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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

City of Bristol (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
ST 58628 73014




II 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); accessed on 2 January 2008; R. Winstone, Bristol in the 1890s (1960)

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION 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


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 05 Sep 1999
Reference: IOE01/01542/34
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Peter Frederick Rushby. Source Historic England Archive
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