In modern Bristol, Edward Colston is a name that cannot be ignored. He is a major historical figure who symbolises the vast wealth that was accumulated in Bristol during the 17th and 18th Centuries. However, he is also a major representative of Bristol's involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and, as a consequence, the name of Edward Colston has become synonymous with the cruelty and horror of this period in the history of Bristol as well as generosity and benevolence.
There are many buildings, streets etc that bear the Colston name: There is Colston Street, The Colston Hall, Colstons' Schools and even a Colston Bun.
But who was Edward Colston ?
Edward Colston was the son of a wealthy merchant born in Bristol in 1636. He made his money initially by trading with Spain and other Mediterranean countries. However, although he went to great lengths to keep it a secret, Colston became a member of the Royal African Company in 1680 and took a very active part in the planning and financing of slaving ventures to Africa, his name appearing in the company records for 11 years.
Although closely involved with the slave trade, Colston was a popular benefactor to the City of Bristol, providing money for various charities throughout his life despite the fact that he lived in London from the time he was 18 until his death.
Controversially, a statue raised by the Victorian citizens in his honour in 1885 has recently (2020) been removed by protestors and will now reside in a Bristol Museum ( MShed) where Colston's role can be more clearly defined. The Colston Hall, one of Bristol's primary concert venues, is also in the process of being renamed.
Without doubt, Edward Colston had a major role to play in the development of the wealth of Bristol in the 17th Century. However he, along with many other Bristol traders, had a very dark and hidden side to their business endeavours.