Bristol: Timeline – journey to the end of slavery and racial equality


Bristol Mayor, Sir William Hayman, was convicted for his involvement in forcing people into bonded labour in the Americas. These ‘servants’ could be punished and traded like slaves by their ‘masters’.


Edmund Burke, the famous political philosopher, was elected as the MP for Bristol. His opposition to the slave trade angered his merchant sponsors and he lost his seat in 1780.


Thomas Clarkson, famous anti-slavery campaigner, visited Bristol to gather evidence about the slave trade. Helped by the landlord of the Seven Stars pub, he collected first-hand accounts from disgruntled slave ship sailors exposing the true nature of the trans-Atlantic crossing. The information was used to fight successfully for abolition in parliament.

Photograph of a  plaque. Plaque shows Thomas Clarkson reading a book.
The Thomas Clarkson plaque on the Seven Stars pub, 2009.
Photo credit: Bristol Radical History Group


Bristol poets Hannah More and Ann Yearsley both published poems speaking out against the slave trade. John Wesley, the Methodist leader, preached an abolitionist sermon in Broadmead. The Bristol Abolition Committee was formed and a boycott of sugar was organised by women.

Black and white etching portrait of a woman shown with in a large brimmed hat.
Ann Yearsley
Photo credit


The radical reformer James Acland launched the popular broadsheet The Bristolian. The paper railed against slavery, corruption and the merchant elite who controlled the magistracy and the Bristol Corporation. Acland was jailed several times for libel.


A critical biography was published that revealed and documented Edward Colston’s leading role in the Royal African Company as a slave trader.


Sir Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) addressed a crowded meeting in the Colston Hall and was jeered by 5,000 Bristolians. The following year, the BUF attempted a mass meeting in the new estate of Knowle West (Filwood) but were violently driven out by thousands of local people.


Bristol Quakers and members of the Bristol Hebrew Congregation sponsored refugees from Nazi Germany.


Dr Sukhsagar Datta, the Bengali-born Bristol doctor, played an active role in the local Labour party and spoke out in favour of Indian Independence. Datta became chair of Bristol North Labour Party and founded the Bristol Indian Association.


After several minor clashes over racial segregation by the US Army, a confrontation between 400 black American GIs and white military police in the city centre exploded into a full-scale riot. Many Bristolians encouraged the black GIs and some joined in the fighting on their side. One GI was killed and dozens injured.


The Bristol Bus Boycott Campaign Against the Colour Bar, led by Owen Henry, Paul Stephenson and others, drew national attention and successfully resulted in the Bristol Omnibus Company overturning their colour bar.

A black and white photograph showing a large painted mural on the side of a building. The mural features a portrait of Owen Henry.
A mural of Owen Henry in St Paul’s.
Photo credit: Michele Curtis, 2017. The Seven Saints of St Paul’s


St Paul’s Carnival was founded initially as a community event with local residents selling home-cooked food from their front gardens.


An uprising in St Paul’s and Southmead was sparked when police raided a café. The uprising was fuelled by resentment against discriminatory attitudes within the police.


There were numerous protests, pickets and attacks on businesses supporting the apartheid regime. A boycott of South African goods created an ‘apartheid free zone’ in St Paul’s and led to similar initiatives in London and Liverpool.


Anti-colonial protesters campaigned against the 500th anniversary celebration of John Cabot, the explorer, and the launch of replica ship The Matthew. Protesters stormed a banquet launch event in Queen Square and many were arrested.


The first major exhibition of Bristol’s role in the slave trade was held at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Pero’s Bridge was opened and named in honour of Pero Jones, an enslaved African who lived in Bristol. Controversy over Edward Colston’s statue continued


During the wave of Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police murder of African American George Floyd in the USA, demonstrators pulled down the statue of Edward Colston and dropped it into the harbour.

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