Campaigners block-book tickets to Colston statue in bid to stop visits

‘Save our Statues’ campaigners who want Edward Colston statue reinstalled on its plinth block-book tickets to museum in a bid to stop people from visiting

  • The Save Our Statues campaign group is block-booking tickets to the M Shed
  • The museum is displaying the statue of Edward Colston, pulled down last June 
  • As of 9.20am today, the M Shed is fully booked until 11.30 on Thursday morning

Campaigners who want the statue of Edward Colston reinstalled are block-booking tickets to its new museum home – to stop people from visiting.

The bronze figure of the 17th century slaver was pulled down from its Bristol plinth last June and is now on temporary display at the M Shed museum at Princes Wharf.

But a new anti-display campaign is being led by Save Our Statues, a group who ‘run confident, high-impact political, educational and legal actions to save our country’s illustrious cultural heritage’.

The group’s Twitter profile posted an image of the museum’s bookings so far, adding: ‘It would be so embarrassing for them if nobody turned up… Remember, it’s free to book, so knock yourself out!’

As of 9.20am today, the M Shed is fully booked until 11.30 on Thursday morning.

The Save our Statues group said the act was a ‘perfectly civilised means of protest’, adding: ‘We must act where we can. Politely complaining on Twitter will not win this war.’ 

Campaigners who want the statue of Edward Colston reinstalled are block-booking tickets to its new museum home – to stop people from visiting 

The bronze figure of the 17th century slaver was pulled down from its Bristol plinth last June and is now on temporary display at the M Shed museum at Princes Wharf

A new anti-display campaign is being led by Save Our Statues, a group who ‘run confident, high-impact political, educational and legal actions to save our country’s illustrious cultural heritage’

The statue is displayed lying on a wooden stand at the museum, which is now also home to placards from the protest and a timeline of events. 

The authorities say its positioning is down to money and because it wants the public to tell them how it should be shown in future.  

One social media user contacted Bristol’s M Shed museum to tell them ‘some edge lord is getting people to book all the spaces’.

M Shed replied: ‘Thank you, we know. We’ll just be accepting more walk-ups than usual’. 

The Save our Statues group said: ‘It’s a perfectly civilised means of protest. We must act where we can. Politely complaining on Twitter will not win this war’

Edward Colston was born to a wealthy merchant family in Bristol, 1636.

After working as an apprentice at a livery company he began to explore the shipping industry and started up his own business.

He later joined the Royal African Company and rose up the ranks to Deputy Governor.

The Company had complete control of Britain’s slave trade, as well as its gold and Ivory business, with Africa and the forts on the coast of west Africa.

During his tenure at the Company his ships transported around 80,000 slaves from Africa to the Caribbean and America.

Around 20,000 of them, including around 3,000 or more children, died during the journeys.

During Colston’s life, slavery was being actively encouraged by King Charles II, with many European countries taking part in the trade.  

Colston’s brother Thomas supplied the glass beads that were used to buy the slaves.

Colston became the Conservative MP for Bristol in 1710 but stood only for one term, due to old age and ill health.

Historian and broadcaster David Olusoga said one of the main problems the statue caused was that people did not understand why it was a source of upset for many in the city.

‘This is a city that is about 14% BAME with a statue of somebody who was not just a slave trader, he was involved in the Royal Africa Company, the company that trafficked more people into slavery than any in British history,’ he told BBC News.

‘The fact that it has not been seen as a problem for such a long time, that so many people are confused as to why the statue offends and upsets so many people, has been the problem.’

Colston donated money to causes in and around Bristol before his death in 1721 – including to the city’s churches, founded almshouses, Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital School, and founding a religious school for boys.

According to Historic England, his involvement in the slave trade was the source of much of the money which he bestowed in the city.

Due to his philanthropy, Colston’s legacy has been honoured by the city he once called home, where streets, memorials and buildings bear his name.

An inscription on the statue, which was built in 1895, read: ‘Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city.’

Following Colston’s death in the 18th century, he was described as ‘the brightest example of Christian liberality that this age has produced’. 

His charitable efforts helped inspire philanthropists in future generations, today the Dolphin Society provides help to vulnerable and elderly people who wish to remain independent. 

The society says it is ‘seeking to emulate the charitable endeavours of Edward Colston,’ but distances itself from the ‘evils of slavery, both in the days of Colston and in the appalling levels of modern day slavery’.

A statue was erected in his honour as well as other buildings named after him, including Colston Hall. 

Campaign group Countering Colston has called for an end to Bristol ‘publicly celebrating’ the controversial figure, and for the city to recognise the ‘true history of transatlantic slavery, colonialism and exploitation’.

An 11,000-strong petition said the statue of Colston had ‘no place’ in Bristol’s ‘beloved’ city centre.

In a victory for campaigners, Colston Hall – Bristol’s largest concert hall – announced in 2017 it would be re-branding, while a school formerly known as Colston’s Primary School was renamed last year. 

But the Save our Statues account added: ‘The statue is a Grade 2 listed piece of national heritage and there is a legal responsibility to repair the damage.’

One twitter user replied to the campaign page: ‘You’re the best ticket tout for Bristolian museums. Tuesday is now sold out so I booked plenty of tickets for Wednesday.’

Another criticised the tactic, claiming he had ‘called out the loony brigade for pulling a similar stunt on Nigel Farage’s recent events in US’, adding: ‘This isn’t cricket and our team are better than this.’

UWE professor, Dr Shawn Sobers, a member of the We Are Bristol History Commission, tweeted: ‘See how the Reactionaries are trying to stop anyone seeing the Colston display at @mshedbristol.

‘It’s too much for them that in a democratic society, people can choose to visit it for themselves and see the wider history, rather than the narrow narrative from the Colston Cult.’    

The bronze memorial to the 17th century merchant had stood in the city since 1895, but was pulled from its plinth during the demonstration on June 7 last year.

It was damaged as it was dragged through the city to the harbourside, where it was thrown in the water at Pero’s Bridge, which is named in honour of enslaved man Pero Jones who lived and died in the city.

Days later, the statue was recovered from the water by Bristol City Council and put into storage before months of work to clean and preserve the state it was in.

Members of the public are being asked by the We Are Bristol History Commission, which was set up following the protest, what should happen to it next.

Options include removing the statue from public view entirely, creating a museum or exhibition about the transatlantic slave trade, or restoring the statue to its plinth.

After the statue was pulled down, hundreds of people that had attended the protest laid their placards around its empty plinth.

More than 500 of these were collected by teams from the city council before being carefully dried out and stored. Only six form part of the current display at M Shed.

A selection of quotes, representing a range of reactions to the statue being toppled, form a slideshow on the wall behind it.

‘This display isn’t trying to be from an idealistic position or from an ideological position and celebrating or commiserating, it’s trying to be balanced,’ Dr Sobers added.

The display, focusing on the Colston statue, is on the same floor as a permanent exhibition at M Shed that details Bristol’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Ray Barnett, head of collections and archives at Bristol City Council’s culture team, said painstaking work to preserve both the statue and placards from the protest had taken place.

‘Most of the placards were just pieces of cardboard and they’d been left out on the site and it had rained so our first task was to stop them falling apart and turning into mush,’ Mr Barnett said.

‘That meant air drying them. We had them all out in our studios to gradually dry out and they were lay down so they wouldn’t lose their shape and become contorted.

‘With the statue itself, the metalwork is pretty robust but it had been damaged by the scraping along the pavement and a couple of pieces are missing from it.

‘There was a wax layer originally on the statue with paint on top of that, so we gradually washed out the silt and dried out the statue.

‘We had to be very careful as it dried out that the wax layer didn’t dry and fall off, taking the paint with it, because we felt it was our duty to say this is the situation after the protest, this is what the statue looks like.’

Mr Barnett described the display as ‘work in progress’ but it was important to quickly provide context to what happened, including the controversy that had surrounded the statue for decades.

‘There has been this disagreement, people have differing views about the situation but now the city needs to pull together and we’d like people to give their views as to how that can be achieved,’ Mr Barnett added.

‘Like a disgraced celebrity awaiting trial’: Fury as paint splattered Edward Colston statue is laid on its SIDE in museum

The public display of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston lying flat after being torn down during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol last year has been branded a ‘partisan act’ by an art critic.

Its new home is at the M Shed museum in the city alongside placards from the protest and a timeline of events and the figure is displayed lying on a wooden stand.

The authorities say its positioning is down to money and because it wants the public to tell them how it should be shown in future. 

But today art critic Alastair Sooke, 40, suggested they had already taken the decision themselves, given the exhibition.

He said: ‘Dredged from the riverbed, Colston’s effigy has been kept out of sight in storage, like a disgraced celebrity awaiting trial. Colston lies flat, overturned like a vanquished chess piece.

‘Presented alongside BLM placards, he’s still covered with graffiti, too. According to the authorities, the display is only temporary, designed to canvas public opinion about what should happen to the statue.

‘Moreover, it would, they say, be too costly for now to stand Colston upright again safely – hence, his supine position.

Almost exactly a year since it was toppled, the bronze (pictured) will go on public display at the M Shed museum in the city alongside placards from the protest and a timeline of events


The bronze memorial to the 17th century merchant had stood in the city since 1895, but was pulled from its plinth during the demonstration on June 7 last year. Pictured right: A picture from 1895 issued by Bristol Archives showing the ceremony for the statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston

‘But that strikes me as mealy-mouthed. Let’s not pretend that presenting the statue horizontally is impartial, when, really, it’s a partisan act,’ he told the Telegraph.

The bronze memorial to the 17th century merchant had stood in the city since 1895, but was pulled from its plinth during the demonstration on June 7 last year.

It was damaged as it was dragged through the city to the harbourside, where it was thrown in the water at Pero’s Bridge, which is named in honour of enslaved man Pero Jones who lived and died in the city.

Days later, the statue was recovered from the water by Bristol City Council and put into storage before months of work to clean and preserve the state it was in. 

Members of the public are being asked by the We Are Bristol History Commission, which was set up following the protest, what should happen to it next.

Dr Shawn Sobers, associate professor at the University of the West of England and part of the commission, said the effects of the statue being pulled down ‘ricocheted’ across the UK and the world

Options include removing the statue from public view entirely, creating a museum or exhibition about the transatlantic slave trade, or restoring the statue to its plinth.

Dr Shawn Sobers, associate professor at the University of the West of England and part of the commission, said the effects of the statue being pulled down ‘ricocheted’ across the UK and the world.

‘We know this isn’t an isolated incident, we know that there are statues across the world that celebrate slavers,’ Dr Sobers said.

‘At the same time, the anti-racist movement isn’t about statues. It’s trying to eradicate racism from society and bring equality where there’s racial disparity which cuts across economic divides.

‘But statues are a symbol of how seriously our cities in Britain are actually taking these issues.’

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