Edward Colston statue should remain in a museum, public survey results say

A report commissioned after the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down in Bristol has recommended it stays on display in a museum.

A survey to gather people's views was launched last summer and almost 14,000 people responded to it. Just over half of those people were from Bristol.

People were asked about what they thought should happen to the statue, its plinth, and how the city could remember the historic events.

A report by We Are Bristol History Commission says 56% of respondents felt positive about the statue being pulled down on June 7, 2020. For Bristol respondents, that rose to 65%.

While attitudes by ethnicity, where people lived in the city and gender were all very similar - age is where opinions differed the most. Younger people were more positive about the statue coming down than older people.

The history commission's report recommends the statue become a permanent part of Bristol's museum collection after 80% of the Bristolians who took part said it should remain in a museum.

Of those who did not support it being displayed in a museum, 16% called for it to be put back on the plinth and a small number said it should be destroyed.

The report also recommends the plinth and original plaques should remain in place and a new plaque be installed to explain why the statue was first put up and when it was taken down. Of the Bristol residents who replied, 71% supported adding a plaque.

The statue of Edward Colston was pushed into Bristol harbour after being toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

Professor Shawn Sobers, member of the We Are Bristol History Commission, said thesurvey shows "the past matters to people and is relevant in their lives".

He added: "Honest engagement with the city's past is something that people want to see happen, whatever their views on the statue.”

The We Are Bristol History Commission

Co-Chair of the We Are Bristol History Commission Joanna Burch-Brown said: “How canwe address this history in a way that is uplifting and brings people together?

"A key is to connect across generations. Many older people have been feeling there should be more respect for law and tradition, and that the pace of change is too quick.

"Many younger people feel there is a need for change, and for more equality. There are positive intentions behind both views.

"We would love to see people of different ages coming together to spend time connecting through stories and histories.”

A consultaion is to take place to decide what will replace the Edward Colston Statue Credit: ITV News West Country

What next for Colston? The report's key findings

1) That the Colston statue enters the permanent collection of the Bristol City Council Museums service.

2) That the statue is preserved in its current state and the opportunity to reflect this in the listing description is explored with Historic England.

3) That the statue is exhibited, drawing on the principles and practice of the temporary M Shed display where the statue was lying horizontally. Attention should be paid to presenting the history in a nuanced, contextualised and engaging way including information on the broader history of the enslavement of people of African descent.

4) That the plinth, along with the original plaques remains in place and that a new plaque is installed that briefly and factually explains when and why the statue was put up and taken down.

The wording is suggested to be: “On 13 November 1895, a statue of Edward Colston (1636 - 1721) was unveiled here celebrating him as a city benefactor. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, the celebration of Colston was increasingly challenged given his prominent role in the enslavement of African people. On 7 June 2020, the statue was pulled down during Black Lives Matter protests and rolled into the harbour. Following consultation with the city in 2021, the statue entered the collections of Bristol City Council’s museums"

5) That the conservation Area Character Appraisal is updated to include a) the events of 7 June 2020, b) this process of engagement, and c) the decision to locate the statue within Bristol City Council Museums service.

6) That the city think creatively about the empty plinth and its immediate vicinity. That funding is sought from public and private sources to commission temporary artworks and activities - e.g digital or physical form around the plinth.

The report will now be considered by Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees and the recommendations will need approving at the Cabinet meeting in April.