Lord Mayor of Bristol removes portrait of slave trader from office

Bristol’s new Lord Mayor removes 316-year-old portrait of controversial slave trader Edward Colston… from her office wall and replaces him with a picture of a lion

  • Portrait of slave trader Edward Colston has hung in mayor’s office since the 50s
  • But the new mayor has ordered it be removed because she can’t work next to it
  • Colston helped make Bristol a rich city, but his company was behind the trafficking and deaths of thousands of slaves 

The Lord Mayor of Bristol has removed a 300-year-old portrait of a slave trader from the wall above her desk.

Cleo Lake said she ‘simply couldn’t stand’ the sight of Edward Colston looking at her as she worked.

The portrait dates back to 1702 and was hung in 1953 when City Hall opened – but Cllr Lake has asked for it to be installed in a museum about the abolition of slavery.

It is the latest move by the city to dissociate themselves from Colston, with venues and schools having previously removed his name from their titles.

Cleo Lake, the Lord Mayor of Bristol, has removed a portrait of Edward Colston from the wall of her office because of his role in the slave trade

The space in her office wall in Bristol’s City Hall will now be home to this picture of a lion

Cllr Lake, who describes herself as of Scottish, Bristolian and Afro-Caribbean heritage, was elected in May by fellow councillors.

She said: ‘I’m coming to the end of my first month in office, and this is my parlour, which is a lovely space.

‘I spend a lot of time here – I’m here nearly every day. I won’t be comfortable sharing it with the portrait of Colston. 

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‘Luckily, there’s been a lot of support and the council has agreed to take it down and today is the day it goes into storage.’

Cllr Lake said she wanted the portrait to be on public display again – but in a museum to Bristol’s role in the slave trade, slavery and its abolition. 

Colston, a divisive figure among the people of Bristol, played a key role in the original Royal Africa Company in the mid-to-late 17th century.

The portrait, which dates back to 1702 and was hung in 1953, was removed this week

City moving to erase slave traders’ name

There are at least 20 roads, schools, pubs, businesses and buildings named after Edward Colston, and the slave trader is still commemorated and celebrated in the city.

The city’s premier concert venue, Colston Hall, closed earlier this month for a major refit and will re-open in 2020 with a different name, while governors and parents at Colston Primary School in Cotham recently voted to change its name.

It turned the buying of slaves in West Africa, and the shipping of them to work on plantations in the Caribbean and North America, into an industrial-scale practice.

Historians estimate Colston was involved in the deaths of 20,000 people – including as many as 4,000 women and children – on board his slave ships in the late 17th century. 

A local man, he opened access to slave trade routes to Bristol’s merchants, and profited hugely from the forced trafficking of people over a number of decades. He later investing heavily in opening up slave trade routes through Asia.

A small portion of his fortune was given away to good causes in Bristol – setting up his own school and building almshouses.

It is the latest attempt by authorities in Bristol to ‘de-Colston-ify’ the city

Bristol has at least 20 roads, schools, pubs, businesses and buildings named after Edward Colston, but authorities have been attempting to dissociate themselves with him.

Concert venue Colston Hall closed earlier this month and will re-open in 2020 with a different name.

Governors and parents at Colston Primary School in Cotham meanwhile voted to change its name.

Edward Colston: Bristol’s beloved son and wealthy slave trader 

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.

Colston, left, a statue of him in Bristol, and right, a portrait, was deputy of of the Royal Africa Company which transported 80,000 slaves from Africa to the Caribbean and America

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.

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.

He used a lot of his wealth, accrued from his extensive slave trading, to build schools and almshouses in his home city.

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

However, after years of protests by campaigners and boycotts by artists the venue recently agreed to remove all reference of the trader.

A a statue commemorating Colston in Bristol, a plaque reads: ‘Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city.’


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