Exactly a year ago today (June 7), protesters pulled down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston.
Since that momentous day in Bristol – which was part of a global movement to challenge racism – a lot has happened.
Right now, as the bronze figure of the 17th century slave trader goes on display at the M Shed, four people – known as the Colston 4 – charged with criminal damage over the statue’s toppling await trial.
Here is a timeline of everything that has happened before and since June 7, 2020:
Prior to 2019
Some people in Bristol have been calling for the statue of Edward Colston to be removed since the publication in 1920 of a book outlining for the first time that his fortune was made from the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
The campaign began in earnest in around 1990, and stepped up a gear in 2015 and 2016 with the creation of the Countering Colston group, which was formed to raise awareness and question the celebrations of Edward Colston by churches and schools in Bristol annually, as well as the buildings, pubs, schools roads and concert halls that were named in his honour.
Bristol-based history professor and TV presenter David Olusoga says in an interview with BristolLive: “2020 will be a bit of a big year for Colston and Bristol’s relationship with the slave trade.”
Prof Olusoga made the comments in an interview regarding the latest series of A House Through Time, which traces the history of a British city, and the nation as a whole, through the stories of the residents of just one single house in Redcliffe.
The professor spoke about how the series would be received in Bristol as it would be broadcast in early summer of 2020, around the time that the Colston Hall, Bristol’s biggest concert venue, was due to announce what new name it would be known by when it reopened after a £50 million restoration.
The announcement of a new name for the Colston Hall, planned for April, was postponed both because of the coronavirus pandemic, but also because the project to restore the concert hall was delayed.
Monday May 25, 2020
George Floyd was killed by police officers who had arrested him. One knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, suffocating him to death. It was filmed, and the video went viral to a shocked city, then America, then the world.
Tuesday May 26, 2020
The first protest about the death of George Floyd happened in Minneapolis.
In the UK, the first edition of the new A House Through Time was broadcast that evening, with 4.16 million watching. The episode tackled Bristol’s role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, piracy, and a runaway slave.
Monday June 1, 2020
The Black Lives Matter movement swept the world, and a group of young people in Bristol began to plan their own protest, scheduled for Sunday, June 7. People also began to share, and sign, an online petition.
The petition called for the removal of the statue of Edward Colston. It was set up in 2017 by Samantha Gould on the 38 Degrees petition website.
Back in 2017, following the announcement of the dropping of the Colston name from the Colston Hall, Bristol Live reported regularly on the number of other buildings, roads and institutions that bore the Colston name, and ran a series of features and opinion pieces outlining who Colston was, what he and other merchants in Bristol had done – not just to the enslaved people of west Africa, but also to Bristol’s own poor.
Only a pub, now the Bristol Yard, and a primary school, now Cotham Gardens school, changed back then and in 2018.
Places like Colston’s Girls’ School and the Colston Tower resisted calls to drop the name, and Bristol City Council resisted calls to remove the statue of Edward Colston from The Centre. A compromise of a second plaque sparked even more arguments, so that proposal didn’t happen either.
For two and a half years, the 38 Degrees petition gained little traction. From 2017 to the first days of June 2020, only 50 people signed it. In the first few days of June 2020, thousands did as it became part of Bristol’s own Black Lives Matter cause.
Friday, June 5, 2020
Bristol Live reported that 10,000 people had suddenly signed the petition calling for the statue to be removed, as interest in Colston, why there was a statue there in the first place and the debacle of the second plaque grew.
Sunday June 7, 2020
The Black Lives Matter protest took place, with 10-15,000 people gathering on College Green, Park Street and down into The Centre. A large group of people took just a couple of minutes to pull down the statue.
As it lay on the ground, one protester knelt on its neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, while others gathered silently around it. A total of 83 minutes after it was toppled, it was tipped into the Floating Harbour next to Pero’s Bridge, the only thing in Bristol named after an enslaved person, rather than the many named after slavers.
Images of the toppling were shared instantly around the world.
The police had decided against intervening as the statue was toppled, and also during the 83 minutes before the statue went into the harbour. The backlash to that decision was huge, and went all the way to the Home Secretary, who put pressure on for a full investigation and prosecutions.
Police chiefs were forced to.
Avon and Somerset Police quickly announced they are beginning an investigation into possible criminal damage.
Monday June 8, 2020
- The world has its say on Edward Colston, the statue, the toppling and the Transatlantic Slave Trade – everyone from Piers Morgan to Priti Patel, Ice Cube to Massive Attack.
- In Bristol, suddenly, organisations and establishment institutions and people line up to say they never liked the statue in the first place. Historic England, which had listed the statue and made no mention of Edward Colston’s slave trade past in its official listing for years, now said it recognised the statue was ‘a symbol of injustice and a source of great pain for many people’, and agreed it should not be reinstated.
- Bristol’s Society of Merchant Venturers, for centuries the organisation that ran the city’s Transatlantic Slave Trade and now running schools and nursing homes in the city, gave its first pronouncement on the toppling. A spokesperson for the declined to give a view on whether they approved or disapproved of the actions of a crowd of people who pulled down the statue. Instead, they said: “The statue of Edward Colston has for a long time been a divisive topic in Bristol. Whether or not the city has a statue of a man known for his involvement in the Royal African Company, we must never forget the 12,000,000 enslaved human beings who were trafficked from their homes during the abhorrent transatlantic slave trade.”
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- Police confirm they have identified 17 ‘suspects’ who could be responsible for criminal damage. This is later increased to 18. Supt Andy Bennett told Bristol Live it was down to the council whether anyone identified would end up in court. “The council is the victim of this piece of damage,” he said. “In order to take a case to court, you need a victim, so we need to have a mature conversation with the council.”
- The Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives his reaction to the toppling, saying it was a ‘criminal act’.
- In the first statement of many similar to follow, the headteacher of Colston’s Girls’ School announces that a smaller replica of the statue of Edward Colston, which had stood in the school’s main entrance foyer for more than 100 years, would be removed from display immediately.
Tuesday June 9, 2020
Wednesday June 10, 2020
Thursday June 11, 2020
Friday June 12, 2020
Saturday June 13, 2020
A mixed group of football fans, bikers and former military personnel gathered in their hundreds around the Cenotaph in the centre of Bristol.
Some had done so the previous Sunday, and said they were there to protect the war memorial, and were angry at being called ‘right wing’ by Supt Andy Bennett in the aftermath of that. Others were there proclaiming it was an ‘All Lives Matter’ protest. There were three arrests.
Sunday June 14, 2020
Colston Avenue, the road in The Centre on which the Colston Statue was located, was ‘renamed’ Stephenson Avenue, in honour of Bristol Bus Boycott leader Paul Stephenson.
Monday June 15, 2020
An art installation showing a fat man stuck in a wheelie bin and looking at a mobile phone was chained to a lamppost near the base of the Colston plinth. It was removed by the council after a couple of days.
The lettering of the Colston Hall was removed from the building. The concert hall said in 2017 it would be dropping the name.
Tuesday June 16, 2020
Eight days after announcing it was under consideration, Bristol Cathedral staff removed or covered over all the references and commemorations to Edward Colston within the Cathedral, and at St Mary Redcliffe Church.
Wednesday June 17, 2020
Bristol City Council’s museums and conservation teams showed and explained how they had been working to preserve the statue of Edward Colston, ever since it was pulled out of the harbour.
They confirmed that the statue would eventually be going on public display, with all the graffiti that had been sprayed on it, all the Black Lives Matter placards left around the plinth that day, and even with the bicycle wheel that was hooked onto the statue’s coat tails when it was lifted out of the harbour.
June 22, 2020
Avon and Somerset police formally launched a major appeal to identify 15 out of the 18 people police chiefs said they had decided had potentially committed criminal damage in the toppling, dragging and dumping of the Colston statue. They said police had already identified three of those 18.
The woman leading the police investigation confirmed that they had taken this step after Bristol City Council had formally made a complaint of criminal damage.
June 30, 2020
The Colston Arms pub, on St Michael’s Hill, put up a new sign outside announcing it would be listening to people about the question of whether it too should have a new name. The new temporary sign renames the pub ‘Ye Olde Pubby McDrunkface’.
July 11, 2020
A mannequin of Jimmy Savile was placed on the Colston plinth. It lasted less than a day.
July 15, 2020
Early in the morning, a statue of Jen Reid, one of the Black Lives Matter protesters holding up a fist on the empty plinth after Colston had been toppled, was erected on the plinth itself. The act was criticised by Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees.
The day ends with large crowds gathering around the plinth to see the new sculpture, named A Surge of Power, and a powerful photograph of the young black women from the Rising Arts Agency was taken.
July 16, 2020
At dawn, Bristol City Council workmen removed the statue of Jen Reid, placed it in the back of a skip and took it away.
Later that day, CARGO, the Bristol-based creative education movement that sculptor Marc Quinn said he would donate the proceeds of the statue to, unveiled their project which allows people to virtually design and place any piece of artwork on the Colston plinth.
August 5, 2020
Campaigners and historians who had led the drive to question Bristol’s continued links with Edward Colston before the statue was toppled questioned the make-up and progress of the History Commission.
September 13, 2020
September 23, 2020
The Colston Hall announced its new name as Bristol Beacon.
October 1, 2020
Police confirmed that they have identified a total of ten of the 18 people they wanted to question in relation to the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston.
Six of them had accepted the offer of a conditional caution, while files on the other four – two men and two women – had been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The six cautioned would be fined with the money being donated to a modern slavery charity, and would also have to write a letter to the new History Commission explaining their actions.
October 6, 2020
Colston’s Girls’ School announced it will change its name, following a consultation with staff, parents and students.
November 6, 2020
Colston’s Girls’ School announced its new name will be Montpelier High School.
November 26, 2020
The new name for the Colston Tower was announced. It was to be called Beacon Tower.
December 2, 2020
Following the death of actor and Bristol legend Dave Prowse, a small statue of Darth Vader, who he played in the first three Star Wars movies, was put up on the Colston plinth.
December 6, 2020
An episode of US cartoon sitcom Family Guy mirrored the fall of Edward Colston – it saw the residents of Quahog learn their town’s hero ‘Pawtucket Pat’ was a racist murderer, so the statue of him was pulled down from the town square, and rolled into the river.
December 9, 2020
The four remaining people questioned over the toppling of the statue were charged with criminal damage and told to appear in court in Bristol in the New Year.
December 10, 2020
City centre councillor Kye Dudd revealed that he is backing a petition from local residents to restore the original medieval names of two streets, Colston Street and Colston Avenue.
December 31, 2020
The man in charge of policing the Black Lives Matter demonstration, Supt Andy Bennett, was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in the New Year’s Honours list for 30 years service to community policing.
January 14, 2021
It becomes public that a man bombarded Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees with abusive emails following the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue.
Fleetwood Spence, from the Wirral, sent emails to the mayor which were described as “abusive, aggressive and threatened violence to those who supported the removal of the statue” by the CPS.
January 17, 2021
The Government announces it is set to introduce a new law which it says will protect historic monuments like statues.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill makes a special new law to protect monuments and statues, with the crime of damaging them punishable by up to ten years in prison.
The bill – which has been at the centre of the Kill the Bill movement – proposed by the Government would also give police and the Home Secretary increased powers to stop protests.
January 19, 2021
The Colston Tower now has its new name – Beacon Tower – visible across the city.
January 25, 2021
Four people charged with criminal damage over the toppling of the statue plead ‘not guilty’ and elect a trial before a judge and jury.
The four were charged that on June 7 in the City of Bristol they ‘jointly with each other and others unknown without lawful excuse, damaged property, namely the statue of Edward Colston and a plinth of a value unknown belonging to Bristol City Council, intending to destroy or damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be destroyed or damaged.’.
The four are: Rhian Graham, 29, of Colston Road, Easton in Bristol; Milo Ponsford, 25, of Otter Close in Bishopstoke, Hampshire; Jake Skuse, 36, of Farley Close in Little Stoke, South Gloucestershire; and Sage Willoughby, 21, of Gloucester Road in Bristol.
Three of the four people charged with criminal damage say they will ‘fight this case vigorously’.
Despite police warnings, a number of people turned out as the Colston 4 arrived for their first hearing at the court.
January 26, 2021
Police say four people have been handed Covid fines after being arrested outside Bristol Magistrates Court.
The force said they were detained after attending an ‘unlawful protest’.
February 11, 2021
A Bristol school announces it has appointed a renowned artist to reinvent its logo and remove Edward Colston’s crest.
February 12, 2021
One of the women arrested outside Bristol Magistrates Court on the morning of the first appearance of the Colston 4 has made an official complaint to the police about their conduct.
Ros Martin claims officers put her health at risk by taking her off the street, transporting her across Bristol and keeping her detained for four-and-a-half hours, and she said they then were ‘inaccurate and misleading’ in the way they told the public of the circumstances of her arrest.
February 24, 2021
The Bristol History Commission says the decision on whether to rename streets that are named in honour of slave traders should be up to the people that live there, not Government ministers or council chiefs.
March 1, 2021
Two prominent Bristol councillors call on the Government to set up a commission to instigate reparations for the United Kingdom’s role in the Transatlantic slave trade.
Former Lord Mayor Cleo Lake and current deputy mayor Asher Craig come together to ask Bristol City Council to lobby the Government for the parliamentary commission of inquiry.
March 2, 2021
Colston 4 appear in court and a date for the trial is set for December 13.
Judge Peter Blair QC, the Recorder of Bristol, said he would preside over a trial of the case.
A pre-trial hearing is set for November 8 as the court is told the trial will take more than a week to complete.
March 11, 2021
A government-ordered report is published and defends Avon and Somerset Police’s response to the historic fall of Edward Colston’s statue, saying it was “difficult to predict that the statue would be pulled down”.
The report commissioned by the Home Secretary Priti Patel, which investigated the police response to protests, revealed authorities knew days before the Black Lives Matter protest that Colston’s statue was a potential “target”.
Just two days before the slave trader’s statue was toppled, a senior Avon and Somerset Police officer emailed senior leaders at Bristol City Council advising them to consider measures to protect it.
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March 16, 2021
A school named in honour of Edward Colston unveils a new badge and logo which isn’t taken from his family crest.
But The Dolphin School will keep its name, after parents, pupils and staff took part in a consultation over the issue.
March 19, 2021
It is revealed a planning inspector is to decide if a sculpture of Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid could sit atop the Colston plinth for two years.
It emerges that Interpolitan Ltd sought planning permission to install the statue for a two-year period, and has lodged an appeal because the council failed to make a decision on the planning application.
The planning decision will now be made by a government inspector at a formal hearing, on a date yet to be set.
April 14, 2021
Work begins on an £8,000 Colston statue museum display.
The display – which will include a barrier – will house the statue, along with the Black Lives Matter placards and signs.
April 22, 2021
Four people who protested in support of the ‘Colston Four’ before their first court hearing in January receive ‘substantial damages’.
Avon and Somerset Police’s Chief Constable also issues an apology.
May 24, 2021
The University of Bristol has announced a new project that will explore how the city’s shameful past shaped its expansion – and, importantly, how that history is still affecting communities in the present day.
Researchers will work with Bristol residents to reveal the “complex and ongoing legacy” of the city’s slave trade.
May 25, 2021
A vigil in remembrance of George Floyd is held in Bristol.
The event to mark the one-year anniversary of his murder was at College Green in the city centre.
June 4, 2021
The Colston statue goes on display at the M Shed.