His statue has been daubed in paint, yarn-bombed and regularly accessorised with a traffic cone.
Edward Colston’s newest adornment will be a plaque that for the first time will acknowledge his role in the transatlantic slave trade.
Following a lengthy consultation process, the proposed words of the plaque that will be attached to the stone pedestal at the base of the statue have been revealed:
“As a high official of the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692, Edward Colston played an active role in the enslavement of over 84,000 Africans (including 12,000 children) of whom over 19,000 died en route to the Caribbean and America. Colston also invested in the Spanish slave trade and in slave-produced sugar. As Tory MP for Bristol (1710-1713), he defended the city’s ‘right’ to trade in enslaved Africans. Bristolians who did not subscribe to his religious and political beliefs were not permitted to benefit from his charities.”
The decision to add a plaque to the statue – erected more than 180 years after Colston’s death – was agreed in January by cabinet member for spatial planning and city design, Nicola Beech.
In their heritage and design statement, Bristol City Council’s City Design Group said that “the over-riding need is to provide a better historic context for the statue that explains some of the background to the man and his business interests so the Bristolians and visitors can view the statue with more understanding”.
UWE Bristol associate professor of history, Madge Dressor, was commissioned to create the text for the plaque.
With funding from Historic England’s Heritage Schools programme, Myers-Insole Local Learning CIC held a series of workshops about Colston and a potential new plaque with students from Colston Primary School.
Year 6 pupils interviewed a number of people to explore the themes around Colston, connections to slavery
and the role of the statue in a modern Bristol, as a starting point to decide the plaque’s wording.
The experts who were interviewed by groups of pupils were:
- Madge Dresser, author of Slavery Obscured and chair of Journey to Justice
- Marie-Annick Gournet, inclusivity and diversity adviser
- Edson Burton, writer and historian
- Francis Greenacre, art historian and member of the Society of Merchant Venturers
- Sarah Robertson, communications & special projects director at the Colston Hall
- Katie Swainson Price, chair of governors at Colston Primary School
- Pete Insole, principal historic environment officer at Bristol City Council
Dresser worked on the text in consultation with Ruth Myers, Pete Insole and Roger Ball of the Countering Colston group who has undertaken extensive research into Colston’s trade dealings.