Colston’s School changes name to sever ties with Bristol slave trader

‘We would prefer to have a name that is more relevant for the pupils and staff of today and tomorrow’

A prominent private school in Bristol set up by slave trader Edward Colston is set to change its name - to remove reference to him.

Announcing the move today (December 12), bosses at Colston’s School said it was now a ‘very different school’ to the one founded by the slave trader in 1710.

They said the pulling down of his statue meant his name would ‘forever be associated with the enslavement and deaths of African men, women and children’.

And they hoped a new name would ‘do more to reflect the values and ethos that the school stands for today’.

The decision follows a consultation launched shortly after Colston’s statue was pulled down in the summer of 2020 which received more than 2,500 responses.

More than 1,000 were from members of the public with no connection to the school.

A new name for Colston’s School, in Stapleton, will now be decided, with an announcement expected in the summer of next year.

Who was Edward Colston?

Edward Colston was born into a wealthy Bristol merchant’s family in 1636.

By 1672 he had his own business trading slaves, cloth, wine and sugar, with a significant proportion of his wealth derived from the slave trade.

He donated hospitals and churches to Bristol as well as founding two almshouses and a school.

He was also an MP in the city for a short time.

When and why was the statue pulled down?

174 years after Colston’s death, a statue designed by John Cassidy was erected on Colston Avenue to commemorate Colston’s philanthropy.

His slave-trading activities were uncovered in a biography of his life and work written by H.J. Wilkins in 1920, and since the 1990s there were growing calls for the statue to be marked with a plaque stating that he was a slave trader, or removed.

The statue was toppled and pushed into Bristol Harbour by frustrated demonstrators during the Black Lives Matter protests on June 7 2020.

The protests were sparked by the death of an African American man George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police in America.

The statue had been covered for the protest but was targeted by egg-throwers before the canvas covering it was torn off and ropesthrown around the head to pull it down.

The statue was pulled from the harbour four days later by Bristol City Council and taken to a secure location.

The toppling divided Bristol. Many were keen to see the city cut all links with the slave trader while others argued that Colston was seen as a ‘figurehead’ in Bristol and that the city’s history should not be erased.

In June this year, the statue was put on display in its damaged condition at the M Shed Museum, which stated ‘this temporary display is the start of a conversation, not a complete exhibition’.

What has happened since?

For years Massive Attack refused to play at their hometown venue Colston Hall, which in 2020 agreed to drop the slave trader’s name and change it to The Bristol Beacon.

Colston Girl’s School changed its name to Montpelier Grammar School following a consultation in 2020 with pupils and staff.

Briony May Williams, Great British Bake Off semi-finalist who was once Head Girl at the school, was part of the campaign to get the name changed.

She said: “When I was there, they told us about all the ‘good’ things Edward Colston had done for Bristol but nothing about his involvement in the slave trade. They left that out.”

In summer 2018, after consultation with pupils and parents, Colston Primary School renamed itself Cotham Gardens Primary School.

In February 2019, St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School announced that it would rename its Colston ‘school house’ after the American mathematician Katherine Johnson.

The Dolphin Society, which was formed to continue Colston’s philanthropy, now refers to ‘the evils of slavery’ and recognises that ‘black citizens in Bristol today can suffer disadvantage in terms of education, employment and housing for reasons that connect back to the days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade’.

What the school said

In the statement, the school said: “Colston’s School has borne the name of Edward Colston for over 300 years not because of any attempt at any stage to glorify or celebrate the man, but because Edward Colston paid for the school to be established in 1710 in order to prepare boys from ‘poor families’ for meaningful apprenticeships.

“His ‘hospital’, as it was called then, was established in a single house in the centre of Bristol during his lifetime and he visited the school when it was open.”

The school also clarified: “The school was not named after Colston, rather it was named by Colston.”

Nick Baker, chairman of governors at Colston’s School, said: “After a lengthy period of consultation, consideration, and reflection, it became clear that those with a closer connection to the school, would prefer to have a name that was more relevant for the pupils and staff of today and tomorrow.

“It is hoped that a new identity will do more to reflect the values and ethos that the school stands for today and to make it even more welcoming to the local community it serves.”