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Bristol’s Colston Hall to rebrand to cut association with slave trader namesake

By | Published on Thursday 27 April 2017

Colston Hall

The Bristol Music Trust has announced that it will change the name of the venue it runs, the city’s Colston Hall, when the complex officially relaunches in 2020 following a multi-million pound refurbishment programme.

The venue is named after Edward Colston, a divisive figure in Bristol’s history who lived from 1636 to 1721 and during his lifetime financially supported schools, hospitals and almshouses in the city, but who made his fortune through the slave trade.

There has been a long campaign for the Colston Hall to change its name because of its namesake’s involvement in exploiting and trading slaves, and some artists – including Bristol legends Massive Attack – refuse to play the venue in protest. The Bristol Music Trust seemingly reckons that the planned relaunch of the building is as good a time as any to respond to that criticism and choose a new name.

The CEO of the Trust, Louise Mitchell, says that the Colston name – which is used by a number of other locations and institutions in Bristol – is a “toxic brand”. Colston himself had no involvement in founding or funding the hall – he had been long dead when it opened – but the building was nevertheless named in his honour.

“We really don’t feel an association with Edward Colston, however tenuous, is the way we want to [move] forward”, Mitchell said. “I have members of staff whose families won’t come into the building because of the perceived connection with slavery. We can’t have that. For us this feels like the beginning of a new dawn. We are doing this now because it is the right thing to do”.

Mitchell said that the Trust planned to consult artists and the local community on a possible new name, and that she hoped Massive Attack might agree to play the venue once it has been rebranded.

The Trust’s decision has been welcomed by a number of artists and campaigners in the city. Cleo Lake, a member of a campaign group called Countering Colston, told the BBC: “Today we turn a corner in Bristol and history is made. It has been the continuation of decades of movements aiming to decolonise the city and pay some respect to those whose lives were taken and exploited in the name of capitalism”.

However, the move isn’t without its critics, who choose to focus on Colston’s philanthropy over his profession. The name change could also result in a different constituency boycotting the venue. Local Conservative councillor Richard Eddy has dubbed the rebrand “an abject betrayal of the history and people of Bristol and a complete surrender to the forces of historically illiterate political correctness”.

Eddy told reporters: “Instead of tackling the real victims of modern slavery in Bristol today, those who whinge about Edward Colston 400 years ago just want to airbrush history away and have no awareness of the huge debt we still owe to this great Bristolian. Even in the early 21st century, the inhabitants of our city still gain immeasurably from the housing, healthcare and schooling legacy of Colston”.

Calling for a new boycott of the Colston Hall, once that’s no longer its name, he went on: “I am utterly fed up of pandering to the views of a tiny minority of non-Bristolians and outraged that the unelected directors of the Bristol Music Trust can make this controversial decision. However, this knee-jerk surrender will at least save me money. As a regular concertgoer to the Colston Hall, I do not intend to spend one penny on tickets there if it changes its name after 2020 and I hope other true Bristolians will do likewise”.