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Bristol’s Colston Hall to drop controversial name

Venue operator Bristol Music Trust will seek input from local people about "how we should recognise [Edward] Colston's name in the new building" when it reopens in 2020

By Jon Chapple on 26 Apr 2017

Louise Mitchell, Marti Burgess, Colston Hall, Bristol Music Trust

BMT's Louise Mitchell (left) and Marti Burgess

Colston Hall, the UK venue at the centre of a recent naming row over its ties to 17th-century slaver Edward Colston, has announced its intention to rebrand as part of a multimillion-pound programme of redevelopment.

At a press conference today, Louise Mitchell, chief executive venue operator Bristol Music Trust (BMT), said: “The name ‘Colston’ does not reflect the trust’s values as a progressive, forward-thinking and open arts organisation. We want to look to the future and ensure the whole city is proud of its transformed concert hall, and so, when we reopen the new building in 2020, it will be with a new name.”

Mitchell denied last month that the 1,932-cap. venue, which has hosted shows by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Bob Marley, David Bowie and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, had “bowed to pressure from campaigners to remove all association with Edward Colston” but said BMT “would be reviewing the name as part of our redevelopment”.

She reiterated today that Colston Hall could be renamed after a commercial partner, saying the trust is “looking to engage with commercial organisations about sponsorship opportunities”.

Edward Colston (1636–1721) was 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.”

“The name ‘Colston’ does not reflect the trust’s values as a progressive, forward-thinking and open arts organisation”

However, his legacy as an official of the Royal African Company, which was involved in the transatlantic slave trade, proves more problematic. 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 in March calling the name ‘Colston Hall’ an “affront to a multicultural city”.

Other landmarks named for Colston include Colston Tower, several roads and three schools, as well as the Colston bun, a favourite in local bakeries.

BMT trustee Marti Burgess comments: “We want to use this as an opportunity to open discussions with the Bristol public about how Colston Hall can reflect the diversity and inclusivity of our city. The Hall’s 150th anniversary this year is the perfect opportunity to begin these discussions.

“We will be appointing an artist to help us talk to local groups about Colston Hall’s role in the community and how we should recognise Colston’s name in the new building.

“We want to embrace our position at the centre of this naming discussion to work beyond the building and help lead conversations across Bristol about how we address and acknowledge the city’s connections to the slave trade.”


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