David Whitwell

Colston's Fall


Down at The Centre in Bristol,

they're always trying to improve the place,

spending millions they can’t afford.

When the work was finally done

I went down to have a look

and it was not bad, not bad at all.

Wide paving,  handsome stonework

and an avenue of ancient trees.

But there, right in the middle,

where no one could possibly miss it,

that statue.

The most virtuous and wise son of Bristol,

for us to admire for another hundred years.

There’d been complaints and petitions,

the idea of adding a statement about his part in the slave trade,

but nothing happened.

It felt bad,

as though some things will never change.


Then after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis

and Black Lives Matter spread across the world

Edward Colston was thrown into the Floating Harbour

and I felt so glad.

Bristol gave a sigh of relief.

The protestors had achieved a breakthrough.

Yes, forces will regroup, 

and yes, the struggle will go on and on,

but something did happen in Bristol, 

on the seventh of June 2020,

and it’s not just a black thing

but about everyone.


I went down to the Centre the day after the statue was toppled. There were a lot of happy people, sitting about, talking, laughing. There was a remarkable atmosphere, very calm, strangers talking to each other. And I met a man I've known for years, a man of West Indian heritage. And he was so happy, and he kept asking me, What did I think? What did I feel? And it may have been that which made me think I should write something.


I tried to include in my poem some reference to the resistance that the message of the demonstrators had to overcome. However I clearly failed to get this right and when the poem was read it upset some people who thought that the tone I had adopted was pandering to racism. This was certainly not my intention and I have now altered the poem - simplifying it. I thought it was worth preserving this version as it does record a special day.

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