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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Bristol

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Immigration and Emigration
Legacies of the Slave Trade


Statue of Edward Colston
Colston's statue in Bristol is controversial.
© Dean Smart
Elsewhere in the city, and more controversially, there are streets, almshouses, an office block and schools, as well as the City owned concert hall, all named after Edward Colston (1636-1721). He was a rich merchant who was Bristol born, but who spent much of his life away from the city. In his later life he was generous in supporting charities and good causes.

The Victorian citizens of Bristol were so proud of their past benefactor that they erected a statue of Colston in the heart of the city. Today some Bristolians are not sure if it is appropriate to have a statue honouring someone who benefited heavily from the slave trade, and they are even less comfortable with having educational establishments named after Colston. Certainly many Bristolians have strong opinions on the matter, and every so often the heated debate re-emerges in the local press.

Coming to terms with the past

As part of the process of acknowledging the city’s guilt in benefiting from the trade in Africans and their labour, a recently built footbridge was named Pero’s Bridge in memory of a man of African origin who had been brought to Bristol as the personal valet of John Pinney, part of a wealthy local family which held plantations on the Caribbean island of Nevis. For many this is an important first step in acknowledging the Black contribution to Bristol’s wealth.

Pero's Bridge
Pero's Bridge, recently named in memory of an African-born man brought to England by John Pinney.
© Dean Smart
The City Museum Service are heavily involved, alongside the recently opened Empire and Commonwealth Museum, in looking at how the story of Bristol and the slave trade can best be remembered and interpreted. In the 1980s a self-guided tour of Bristol was written, listing sites which were linked to the slave trade.

When some school children were asked recently about what they thought about Bristol’s recent attempts to acknowledge the City’s involvement with slavery, they said it was good to study such things, however unpleasant, “because it was the truth” and should not be forgotten.

Words: Dean Smart

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