The controversy surrounding Colston Hall is nothing new. But now that official discussions surrounding its name are scheduled to take place, the debate is heating up again.
Built on the site of a sugar refinery in Bristol city centre, the venue has divided the population for years.
For example, Massive Attack have been public in their opposition to its namesake. They’ve famously stated that they will refuse to play the venue until it is renamed. A sentiment shared by local protest groups like Countering Colston, who are actively campaigning for a name change.
Meanwhile there are others that, while they do not approve of his actions by any means, do not feel a name change is necessary.
Perhaps most interesting of all however is that while academics and campaigners consider it to be a hot topic, many ordinary citizens seem to not care much at all about it.
Who was Colston?
The hall is named after Edward Colston, a figure who was regarded as a “generous Bristol philanthropist” a number of centuries ago. A merchant who gave money to schools, hospitals and charities.
He came to be most appreciated towards the end of the 19th century, several landmarks, streets and schools around the city were named in his honour.
In the early 1900’s, documents were found connecting Colston to the slave trade. As time went on, it become more apparent that he was actually quite heavily involved in the Transatlantic slave trade.
As a result, the people of Bristol have become divided on the issue. Some believe that his name represents a better time before political correctness became commonplace.
Others have turned on the name since his dark past has come to light. As can be seen from the number of times his statue has been vandalised.
— Christine Walker (@walker_c15) 16 November 2016
Rebranding Colston Hall?
While they first refused to comment on the story, Bristol Wired has now received an exclusive statement from a Colston Hall spokesperson.
According to Communications Director Sarah Robertson: “Bristol Music Trust, the organisation that runs Colston Hall, is currently working on a communications strategy around the concert hall’s closure for refurbishment in summer 2018.
“The name of the Hall will form part of this communications plan.”
Some are surprised when they hear what Roger Griffith, founder of Ujima Radio, thinks of the situation: “I don’t mind that being there because I can point to it. If he’s removed, you’re removing history.
“I can point to him as a slaver. I can tell you about how he, through his companies, helped to build and fund slavery.”
As is stated on their website, Countering Colston is a network of individuals who believe that this is wrong for Edward Colston to be publicly celebrated given his history.
Representing the group, local historian Roger Ball counters Griffith’s point, saying: “I certainly think the Colston Hall should be renamed.
“There’s an argument that renaming it is somehow erasing history but its not about that. Actually history sits in history books, that’s where history resides.
“Its time to stop the celebration of Edward Colston and instead start celebrating some great Bristolians.”
As informative as an academic may be, often it can be worthwhile hearing what the people think.
When asked if Colston Hall should be renamed, one young man commented: “I don’t think it should be. Although he did a lot of bad stuff, it was commonplace at the time. I know he also did a lot of good for people in England.”
“I think you should leave it as it is. The history of Bristol should stay,” said a local woman.
Likewise, an older gentleman said: “Certainly I don’t think you ought to change the name of the Colston Hall now, I think its too late.”
The history behind Colston Hall
Dr Madge Dresser is a historian who has researched Bristol and its links to the slave trade extensively. In an interview with Bristol Wired, she explains: “The former site was a Merchant’s house.
“The merchant was the first guy to trade with Africa from Bristol. It is on record that the first person of African descent in the UK lived there.
“And then it became a sugar refinery of Caribbean slave produced sugar and then it was demolished and became Colston Hall.”