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Colston Hall hits out at media over naming row

The soon-to-be-refurbished Bristol venue, named for a 17th-century merchant and slave trader, has quashed rumours it plans to rebrand in response to protests

By Jon Chapple on 01 Mar 2017

Rush, Colston Hall, Bristol, 1978, Steve Selwood

Rush play Colston Hall in 1978

image © Steve Selwood

British music venue Colston Hall has denied reports it is to accede to protesters’ demands to change its name.

A statement from the 1,932-cap. music venue, in Bristol, south-west England – which recently announced plans for a £48 million programme of refurbishment – says it has “moved to set the record straight on the future name of the venue, after reports in the weekend media suggested that it had bowed to pressure from campaigners to remove all association with Edward Colston”.

Louise Mitchell, chief executive of venue operator Bristol Music Trust, says it had always planned to hold a consultation on the name of Colston Hall. “We were clear right from the start of our campaign to raise funding to transform the hall that we had listened to people’s concerns regarding negative associations with Edward Colston,” she explains, “and that we would be reviewing the name as part of our redevelopment. […]

“Colston Hall is well known, locally, regionally and nationally, as one of the major arts and entertainment centres in the country. Changing our identity is a major move that requires careful consideration. As we have always stated, we need to go through a thorough process that takes into account views from local, national and even international stakeholders and partners.”

The venue is named after Edward Colston, a prominent local businessman and MP who founded schools, hospitals and almshouses in Bristol. A bronze statue in the city bears the inscription: “Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city.”

However, Colston Hall’s association with its namesake has become controversial in recent years, as Colston was an official of the Royal African Company, which was involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Bristolians Massive Attack have refused to play at the venue until its name is changed, and Nigerian-born historian David Olusoga penned an opinion piece in The Guardian on Sunday calling the name ‘Colston Hall’ an “affront to a multicultural city”.

“We were clear right from the start of our campaign to raise funding to transform the hall that we had listened to people’s concerns regarding negative associations with Edward Colston”

An organisation called Countering Colston, meanwhile, is also pressuring the city’s Colston Girls’ School to change its name.

Bristol city councillor Richard Eddy says to change the name “would only motivate others to suggest that Bristol was attempting to hide a shameful past by trying to expunge Colston from its history books.

“One cannot change the past, nor should we seek to rewrite or forget it. It has been rightly said that those who fail to remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

One compromise that could please both sides (or, more likely, neither) is to rename the venue after a corporate sponsor – something Mitchell says Bristol Music Trust is exploring.

“We are fundraising for a substantial transformation of the existing building,” she says, “and are currently exploring naming rights, which offer an opportunity to make a real difference to the campaign.

“Our continuing commitment and focus is to be great stewards of this historic venue that has been at Bristol’s heart for so many generations and realise our ambition to deliver the world-class concert facility that Bristol deserves.”


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