Bristol Cathedral, Edward Colston and slavery

On 22 February, Bristol Cathedral issued the following Press statement in relation to press stories this week about the Colston Hall concert venue in Bristol, named after Edward Colston (1636-1721), who was a local wealthy merchant and was complicit in the slave trade. The Dean also gave an interview to Premier, here.

Press statement – Bristol, Edward Colston and slavery

The Dean of Bristol has responded to press stories this week about the Colston Hall concert venue in Bristol, which is named after Edward Colston (1636-1721), who was a local wealthy merchant and was complicit in the slave trade.  A local group, Countering Colston, has been campaigning for the reference to Colston to be removed from the venue’s name as part of a restoration project.  The Bristol Music Trust and Bristol City Council, who are jointly responsible for the venue, have responded to the group’s concerns with a statement saying they would review the name as part of their redevelopment programme.

Colston left a financial legacy which was used to found and fund a number of schools and charitable organisations in the city, and which still have a connection with his name today.  Some of those schools hold services in the Cathedral and the Dean and Chapter have engaged with the Countering Colston group, who were concerned that the services celebrated Colston’s life.  The Dean and Chapter have listened to those concerns and worked with the schools to ensure that the services do not celebrate Colston’s memory and to make sure his role in slavery is understood and condemned.

The Dean of Bristol, the Very Rev’d David Hoyle, said “Opposition to slavery is dead simple.  Slavery is wicked and evil”.  He also said:

‘The campaigners are quite rightly pointing out that Colston has an association with the evils of slavery and that it is inappropriate for us in this day and age to be celebrating his memory.  I have some sympathy with their aims and objectives.’

The Cathedral is engaged in a number of initiatives supporting social justice and opposing both historic and modern-day slavery. The Dean and Chapter support the work of ‘Unseen’, the local charity addressing trafficking issues, and the Cathedral is a member of the Anti-Slavery Partnership, which includes the Police, Local Authority and other partners. The Cathedral hosted an exhibition of Sokhari Douglas Camp’s sculptures ‘All the World is now Richer’ which consisted of larger-than-lifesized figures in tin who were emblematic of those who have survived slavery.  And later this year it will host a ‘Journey to Justice’ exhibition which highlights and celebrates civil and social justice movements across the world.

The Dean also acknowledged the difficulty of eradicating Colston’s memory from the city, and the complexity of trying to judge a society and a time so far removed from our own, and to present history in an appropriate manner.  He said:

‘What is important, when it comes to the physical legacy of the past, is how we tell the stories about those objects and what they mean.  The Cathedral and the city have a long term relationship, and part of our role is to act as a mirror, reflecting the city back to itself, and vice versa.  At time with issues like slavery that can be a difficult conversation, but it is one that must be had.  On occasions, like the annual Sunday service, when we remember the abolition of the slave trade, we tell the story of our mistakes through objects like the stained glass  which was given by Colston, and reflect on those issues, which are still so alive and prevalent in the city of Bristol today.  These objects can remind us of what went wrong, and encourage us to not repeat the same mistakes.  We know, from our engagement with Unseen that slavery is still alive in our city.  It is this modern injustice that the Dean and Chapter, the local community, and all of us individually need to recognise and act against.’

Background notes:

The ‘Journey to Justice’ exhibition will run in the Chapter House in October.   For further information on Unseen and the Anti-Slavery Partnership, go to and

Contact details: Wendy Matthews, – 0117 946 8172


Links to  media comment are included in the Church of England Daily Media Digest here and here.

With thanks to Simon Sarmiento for the link

Update, 6 May 2021

Bristol Cathedral is seeking to appoint a Research Partner to undertake an audit of the Cathedral monuments, to contribute to the data held by Bristol Cathedral regarding those who are memorialised in the Cathedral, with particular reference to their links to transatlantic slave trafficking. The contract is for six months full time, or 12 months part time, and the deadline for submission is 5.00pm, Monday 24 May 2021. The Consultant Brief is here

With thanks to Adrian Hilton for highlighting this development. 

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Bristol Cathedral, Edward Colston and slavery" in Law & Religion UK, 24 February 2017,

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