Students campaign for Bristol law school to be renamed over its links with slave trade

They claim Henry Wills, who the building is named after, is a ‘slave profiteer’

Wills Memorial Building

Students at the University of Bristol have launched a petition calling for its law school’s name to be changed.

Bristol’s Wills Memorial Building houses its law school and is the location for all students’ graduation ceremonies. However, petitioning students Asher Websdale, Elmi Hassan and Shakeel Taylor-Camara say little is known about the history behind the building.

In fact, the building takes its name from tobacco industry giant Henry Wills (pictured below), whose fortunes are said to derive from slave-grown American tobacco. Wills, who others say cannot be conclusively linked to the slave trade, financed the construction of the building.

Henry Wills

Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade is well known, and is understood to have peaked in the mid-eighteenth century. In a Legal Cheek article from 2015 exploring this theme, a university spokesperson said: “the University of Bristol has never denied its connection with the slave trade, however remote.”

The petition, which has received hundreds of signatures, wishes to cut these ties. It states:

[L]et us break free from Bristol’s homogeneous toleration of slave profiteers and name the building after somebody the entire university population can be proud of.

While the petition is yet to be delivered to Bristol bigwigs, the university has told Legal Cheek it’s sticking by its law school’s name. A spokesperson said:

We have never sought to hide our association with the Wills family. We believe that it is important to be open and reflective about our history, and the city’s historical connection to the slave trade. We have in the past held well-attended public events and discussions about Bristol’s relationship with the slave trade. To us, it would seem disingenuous to seek to deny or cover up our relationship with the family.

This isn’t the first time students have sought to erase their universities’ shameful pasts.

Harvard Law School scrapped its official emblem last year after a successful student campaign argued the crest had strong links to slavery (it featured three wheat sheaves).

Oxford law student Ntokozo Qwabe’s campaign, Rhodes Must Fall, reaped fewer rewards. The Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) student sought to have a statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes removed from Oriel College. When the elite university refused to do so, he responded by stating: “Oriel College has basically said fuck all the black people.”

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43 Comments

Anonymous

This sanctimonious desire by students to denounce those who came before us makes them bitter individuals.

(58)(11)
Anonymous

Agreed, why don’t we just wipe the history books clear and focus upon the perfect world that we live in now, because this generation is after all doing so well. Oh wait….

(34)(7)
Remainer

I say we go one further and rename the city of Bristol “City of the Blood of Slaves”.

Liverpool should be renamed “City of the Blood of Slaves, with Scousers in it”.

They should be translated into a number of African languages as their official titles, and people of African heritage should automatically be entitled to a free house there and a white slave as compensation.

(3)(1)
Anonymous

Britain has a dirty past, fact. While I don’t think it should be erased or covered up, it definitely shouldn’t be glorified, and some would argue that naming buildings after/ erecting statues of former slave owners does exactly that.

They’re not saying burn all history books and let’s start wearing our rose tinted spectacles, they’re just saying stop glorifying someone who was partly responsible for the exploitation and death of a lot of slaves. Can’t hurt, right?

(12)(22)
Anonymous

I think we also need a petition to have England renamed. England is of course named after the Angles, a Germanic tribe that notoriously did not respect LGBT+ rights or offer vegan-friendly options in their coffee shops.

(92)(9)
Janet

And quite possibly future generations will denounce us too for mutilating the sexual organs of those with mental difficulties, not to mention our slaughter of the unborn by their millions.

(21)(7)
JP

More SJW nonsense.

Do they not see that renaming the building would be tantamount to whitewashing history?

(19)(7)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(1)
Black Bristolian Student

UoB students are going about this the wrong way. Changing a historical name won’t eradicate the racial issues and tensions in the city and at the Bristol universities. Bristol is a slave city! Instead UoB students and the Board should work together to change the racial issues at UoB and within the city, teach students and schools about Bristol slave history and its growth whilst proposing changes to stop the racial issues that plague the city and university, be more inclusive and diverse. Changing the name won’t change much.

(12)(8)
Anonymous

Lets knock down the coliseum because after all the romans were quite mean and they kept slaves. Surely this just serves to honour and glorify what they did.

(14)(3)
Anonymous

Well, I think re-naming the building sounds like a good idea. Having a building named after you is an honour, and so if the university no longer wants to honour this guy then renaming the building is the obvious move. Buildings/institutions are renamed all the time to reflect new donors. I don’t see how this would be white-washing history – there are other forms of historical record than honorific names. It’s not like the students are proposing burning every book that mentions him.

(8)(17)
Anonymous

It’s not like the students are proposing burning every book that mentions him.

Well for now they aren’t.

(12)(3)
Anonymous

FFS there is nothing to suggest they will. They are campaigning for a greater recognition of slavery’s legacy.

(4)(11)
Anonymous

So instead of changing a building name, why don’t they volunteer some time to a worthy cause?

Perhaps even work with a charity that are tackling modern-day slavery?

Oh that’s right, because that is too much effort for too little recognition. They are simply jumping on the band-wagon of a movement that started in Oxford.

(13)(4)
Anonymous

What makes you think that being in favour of changing the name of a building is somehow incompatible with volunteering? How odd.

(3)(10)
Anonymous

Because I believe if they were undertaking such work then they would be the first to let us all know.

(3)(2)
Anonymous

Even if they don’t succeed this time round, it’s only a matter of time before they get what they want.

(7)(3)
Anonymous

More SJW nonsense designed to perpetuate the notion of white guilt

(6)(4)
Baron Bompus

There really are more pressing issues in the world right now that could attract the ire of these students. We are raising a generation of mobile phone staring, too-easily offended, whinging, whiners. God help us if we ever have to to war.

(13)(3)
Anonymous

Step 1: obtaining planning consent to chip the Wills name off the stone walls inside and out – it’s a listed building.

Regardless I agree with the university on this. Users of the building are beneficiaries of the Wills family endowment by whatever name. At least currently there is transparency.

(6)(1)
Anonymous

Well this a slope of the slippery variety.

Winston Churchill was an unashamed racist and eugenicist. Maybe we should knock down the statue of him too?

(8)(0)
Anonymous

No more racist than most of his day.

He spoke out against notions of racial supremacy, segregation and hatred during the war.

As for eugenics, before the Nazis got hold of it most of the scientific establishment thought that it was kinder to euthanise the severely disabled than have them live in suffering.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(1)
Ciaran Goggins

Wills Hall would have to have its name changed (Hall of Residence).Mrs Jacob Rees-Mogg was there.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Half of the university precinct would have to be denounced. The Wills family funded more besides the two building with their names on. And what about the Merchant Venturers School of Engineering, or Merchant Venturers Building?

(1)(0)
Anonymous

Won’t happen. The complaining students will get bored and find a new cause to champion for change.

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.