Header image logo for 'The Colston Statue: What Next?' display. (© Marton Gosztonyi)

The Colston Statue: What next?

This temporary display is the start of a conversation, not a complete exhibition.

The survey has now closed.

The results are being analysed and initial findings will be included in a report written by the We Are Bristol History Commission by early 2022.

The Mayor will then use those findings to make a decision about the future of the statue. The responses will also be archived and made accessible as a resource for those who wish to learn about this event in Bristol’s history.

Introduction

There were protests around the world after the filmed murder of George Floyd, whilst being arrested in America. All Black Lives Bristol organised a protest against police brutality and racial inequality. On 7 June 2020, an estimated 10,000 people gathered in Bristol.

Protestors pulled down a statue of Edward Colston, graffitied it and threw it into the harbour. Four days later, Bristol City Council retrieved it. Museum conservators stabilised the condition and preserved the graffiti.

The Mayor of Bristol then established the We Are Bristol History Commission. Their role is to build an improved shared understanding of the city’s story. This is their first advisory project as a group.

Caption: Statue of Colston falling to the ground (© David Griffiths)

Photo of statue of Colston falling to the ground (© David Griffiths)

June 2020 protests

There has been public debate about Colston’s legacy and Bristol’s involvement in the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans for decades.

The 2020 protest achieved what many anti Colston campaigns had not. The statue was removed and became worldwide news.

It became part of a fierce debate about racial and class inequality, the past, and who is remembered in public space.

Caption: Placards left at the plinth of the Colston statue (©Bristol City Council)

Placards left at the plinth of the Colston statue (©Bristol City Council)
Statue of Winston Churchill, guarded by police in high vis jackets.

Churchill statue, 2021 (© Catherine Wylie/PA Media)

Photo of large scale graffiti on the side of a building. Painting is of a woman with a raised right fist. She wears a beret. 'BRISTOL RISE UP STAND TALL' is written above her head. Painted in purples, blues and pinks. Empty cycle racks are in the foreground.

Jen Reid graffiti, 2021 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

Large painted wall on a sunny day. The wall is painted with a black background with white writing, and yellow lines. Writing states ‘As a black person in the UK….’ ‘Black Lives Matter’ is painted at the other end.

Jamaica Street graffiti by Lanie Rose, June 2020 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

'Glad Colston's Gone' and a paper cup of tea with lots of hearts is displayed in a window. It is dark outside and the building light is on.

Malcolm X Centre, 2021 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

Black recycling box on a pavement. A cardboard sign on the box says ‘Suggestion box- a new name for Colston Road?’ Above it, the street name has been taped over with blue tape.

Colston Road, Easton, June 2020 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

Black resin statue of a woman with her right hand held in a fist above her head. Trees in the background.

Marc Quinn sculpture of Jen Reid, 2020 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

Building with scaffolding to the right, and a van parked outside. There are bright yellow building hoardings and a cherry picker. The building’s sign has been removed.

Colston Hall/ Bristol Beacon 2020 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

Statue of a man with a walking stick, in an urban area. The statue’s head is covered in bright yellow foam tubes, in a roughly spherical shape.

Morley Statue intervention by Duncan McKellar, 2021 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

Blue poster with bright pink writing, on a noticeboard, behind cracked glass. ‘I CHEERED/ I DANCED/ I SHOUTED/ I TOPPLED COLSTON’/ 10,000 PEOPLE IN BRISTOL TOPPLED COLSTON/ On Monday 25th January, 4 people charged with criminal damage for removal of the Colston Statue have their first court hearing at 9.30am at Bristol./ Solidarity with the Colston 4’.

Poster in St. Paul’s, 2021 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

Cardboard protest placards on the ground, with candles and flowers. Main placard reads ‘10 years for a statue, 5 years for a rape’.

Reclaim the Streets protest, 2021 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

Press coverage of Countering Colston’s campaign to disband the Merchant Venturers, July 2020 (© Bristol Post)

Press coverage of Countering Colston’s campaign to disband the Merchant Venturers, July 2020 (© Bristol Post)

Photo of 'All lives matter' protesters, stood around the Bristol Cenotaph.

All Lives Matter protest at the Cenotaph (© Martin Booth/ Bristol 24/7)

Cardboard protest placards on grass, with flower tributes. Main placard reads ‘Protect women not statues’.

Reclaim the Streets protest, 2021 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

Daily Mail newspaper cover. Top left is a photo of a statue of Winston Churchill, with ‘is a racist’ under his name. Top right is a photo of Colston’s statue being lowered into Bristol Harbour by a crowd of people. Headline reads ‘LAWLESS AND RECKLESS’.

Daily Mail headline, July 2020 (© Daily Mail)

Screenshot of the Independent newspaper online. Photo shows a statue hitting the harbour water, surrounded by a large crowd of people above. Headline reads ‘Throwing Edward Colston’s statue in the Avon was the cultural event of the year’.

Independent online, 2020 (© Independent)

Cartoon of statues of men on plinths, chained together. The statue of Edward Colston is being pulled down by hands in the bottom right corner of the image.

Statues cartoon (© Ingram Pinn/ Financial Times)

Black and white cartoon drawing of a small girl on the empty statue plinth of Colston, reading a book called ‘BRISTOL HISTORY’.

Colston history (© Jordan Collver)

Protest march in central Bristol. Placards read ‘PLEASE KEEP SOCIAL DISTANCE’ and ‘BLACK LIVES STILL MATTER’. A Black woman on the left of the photo holds a megaphone to her mouth. Most of the crowd wear medical face masks. All Black Lives Bristol protest, Oct 2020 (© Khali Ackford)

All Black Lives Bristol protest, Oct 2020 (© Khali Ackford)

Daily Mail and The Times front pages. Daily Mail headlines read ‘To erase our history, good or bad, makes me fear for our future’ and ‘TOPPLING THE PAST/ Dangling from a JCB, the statue of a slave-owning merchant is removed after 200 years by officials- as a cultural revolution explodes across Britain’. The Times headline is ‘Dozens of statues could topple over slavery links’. Both show the statue of Robert Milligan. (© Daily Mail/The Times)

Headlines (© Daily Mail/The Times)

Screenshot from www.nme.com. ‘’Colston’s presence is a metaphor for racism’: Bristol artists reckon with the city’s painful past.’ NME online (© NME)

NME online, June 2020 (© NME)

‘Advice for Colston topplers’ poster.

Poster in Easton (© Ruth Hecht)

Photograph of a jubilant Black man kneeling on a statue plinth, with a raised right fist. The plinth is surrounded by placards reading ‘EQUALITY’, ‘THE UK IS NOT INNOCENT’ and ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’.

Rob on plinth, June 2020 (© Shawn Sobers)

Beige, brown, white and grey poster design. ‘SUPPORT THE COLSTON FOUR’/ 9.30AM Bristol Magistrates Court/ Monday 25th Jan 2021’.

Colston Four poster (© Unknown)

White writing on a blue background. ‘Policy paper/ Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021: criminal damage to memorials factsheet/ Published 9 March 2021’.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021

Screenshot of an anonymised Twitter post. ‘Edward Colston’s statue has already been relocated on Google Maps’. Map shows ‘Statue of Edward Colston’ to be ‘closed’ and in the harbour. 10.8K retweets.

Twitter post, June 2020 (© Unknown)

Statue of Winston Churchill, guarded by police in high vis jackets.
Photo of large scale graffiti on the side of a building. Painting is of a woman with a raised right fist. She wears a beret. 'BRISTOL RISE UP STAND TALL' is written above her head. Painted in purples, blues and pinks. Empty cycle racks are in the foreground.
Large painted wall on a sunny day. The wall is painted with a black background with white writing, and yellow lines. Writing states ‘As a black person in the UK….’ ‘Black Lives Matter’ is painted at the other end.
'Glad Colston's Gone' and a paper cup of tea with lots of hearts is displayed in a window. It is dark outside and the building light is on.
Black recycling box on a pavement. A cardboard sign on the box says ‘Suggestion box- a new name for Colston Road?’ Above it, the street name has been taped over with blue tape.
Black resin statue of a woman with her right hand held in a fist above her head. Trees in the background.
Building with scaffolding to the right, and a van parked outside. There are bright yellow building hoardings and a cherry picker. The building’s sign has been removed.
Statue of a man with a walking stick, in an urban area. The statue’s head is covered in bright yellow foam tubes, in a roughly spherical shape.
Blue poster with bright pink writing, on a noticeboard, behind cracked glass. ‘I CHEERED/ I DANCED/ I SHOUTED/ I TOPPLED COLSTON’/ 10,000 PEOPLE IN BRISTOL TOPPLED COLSTON/ On Monday 25th January, 4 people charged with criminal damage for removal of the Colston Statue have their first court hearing at 9.30am at Bristol./ Solidarity with the Colston 4’.
Cardboard protest placards on the ground, with candles and flowers. Main placard reads ‘10 years for a statue, 5 years for a rape’.
Press coverage of Countering Colston’s campaign to disband the Merchant Venturers, July 2020 (© Bristol Post)
Photo of 'All lives matter' protesters, stood around the Bristol Cenotaph.
Cardboard protest placards on grass, with flower tributes. Main placard reads ‘Protect women not statues’.
Daily Mail newspaper cover. Top left is a photo of a statue of Winston Churchill, with ‘is a racist’ under his name. Top right is a photo of Colston’s statue being lowered into Bristol Harbour by a crowd of people. Headline reads ‘LAWLESS AND RECKLESS’.
Screenshot of the Independent newspaper online. Photo shows a statue hitting the harbour water, surrounded by a large crowd of people above. Headline reads ‘Throwing Edward Colston’s statue in the Avon was the cultural event of the year’.
Cartoon of statues of men on plinths, chained together. The statue of Edward Colston is being pulled down by hands in the bottom right corner of the image.
Black and white cartoon drawing of a small girl on the empty statue plinth of Colston, reading a book called ‘BRISTOL HISTORY’.
Protest march in central Bristol. Placards read ‘PLEASE KEEP SOCIAL DISTANCE’ and ‘BLACK LIVES STILL MATTER’. A Black woman on the left of the photo holds a megaphone to her mouth. Most of the crowd wear medical face masks. All Black Lives Bristol protest, Oct 2020 (© Khali Ackford)
Daily Mail and The Times front pages. Daily Mail headlines read ‘To erase our history, good or bad, makes me fear for our future’ and ‘TOPPLING THE PAST/ Dangling from a JCB, the statue of a slave-owning merchant is removed after 200 years by officials- as a cultural revolution explodes across Britain’. The Times headline is ‘Dozens of statues could topple over slavery links’. Both show the statue of Robert Milligan. (© Daily Mail/The Times)
Screenshot from www.nme.com. ‘’Colston’s presence is a metaphor for racism’: Bristol artists reckon with the city’s painful past.’ NME online (© NME)
‘Advice for Colston topplers’ poster.
Photograph of a jubilant Black man kneeling on a statue plinth, with a raised right fist. The plinth is surrounded by placards reading ‘EQUALITY’, ‘THE UK IS NOT INNOCENT’ and ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’.
Beige, brown, white and grey poster design. ‘SUPPORT THE COLSTON FOUR’/ 9.30AM Bristol Magistrates Court/ Monday 25th Jan 2021’.
White writing on a blue background. ‘Policy paper/ Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021: criminal damage to memorials factsheet/ Published 9 March 2021’.
Screenshot of an anonymised Twitter post. ‘Edward Colston’s statue has already been relocated on Google Maps’. Map shows ‘Statue of Edward Colston’ to be ‘closed’ and in the harbour. 10.8K retweets.

Timeline of events
1800's
1900's
1990's
2000's
2010's
06/20
07/20+

1867 to 1895

1636 to 1721: Edward Colston born 1636, died 1721

20 Sept 1867: Colston Hall opens. It receives no funding from Colston and is named after its location, Colston Street.

October 1893: A wealthy businessman called James Arrowsmith proposes a Colston statue as part of city centre redevelopments.

1894: Statue committee is set up to raise funds but it struggles to raise enough to have a statue made. ‘A Friend’ donates most of the money. Meanwhile, Sir W.H. Wills gives a statue of former M.P. Edmund Burke to the city.

13 November 1895: Colston statue is unveiled, 174 years after his death. The date is ‘Colston Day’, his annual commemoration.

Image caption: Opening ceremony of the statue of Colston (© Bristol Archives 40145/per 28/001/20)

Sepia image of the opening ceremony of the statue of Colston. Large crowd of people surround the statue, with some areas barriered off.

1920 to 1990

1920: Rev. H. J. Wilkins publishes a history of Colston, highlighting his role in the transatlantic traffic in Enslaved Africans, and his political and religious prejudices.

1934: In The Guide to Bristol, published in the year of the centenary of the implementation of the Slave Emancipation Act, all reference to Edward Colston is dropped.

1958 (March): The statue is moved slightly to the north of its original position when a new road layout is created in the centre.

1973: Derek Robinson publishes A Shocking History of Bristol. The book reveals Colston as a leading investor in the slave trade and questions his ongoing celebration in annual rituals.

Image caption: Book cover ‘A Shocking History of Bristol’ 1973 (© Derek Robinson)

Book cover ‘A Shocking History of Bristol’. Drawing of 3 enslaved people, kneeling and in chains. (© Derek Robinson)

1990's

May 1996: Bristol’s Festival of the Sea celebrates the city’s maritime past. There were complaints that it didn’t acknowledge Bristol’s role in the slave trade.

January 1998: ‘F**k off slave trader’ is painted across the Colston statue. It is the morning after an audience in St. Paul’s was told about Colston’s role in the Royal African Company, as part of a consultation for the city’s first major exhibition on Bristol and the slave trade.

Ray Sefia (then Bristol’s only Black Councillor) compares a statue of Colston to one of Hitler. It creates fierce debate in the local press.

1999: A Respectable Trade? Bristol & Transatlantic Slavery exhibition at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

Pero’s Bridge is named to honour Pero Jones, an enslaved man who lived in Bristol.

Image caption: ‘A Respectable Trade? Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery’ exhibition leaflet cover, 1999. (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

‘A Respectable Trade? Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery’ exhibition leaflet cover, 1999.

2000 to 2010

April 2000: Under the Bridge is shown on ITV. The 30 minute film highlights Bristol’s connection to the slave trade.

2000 to 2006: Bristol & Transatlantic Slavery display at Bristol Industrial Museum.

2006: Artist Hew Locke’s Restoration images displayed at St Thomas the Martyr Church, Bristol.

Image caption: Artist Hew Locke with his ‘Restoration’ images (© Guy Bell/ Alamy Live News)

2007: Breaking the Chains exhibition opens at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum.

September to October 2007 ‘Artists for a name change’ protests outside Colston Hall, when the venue was used to host Abolition 200 events.

2007: ‘Drops of blood’ (red paint) appear on the Colston plinth.

Artist Hew Locke stands between two of his large scale photographic artworks at 'Artist and Empire' Tate Britain exhibition, London, UK. 23 November 2015. On the left of the picture is a photo of the statue of Colston draped in gold embellishments. On the right of the picture is a photo of the statue of Burke draped in gold embellishments. (© Guy Bell/ Alamy Live News)

2010 to 2020

2015: Countering Colston campaign is launched to end Bristol’s celebration of Colston and to help decolonise Bristol.

May 2018: Knitted shackles are added to the statue by Faith M.

Image caption: Knitted shackles are added to the statue (© Faith M)

June 2018: Lord Mayor Cleo Lake removes a portrait of Edward Colston from her office.

18 October 2018: Anti Slavery Day commemoration Here and Now appears at the base of the statue.

2018 to 2019: Debate over the wording of an additional plaque to acknowledge Colston’s involvement in the slave trade. Disputes aren’t resolved so the plaque isn’t added.

February 2019: A Legacy Steering Group is formed under Cllr Asher Craig with the aim of publicly acknowledging the city’s role in the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans.

Edward Colston statue with a red woollen ball and chain added. Image caption: Knitted shackles are added to the statue (© Faith M)

June 2020

7 June 2020: Colston statue is pulled down, rolled along the road, and thrown into Bristol Harbour during an All Black Lives Bristol protest.

11 June 2020: Statue is retrieved from Bristol Harbour for the safety of vessels navigating the area.

Image Caption: Colston statue being brought up from Bristol harbour (© Bristol City Council)

16 June 2020: Grave of ‘Scipio Africanus’, a rare memorial to an enslaved African young man, vandalised in Henbury.

Colston statue hanging upside down, being brought up from Bristol harbour. It is painted in blue and red paint and has a tyre attached. Bridge in the background. Image Caption: Colston statue being brought up from Bristol harbour (© Bristol City Council)

July 2020 onwards

15 July 2020: Marc Quinn’s statue of Jen Reid installed on the plinth without permission. Removed the following day.

Image Caption: Marc Quinn sculpture of Jen Reid, 2020 (© Bristol Culture, M Shed)

September 2020: We Are Bristol History Commission is formed under Mayor Marvin Rees to build a better shared understanding of Bristol’s past.

December 2020: Four people charged with criminal damage to the statue.

Black resin statue of a woman with her right hand held in a fist above her head. Trees in the background.

Resources and more information

If you’d like know more of Bristol’s relationship with the Transatlantic Traffic in Enslaved Africans, please visit the displays in (Links open in new tab):

For more information online you can:

We’re always looking for more Black history stories, topics or subjects you’d like covered.
Let us know what display, story or exhibition we should document for the future.