'It's about a feeling of belonging': Students' bid to rename Bristol buildings linked to slave trade

Goldney Hall Credit: BPM Media

Students are calling for two buildings named after a family linked to the slave trade at the University of Bristol to be renamed.

Hundreds of people have signed a petition demanding that Goldney House and Goldney Hall are rebranded, as they believe it goes against the "inclusive values" of the university.

The Goldneys were a prominent family in Bristol in the 17th and 18th centuries, and produced manillas - "bracelets" - and other brass objects that were used to acquire slaves in West Africa.

A recent study carried out by the university concluded that "there is clear evidence that the Goldney business empire involved the funding of sea voyages engaged in the trafficking of enslaved Africans, enabling the purchase and growth of the estate now under the ownership of the University".

Katie, the president of the university's history society, set up the petition and said she would like to see the buildings names changed.

She said: "Goldney was directly involved in the trade of enslaved Africans and the Goldney family profited off it, especially Thomas Goldney II, and Goldney did not contribute any money to the university. So, Goldney is not a part of the university's history."

The calls come after Black Lives Matter protesters pulled down a statue of merchant and slave trader Edward Colston in the centre of the city in 2020. The statue was then dumped into the city's harbour, after years of campaigning for it to be removed.

This led to both the city and the university to look more closely at their links to the slave trade. Schools, buildings and prominent venues, such as Colston Hall have since been renamed - with the newly titled Bristol Beacon opening last year.

The University of Bristol recently unveiled its new logo after removing Colston's emblem and replacing it with an open book.

It's part of a £10million Reparative Futures programme, which also included a year-long consultation about whether seven buildings should be renamed.

A statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into the harbour during the protest. Credit: PA Media

Defending the decision to change the logo, vice chancellor Evelyn Welch said: “Colston was not a donor to the university and had no relationship with the institution or its predecessors.”

She added that the university would keep the names of its buildings because a consultation found that people wanted to see real "action", rather than "performative" change.

Bristol University History Society - "Goldney and Colston are exactly the same"

Katie and hundreds of other students believe the Goldney family's links to the slave trade have been overlooked.

She said: "Goldney and Colston are exactly the same, but only Colston was removed. Colston was the focal point of Bristol's talk about its links with the history of enslaved people.

"[But] Goldney was really absent from it. And it's really important that we aren't just looking at Colston because it doesn't end with Colston - it really begins."

The university looked at whether buildings were named after families who had made a "major contribution to the university", and if they were "fundamentally at odds" with the university's values.

It found that Goldney House, which is mainly used for events and as a wedding venue, was named in 1705 and that the name was retained when it was taken over by the university.

It concluded it had not named the building to memorialise the Goldney family.

Students argue this means that the building fits the criteria for being renamed.

"It doesn't fit with the university's values of inclusivity and diversity," Katie said. "The fact it was called Goldney House was never a conscious decision, it was simply 'they were the past owners, we'll just inherit the name'. So in that criteria, it fits with renaming."

More than 275 people have now signed the petition calling on the university to rename the building, which states that this would " create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for all students and staff."

The petition adds: "We recognise that it is important not to forget, but instead to champion histories beyond those of an enslavers’ perspective."

"Some people obviously say it can be quite performative," Katie added. "But I think it's really important because it is so visual - and changing that is really saying 'we are moving on for the better, we are championing histories that we are proud of and we are most accurately representing our history'.

"I think its really [about] a feeling of belonging on campus, and knowing that these buildings represent the values that the university say they're valuing, and it's just bringing the community together. And we know there is a desire for change and a desire to rename Goldney."

University of Bristol: 'We will keep the name to represent our history most accurately'

In response, a spokesperson for the University of Bristol said: “Goldney Hall has ties to the slave trade as the Goldney family funded several ships that took part in the triangular slave trade. But the Goldney family did not donate money to the University.

“The University bought Goldney Hall and its gardens in the 1950s, when the family was breaking up the estate. So, it is solely through this purchase that the University is associated with the Goldney family.

“In keeping with the decision to retain the names of the buildings that carry the Wills and the Fry names, we will also retain the name of Goldney Hall. This is to make sure that we represent our history most accurately.”