Thoughts on slavery.

Going to let you join me on my early morning Monday walk and share my thoughts on the events of yesterday when a statue of Edward Colston was toppled and thrown into Bristol’s Floating Harbour.

The action followed years of debate regarding the merchant’s role in the slave trade.

Should we in Bath look to our own history?



  1. I feel the protesters scored an own goal putting Colston’s statue into the harbourl. It would be easy to remove all trace of the old slave owners and airbrush them out of view. They should remain as a salutary warning to us all. A plaque at the base of the statue reminding us of where this wealth came from would be a more intelligent approach. Should we bulldoze Belsen?

  2. The City of Nantes has lead the way for us. Like Bristol, it was a port integral with the triangle of sea trade involving slavery. They have a “Memorial de L’Abolition de l’Esclavage” dedicated to abolitionists and victims of the Atlantic slave trade. There is also a very moving section of the museum devoted to this aspect of the city’s history.
    in my view the empty base of Colstons Statue should be left, with a small plaque explaining how and why the statue was removed – this is part of our social history now.

  3. I totally agree with Mr Spurling. Statues represent history. How can people ever learn about it unless the statues remain as evidence of past deeds or misdeeds.

  4. It’s a shame that no one could agree over 20 years, I believe, to do something constructive such as a large information board/plaque denoting he was a major slaver of people. Politics has been shown up as somewhat deficit whenever moral emergencies are urgently required to be acted upon.

    I just see it as the same as the Berlin Wall being chopped down, or statues of dictators being pulled down.

    There should now be a type of information installation put up, well-lit (solar panels) and Colston Hall should now be re-named as a matter of urgency.

    Alan Summers

  5. I so agree with Martin Spurling…education is the key here…our children and grandchildren need to be educated in how dangerous it is NOT to confront and recognise things that happened in the past that we no longer find acceptable – by doing away with them there is a danger that they get forgotten…..and then History repeats itself. As Richard says the problem with the Colston statue is that the Council never really got to grips with resolving how the issue should be dealt with – so hardly surprising that some people decided to take action themselves. I am just glad that no one was hurt yesterday.

  6. What we saw in Bristol – and in London, with the moronic daubings on the Cenotaph and the Churchill statue – was saddening and horrifying, as was the inability or unwillingness of the police to a) stop it or b) arrest those responsible.

    Nobody can condone the 18th century slave trade, the profits from which enriched in one way or another just about every part of England. But it cannot be written out of history – not least by an angry Woke mob – just because we find it offensive. Neither can the fact that Britain was the first country to ban the trade in the early 19th century – and enforced the ban against Spanish slave ships in the mid-Atlantic – be torn out of the history books. Perhaps that’s something not known these days to history graduates?

    What began as legitimate protests against police brutality in the States has been exploited at best by virtue-signallers and at worst by groups intent, especially in the US, on looting, arson and rioting – forms of protest never, ever, condoned by Martin Luther King.

  7. Thank you for your thought-provoking piece this morning, Richard. I agree with several of the points above, but particularly with Jacky Wilkinson’s and Alan Summer’s. I do think that retaining the statue of Colston sent the wrong message – statues are generally erected to commemorate people who have enriched our culture artistically, morally, spiritually, and sometimes, unfortunately/fortunately, militarily, and presumably to serve as inspiration to future generations. When we re-evaluate our history, this needs to be reflected in those memorials to our history. Colston’s enormous philanthropy cannot whitewash the origin of his wealth. The statue would have been better removed years ago, maybe to one of Bristol’s museums with historical context and explanation, leaving a plaque on its plinth with similar.

  8. A statue and a plaque are the same: they are commemorative, not celebratory. We can’t deny our history but we can offer food for thought to the passersby, be it with a statue or a plaque.
    In addition, slave traders were respected personalities of their time. Today we have different values and we read history in a different way but in other historical moment people had different views. I woudn’t suggest to dedicate a new statue to Colston but if a statue is already there I don’t feel the urge to remove it.

  9. Isn’t your suggested new name for the Colston Hall a little presumptuous?
    It feels to me as though redemption for Colston’s terrible crimes could only be granted by those who were harmed originally, their descendants and by extension, Bristol’s black community, in whose name – I’d guess – yesterday’s toppling took place.

    Should the extensive renaming consultation process (delayed by covid-19) produce a less than universally welcomed proposal – as with the fiasco over the phraseology of the proposed statue plaque – I’d instead offer just a minor reworking of the existing name to “Colston the Slave Trader Hall” which could be shortened to either Colston Hall or the Slave Trader’s Hall depending on your perspective.

    It also strikes me that the rebuilt cellars would be a fitting site for a permanent slavery exhibit to help educate future generations.

  10. What about a universal symbol (something abstract like the WHS symbol) that could be attached to edifices everywhere in brass or carved stone to denote that they were funded by people who profited from the slave trade? Something visible but in keeping with the building to which it was attached. It would significantly raise awareness if you realised you were seeing it on prominent buildings everywhere you went. A small ceremony with appropriate persons could attend the affixing of plaques, the same way that happens with blue plaques (only more sombre of course).

  11. Very thought provoking – and many of the responses hit the nail on the head – prevarication – by the Merchant Venturers in Bristol and by Oriel College – excellent interview with Chris Patten this morning. Mainly white male enclaves dragging their feet until something inevitable like this happens. I do think Bath has had its head in the sand for far too long – this is a significant part of Bath’s history and needs to be told and opened up for discussion. I don’t think many cities, if any, can claim not to have profited from the slave trade, but Bath’s raison d’etre was principally providing enjoyment and fine living for the rich and leisured classes, which does not sit easily.

  12. Just because it was once felt a person should be glorified it doesn’t mean attitudes don’t change. If that is the case, their statue may be suited to a museum/aquarium than as part of our urban fabric.

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