Bristol University could rename seven buildings linked to slave trade - including Wills Memorial

Wills Memorial building on the Clifton Triangle in the centre of Bristol is named after Henry Overton Wills III

Bristol University could rename some of its buildings due to their links with the transatlantic slave trade.

Wills Memorial Building, Goldney Hall and the Fry Building are among the seven buildings which could be affected.

Staff, students and people in Bristol are being asked to take part in a public consultation which is open until 19 December.

It comes after the university published its 'Legacies of Slavery' report which examines its links to the slave trade.

The report says the founding of the university was financially supported and made possible by individuals whose families had directly or indirectly profited from the products of the slave trade.

There are four families mentioned in the report - the Wills, the Frys, the Colstons and the Goldneys.

It says: "Halls of residence are named after both the Goldney and Wills families, and several other buildings and facilities across the university’s campuses bear the name of either the Wills or the Frys.

"The nature of the link between each of these families and the university is different, with the memorialisation of the Wills and Frys reflecting financial connections to the institution, and that of the Colstons and Goldneys being symbolic."

These are the Bristol University buildings which could be renamed...

Wills Memorial Building, HH Wills Physics Laboratories, Wills Hall and Dame Monica Wills Chapel

These four buildings could all be renamed due to their links to the Wills family.

The report says the family could be considered as the "founding family" of the university due to the "volume of cash and other resources that they poured into the institution over its first 50 years".

While the Wills family were not slave owners or slave traders, they got a substantial proportion of their wealth by selling tobacco which was produced by slaves.

The family later supported the campaign to abolish slavery.

Arguably the most famous of the four buildings bearing their name is Wills Memorial which was built to honour Henry Overton Wills III after he donated money to set up the university in 1909.

He got a substantial proportion of his wealth by trading tobacco grown on plantations of the US South, where slaves made up the majority of the workforce until 1865.

Fry Building

The University's Mathematics building is named after the Fry family who donated land and funds for the school's founding Credit: Google

The Fry family famously made their fortune through chocolate, setting up their factory in Bristol in the 18th century.

The report says there can be "little doubt" that the chocolate the Frys processed was produced from ingredients cultivated by slaves until 1833.

Like the Wills family, the Frys later supported the campaign to abolish slavery.

Merchant Venturers Building

The Merchant Venturer's building could also be renamed. Credit: Google

As a city, Bristol played a key role in the slave trade and this started through the Society of Merchant Venturers.

The society held significant commercial sway in Bristol, effectively controlling imports and exports for some 250 years.

While not all of the society's members were directly involved in the slave trade, it is well documented that most members would have benefitted from it.

Slave trader Edward Colston is arguably the society's most famous members, having been a senior figure and investor in the Royal African Company which pioneered the British slave trade.

Following the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol in 2020, many organisations have chosen to remove his name from their institution - including schools and venues.

Goldney Hall

The Goldney family is known to have had a long association with mercantile trade in Bristol, and family connections to the Society of Merchant Venturers.

Records show Thomas Goldney II was involved in funding several sea voyages associated with the trafficking of enslaved Africans.

Goldney Hall is one of the most sought after student accommodations at the University of Bristol Credit: Google

'Not an Ivory tower'

The report concluded by saying: "It is not the university’s role to solve all problems that the city of Bristol is facing but it needs to openly demonstrate that it is committed to working on the recommendations.

"The University of Bristol will thus demonstrate that is not an ‘ivory tower’, and that it is indeed attuned to local, national and international imperatives and can contribute to positive change."

Staff, students and people in Bristol are now being asked to share their thoughts as part of a public online consultation that will run until 19 December on what should happen with the buildings.

The consultation will look to hear from the public first, with the university saying no decision has yet been made and that it "is open to hearing all views before taking any next steps".

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