreme level of infant and youth mortality contributed to a life expectancy for Bradford residents of just over eighteen years, which was one of the lowest in the country.”

    If we’re going to discuss historical grievances, let’s ensure that they all get an airing, shall we?

  • Stephen Whitaker says:

    Norman Lebrecht should know perfectly well that Bristol’s concert hall was not founded by the long dead person whose name it bears.