Commission could rename Bristol roads named after Colston
STREETS which bear the names of people involved with the slave trade could be renamed by a commission being set up by the city council.
The commission of historians and other academics will help decide whether controversial figures such as Edward Colston should continue to be commemorated on public buildings and road names.
The announcement has been made by Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees following the toppling of the statue of Colston in the city centre during Sunday’s Black Lives Matter protest, images of which were shared around the world.
In the Fishponds area there are a number of places named after Colston, most notably Colston’s School in Stapleton, which was set up by Colston himself. The school, which is independent, has said its name “does not always sit comfortably” with “very inclusive and diverse” community. In a statement this week headmaster Jeremy McCullough said the prospect of changing the school’s name was “something that we are looking at again”.
The power to rename streets – such as Colston Hill, next to the school in Stapleton, and Colston Dale, off Blackberry Hill – rests with the council.
Other public places bearing Colston’s name in the area include Colston Weir, on the river Frome between Snuff Mills and Eastville, and Colston’s Field, at Bell Hill.
The group will include experts from Bristol University and UWE. It is set to gather a wide range of views from the public in the wake of the dumping of Colston’s statue in the Floating Harbour, which sparked celebration from some Bristolians – and anger from others.
Colston, who died in 1721, left his fortune to fund philanthropic projects in the city, including almshouses, schools and churches.
But he had amassed his wealth through his involvement in the Royal Africa Company, which transported an estimated 84,000 African men, women and children to the Caribbean as slaves. Around 19,000 did not survive the journey.
Talks are taking place with divers to retrieve the statue, which will be placed in a city museum along with placards from the demonstration, although the costs and timescale have yet to be determined.
Announcing the new commission at a fortnightly media briefing today, Mr Rees also defended his decision not to have used executive powers previously to order the monument’s removal.
He said the academics would research and share “Bristol’s true history” to help the city better understand its story and how its future should look.
The members of the commission have not yet been decided on.
“This is a huge moment, whether you support the statue being torn down and thrown into the harbour, whether it fills you with concern or uncertainty or whether you oppose it and believe it’s a horrific thing to do,” Mr Rees said.
“Our challenge now is to hold those different experiences of Bristol together – those who are celebrating, those in fear or those in anger by it – that we make sure we are a city that can try to find some common ground.
“That doesn’t mean we get everyone to the same view, it means we create a city in which people have the ability to live with differences.
“Either way we need to find a way forward.
“We are pulling together a group of historians drawing on the intellectual firepower of our two universities to review Bristol’s history.
“This is not political or emotional, it’s about good history and good academics to look at Bristol, our monuments, our (place) names and how we understand, communicate and celebrate our history.
“How the city then begins to grapple with that is the next stage on.”
He said the commission would help people understand the key events that have shaped Bristol and “how we have become who we are today”.
“The weekend’s events compel us to launch that piece of work,” Mr Rees said.
“It is about equipping the city with city events, city themes, our self-awareness, to make sure we have informed conversations about using public spaces.
“Then off the back of that we can hopefully decide as a city what we want to do with that space.”
Mr Rees, Europe’s first directly elected black mayor, said he had not ordered the statue’s removal previously because his administration had other priorities in tackling inequality.
“I cannot condone criminal damage but I would never say the statue was anything but an affront to me. I have no sense of loss,” Bristol’s mayor said.
“I wish it had come down years ago.
“My commitment has been on inequality within Bristol and affordable homes, feeding programmes, children’s mental health, tackling childhood poverty, period poverty.
“Taking this statue down was not top of our priorities.
“It was those real substantial issues that underlie society that have left black communities and all poor communities disproportionately vulnerable to the consequences of Covid-19.
“Real issues of substance in the city are not solved by me taking the statue down.
“To enter into the debate and the contest over the statute would have been an all-consuming political act.
“You can anticipate the amount of political heat there would have been if I had entered into taking that statue down, heat that would have taken our energies away from tackling issues of substance.”
A statement from Mr McCullough issued by Colston’s School (pictured above) this week said: “The name and statue of Edward Colston have been divisive topics in Bristol for a very long time and we are conscious that different people have different thoughts on whether statues should be removed or names changed.
“Colston’s School, unlike the statue that was recently torn down, was not named in honour of Edward Colston. The statue was erected by the people of Bristol over a hundred years after his death and, at a time, when the slave trade had been abolished. This school was actually founded by him in 1710 and was in operation during his lifetime.
“There is no doubt that the funds he used to establish the school will have come, at least in part, from the abhorrent and brutal trade in human lives that caused such misery worldwide. The name of our school, therefore, does not always sit comfortably with the very inclusive and diverse nature of our school community and is something that we have reviewed regularly. It is not a change that could or should be taken lightly, or indeed made overnight, but it is certainly something that we are looking at again.
“The view of the school community has tended towards the desire to educate about what Colston did and to do our very best to ensure that our students understand how they can play an active part in making the world a better place. Indeed, we see that as one of our responsibilities. We teach our children explicitly about the Atlantic slave trade and Edward Colston’s role in this. We also teach about modern day slavery and work hard to develop young people who are inclusive and open to others.
“Many millions of people have been deeply affected by the events in the USA, across the UK and in Bristol these past few weeks and the school was already engaging with its community to see how we could contribute positively to these discussions and the anti-racist agenda. Events of Sunday afternoon brought this even closer to home.
“We are committed to supporting our BAME students, their families, our colleagues and other stakeholders.
“We will continue, through the education we provide, to play our part in bringing about an end to all forms of prejudice that impact on so many people in Bristol and across the world.”
By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service