University of Bristol could rename SEVEN buildings linked to slavery

University of Bristol launches ‘listening exercise’ to consider renaming SEVEN of its buildings with links to the slave trade and Edward Colston – as part of bid to ‘fully interrogate its history’

  • The University of Bristol in considering changing the names of seven buildings 
  • It is holding a consultation on buildings linked to slavery and Edward Colston 
  • Bristol has links to the slave trade dating to its trading hub in the 18th century  

The University of Bristol has launched a consultation asking if it should rename seven of its buildings with links to the slave trade and Edward Colston.

Officials at the university said it has started a ‘listening exercise’ and is ‘open to hearing all’ views on the name changes.

Bristol had strong connections to the slave trade in the 18th century and many of its buildings have links to figures who profited, directly or indirectly, from the trade.

The University is ‘seeking views on whether seven buildings whose names are linked in different ways to the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans should be renamed’.

Officials said the consultation would consider renaming the Wills Memorial Building, the Fry Building, the Merchant Venturers Building, the HH Wills Physics Laboratories, Goldney Hall, Wills Hall and Dame Monica Wills Chapel.

The University said that money donated by Henry Overton Wills III to help found the University in 1909 had its ‘early origins’ in tobacco plantations in the southern United States.

The University of Bristol has announced a ‘listening exercise’ into renaming its historic buildings 

Buildings with links to Edward Colston and the slave trade are being reviewed in a consultation 

The university’s crest is also under review because it includes the emblems of Edward Colston, Henry Wills, and the Fry family, who have historic links with the slave trade 

However, it added that those working on the plantations were no longer slaves by 1865, half a century beforehand. 

The university will also consider scrapping its historic crest because it has the emblems of Edward Colston, Henry Wills, and the Fry family. 

Officials said in-person events would be held alongside the online consultation to hear a wide range of views on whether the buildings should be changed. 

Bristol became a focal point for the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 when a statue of Edward Colston in the city centre was toppled and thrown into a canal.

The statue was recovered from the water and has been kept in a museum, while other statues and buildings considered to be linked to the slave trade have been the subject of intense debate.  

A spokesperson for the institution said: ‘The University is doing so with an awareness that there are a range of views and is open to hearing all of them before taking any next steps.

‘Staff, students and the wider community of Bristol will be asked for their thoughts on prominent buildings such as the Wills Memorial Building and Goldney Hall.

The Edward Colston statue was thrown into the canal in Bristol at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020

The Fry building is one of the seven which could be renamed as part of the consultation 

‘The online consultation, which runs until 19 December, follows feedback from some staff and students who feel that building names and the University logo should be changed to better reflect a modern-day institution in a diverse and forward-thinking city, as well as those who believe that the complexity of our past could best be recognised through greater in-depth understanding and explanations.

‘One of the key arguments put forward was that, for example, money donated by Henry Overton Wills III to help found the University in 1909 had its early origins in importing and selling tobacco produced on plantations of the US South, where enslaved labour made up the majority of the workforce until 1865.

‘In their view, a building named for Wills failed to respect the lives of those harmed by slavery.

‘As a result, the University made a commitment to fully interrogate its history to help it better understand its past and use that knowledge to shape its future.

‘The University is also planning some in-person events in December so it can get as many views as possible. Details of these will be published very soon.’

Edward Colston: Merchant and slave trader who trafficked 80,000 across the Atlantic and was once considered Bristol’s greatest son

Edward Colston was integral in the Royal African Company, which had complete control of Britain’s slave trade

Edward Colston was born to a wealthy merchant family in Bristol, 1636.

After working as an apprentice at a livery company he began to explore the shipping industry and started up his own business.

He later joined the Royal African Company and rose up the ranks to Deputy Governor.

The Company had complete control of Britain’s slave trade, as well as its gold and Ivory business, with Africa and the forts on the coast of west Africa.

During his tenure at the Company his ships transported around 80,000 slaves from Africa to the Caribbean and America.

Around 20,000 of them, including around 3,000 or more children, died during the journeys. 

Colston’s brother Thomas supplied the glass beads that were used to buy the slaves.

Colston became the Tory MP for Bristol in 1710 but stood only for one term, due to old age and ill health.

He used a lot of his wealth, accrued from his extensive slave trading, to build schools and almshouses in his home city.

A statue was erected in his honour as well as other buildings named after him, including Colston Hall.

However, after years of protests by campaigners and boycotts by artists the venue recently agreed to remove all reference of the trader. 

On a statue commemorating Colston in Bristol, a plaque read: ‘Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city.’ 

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 sparked by the death of George Floyd in the US, the statue of Colston overlooking the harbour was torn down. 

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