A leading concert venue in Bristol named after slave trader Edward Colston has been renamed as Bristol Beacon after decades of debate and the refusal of some artists to perform there.
Bristol Music Trust said that the new name for Colston Hall would be a “symbol of hope and community, a focal point for music in the city, a gathering space, illuminating the way ahead”.
The venue, which stands on Colston Street, was founded 150 years after Colston’s death, with no financial investment or direct link to the man or his wealth.
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After the bronze statue of Colston, erected in 1895, was toppled by participants during the city’s Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June and thrown into the harbour, the Trust pledged to announce a new name by Autumn.
The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix are among the famous acts to have performed at the venue but many ordinary Bristolians have never visited because of the name.
The campaign group Countering Colston began lobbying outside the venue in 2016, writing facts about Colston’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade in chalk on the pavement outside.
Bristol group Massive Attack refused to perform at the concert hall while it bore the name of the slave trader, whose company transported more than 100,000 people from west Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas between 1672 and 1689. Unhygienic conditions, dehydration, dysentery and scurvy killed more than 20,000 during the crossings.
In July, The Streets’ Mike Skinner said he “shouldn’t have played at” the venue.
Louise Mitchell, chief executive of Bristol Music Trust said in 2017 that the name was “toxic”.
A divisive change
Announcing the new name today, she said: “Since we announced this intention, it is fair to say that it has been quite a rough ride. Not everyone agreed with the decision to change. We were accused of seeking to erase and censor history. We were told that we were wrong to use the morals of today to judge the actions of the past. It is an issue that continues to provoke strong views on every side.
“The truth is, the organisaton and the city can’t continue to be held back by this historic association. The name has meant that the building is a place where some have felt unwelcome or that they did not belong, be they artists or audiences. And very simply, if we can’t be for everyone, something has to change.”
The mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, who is of British and Jamaican heritage, added that there are people in Bristol who dislike the Colston name, people who are indifferent, and people who are dismayed by the name change, because they feel the name Colston represents their Bristol.
Colston was Bristol’s biggest philanthropist and his name can still be found on an office tower, schools and streets in the city.
The charitable Bristol Music Trust – which has been responsible for the management of the venue and the city’s music education hub since it was established in 2011 – declared in April 2017 that the venue would be renamed as part of the multi-million pound transformation that is in progress.
A consultation process involving 4,000 people from communities across the city was delayed owing to the coronavirus outbreak.