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Statue of Edward Colston

A Grade II Listed Building in Bristol, City of Bristol

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Latitude: 51.4546 / 51°27'16"N

Longitude: -2.5968 / 2°35'48"W

OS Eastings: 358628

OS Northings: 173014

OS Grid: ST586730

Mapcode National: GBR C7K.ND

Mapcode Global: VH88M.YP1S

Entry Name: Statue of Edward Colston

Listing Date: 4 March 1977

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1202137

English Heritage Legacy ID: 379334

Location: Bristol, BS1

County: City of Bristol

Electoral Ward/Division: Central

Built-Up Area: Bristol

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bristol

Church of England Parish: Bristol St Stephen with St James and St John the Baptist with St Michael and St George

Church of England Diocese: Bristol

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Listing Text


901-1/11/555 COLSTON AVENUE
(Northeast side)

This list entry has been amended as part of the Bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition Act.

Statue of Edward Colston, standing in Colston Avenue, to south of central pavement; the statue faces south. Erected 1895; the sculptor was John Cassidy of Manchester. A bronze statue on a pedestal of Portland stone. The statue shows Colston in middle age, dressed in C17 costume and leaning pensively on a stick. A rectangular moulded plinth with buttressed corners to a moulded pedestal; above this, consoles to an octagonal base supporting the statue. Inscribed on the south face of the base the words 'Edward Colston / Born 1636 / Died 1721'. To each corner of the pedestal, a bronze dolphin (dolphins feature on the Colston family crest), and on each face, a bronze plaque with Art Nouveau-style relief. On the south face, the words 'Erected by / citizens of Bristol / as a memorial / of one of the most / virtuous and wise sons of / their city / AD 1895' and 'John Cassidy fecit'. On the west face, Colston dispenses charity to poor children; on the north he is shown at the harbour; on the east is a scene with marine horses, mermaids, and anchors.

HISTORY: Edward Colston (1636-1721) was the son of a prosperous Bristol merchant; the family had long been established in Bristol. Edward Colston was apprenticed to the London Mercers' Company in 1654, in which he was enrolled in 1673. Thereafter, Colston established his own successful business in London, trading with Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Africa. The details of precisely how Colston's fortune was accumulated are not recorded, but his business interests were wide. Besides trading extensively in various commodities, including cloth and wine, he acted as a money-lender, and had interests in the West Indian island of St Kitts. In 1680 he became a shareholder in the Royal African Company. The Company, which had been founded in 1672 in place of the Royal Adventurers, had a monopoly on trade with Africa until 1688, after which time it received fees from English traders. Colston took a leading role in the Company, serving on several committees, and becoming deputy governor in 1689. Other members of the Colston family had connections with the Company; Edward's brother Thomas supplied beads that were used to buy slaves.

Although his trade was based in London, Colston continued to take an interest in his native Bristol; it is thought that he moved here for a while during the 1680s. He inherited a Bristol business from his brother, and became a partner in a Bristol sugar refinery, processing sugar produced by slaves in the West Indies. He was elected a free burgess of the city, and a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers, which meant that he could trade out of Bristol. By 1689 Colston had taken up residence at Mortlake, Surrey, where he lived for the rest of his life, but the philanthropic benefaction for which he was to become famous was concentrated on Bristol, the city for which he was MP from 1710-14.

Edward Colston is buried at All Saints' Church in Bristol, where a monument, designed by Gibbs and carved by Rysbrack, lists his charities. The bronze statue in Colston Avenue was commissioned by a committee organised by J. W. Arrowsmith, a Bristol printer and publisher and a promoter of the Exhibition, whose premises overlooked the site. The statue was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of Bristol on 13 November 1895.

Until the 1990s, Colston's involvement in the slave trade, the source of much of the money which he bestowed in Bristol, went largely unremarked. Since that time there has been growing interest in Bristol's role in the 'triangular trade', which saw ships leave Bristol filled with goods to purchase slaves, carry those slaves to West Indian plantations, and return to Bristol laden with sugar. Although Colston's principal connection with the slave trade was through the London-based Royal African Company, he has come to be seen as the pre-eminent representative of this aspect of Bristol's history.

SOURCES: Dictionary of National Biography; V. Coules, The Trade: Bristol and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (2007); Bristol Historic Environment Record; D. Merritt, Sculpture in Bristol (2002); http://johncassidy.org.uk/ accessed on 2 January 2008; R. Winstone, Bristol in the 1890s (1960)

The statue of Edward Colston is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* A handsome statue, erected in the late C19 to commemorate a late C17 figure; the resulting contrast of styles is handled with confidence
* The statue is of particular historical interest, the subject being Edward Colston, Bristol's most famous philanthropist, now also noted for his involvement in the slave trade.
* Group value with other Bristol memorials: a statue of Edmund Burke, the Cenotaph, and a drinking fountain commemorating the Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition of 1893

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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