UoB will now investigate slavery links two years after rejecting Wills renaming

85 per cent of UoB’s original funding came from slavery


The University of Bristol are to create a permanent academic position to address the institution’s links with the slave trade.

Students have welcomed the move, which comes two years after UoB rejected controversial calls to rename the Wills Memorial Building.

Campaigners argued that the name serves as a “glorification” of a man who financed the university “with slave-profited money.” However, some argued renaming would "erase history".

Last year it was estimated that 85 per cent of the money used to found the uni came from the slave trade. Historically, Bristol was one of the country’s three main slave-trading ports, along with Liverpool and London.

Edward Colston, a notorious slave-dealer, features on the University’s crest, and The Wills Memorial Building was named after Henry Overton Wills III, who’s family wealth comes from the slavery-reliant tobacco industry.

In 2017, a student-led attempt to rename the building was rejected by the uni, with a petition getting 706 supporters.

UoB justified its decision to keep the name at the time by saying it was important to honour families who contributed to the uni's success. It argued: "Bristol commercial families have made major contributions to the University, without which the institution would not have flourished. In our view, it is important to retain these names as a reflection of our history.”

The Wills Memorial Building

Now, as part of a city-wide effort, UoB are looking to "explore, investigate and determine the university’s historical links to slavery," a uni spokesperson told The Observer.

"As an institution founded in 1909, we are not a direct beneficiary of the slave trade, but we fully understand and acknowledge that we financially benefited indirectly," the spokesperson added. The idea is to create a ‘permanent memorial’ as part of an attempt to answer the question, how should Bristol remember the slave-trade?

This follows last week’s news that The University of Cambridge are to begin a two year investigation with their own connections to slavery.

Students have welcomed the inquiry. Amelia Sadie Hoppenbrouwers, a second year theology student, commented: "We should remember the slave trade actively and not as an ineffectual and distant memory."

History student Zak Arney adds: "People should be aware of how the structural legacies of the slave-trade have impacted Bristol's make-up today.

"An effort should be made to dissociate the notion that slavery is too horrific to be discussed and move towards a dialogue which helps people understand its contemporary relevance."