Colston Hall in 2005
Location within Bristol
|Town or city||Bristol|
|Client||Corporation of Bristol|
|Design and construction|
Colston Hall is a concert hall and grade II listed building on Colston Street, Bristol, England. It is owned by Bristol City Council and named after the trader and merchant Edward Colston, who founded a school at this location in the early 18th century. Since 2011, management of the hall is undertaken by Bristol Music Trust.
The hall first opened as a concert venue in 1867, and became a popular place for classical music and theatre. In the mid-20th century, wrestling matches were in strong demand, while in the late 1960s it developed into one of the most important rock music venues in Britain. The hall has been redeveloped several times, and was gutted by two fires in 1898 and 1945, though the original Bristol Byzantine foyer has survived. A major refurbishment, adding an extra wing, opened in 2009 and redevelopment of the cellars is planned by 2019.
The hall's official capacity is 2,075, with an additional 350 in "The Lantern", built as part of the 2009 redevelopments. As well as the main entertainment areas, there are a number of licensed bars and a restaurant.
There has been a building around the location of Colston Hall since the Middle Ages. During the 13th century, a Carmelite friary called Whitefriars stood on this site. In the Tudor period, it was replaced by a mansion called the Great House. Queen Elizabeth I stayed here when visiting Bristol in 1574. In the 16th century, a sugar house was established here by the merchant venturer Edward Colston, that refined sugar that had been brought in from the Caribbean to Bristol Harbour.
In 1708, Colston established the Colston Boys' School in this building in order to educate the poor. Colston adhered to a strict moral and religious code which was enforced in the school. After his death in 1721, the school continued at the Great Hall until 1857, when it moved to Stapleton.
The site was acquired by the Colston Hall Company in 1861, who demolished the old school building in order to build a concert hall. The venue opened on 20 September 1867. It was architectured by local firm Foster & Wood, working in the Bristol Byzantine style. The original hall included a coffered barrel-vaulted ceiling, and was modelled after St George's Hall, Liverpool. On 1 September 1898, a fire broke out in the neighbouring Clark's clothing factory, which quickly spread to the hall. The auditorium suffered extensive damage, with only the walls remaining, and the pipe organ was completely destroyed. The foyer was the only surviving part of the building.
The hall was rebuilt and re-opened in 1901. It was in use throughout World War I; In 1915, David Lloyd George addressed a meeting in the hall to discuss the production of munitions, while in 1919 a Roll of Honour took place there for soldiers who had been decorated for their service during the war.
The second hall was closed for remodelling in 1935, as it was difficult for all of the audience to see the orchestra performing. It re-opened the following December. Though much of Bristol was bombed during the Battle of Britain, the Colston Hall survived most of World War II. On 5 February 1945, a discarded cigarette started a large fire that burned down the hall for a second time. The organ was destroyed, and the main auditorium was reduced to pieces of charred wood and hot metal.
The hall was rebuilt again, and the fourth iteration reopened in 1951 to mark the Festival of Britain. It was designed by J Nelson Meredith and constructed by William Cowlin. It included improvements in the building's acoustics and a modern heating and ventilation system. The organ was rebuilt by Harrison & Harrison and housed in a grille behind the stage out of view of most of the audience. It has 5,372 pipes, ranging from 1 inch (whistle) to 32 feet (sub-bass). Acts from the US began to appear at the hall, having been restricted by the Musicians' Union for the previous 20 years. In 1966, the building was Grade II listed by English Heritage.
The first computerised booking system was installed in February 1983. In 1990, the hall briefly closed as part of a £500,000 modernisation programme to rewrire the building and improve the technical facilities, as well as redecorating the backstage area. was conducted at the start of the 1990s, which included extensive rewiring, and various backstage improvements. In 1999, removable seats were installed in the front of the stalls, in response to rock concerts where fans at the front wanted to move around freely, as well as increasing capacity. The official capacity of the hall is now 2,075.
From 2007 to 2009, the Colston Hall underwent extensive refurbishment with the construction of a new foyer alongside the present building, topped by a wind turbine. As part of the redevelopment, the old bar area (called the "Little Theatre" or "Lesser Colston Hall") became a performance space called "The Lantern". The venue can accommodate a standing audience of 350, and has additional performance spaces, meeting rooms, and restaurants. In 2011, management of Colston Hall transferred from Bristol City Council to Bristol Music Trust.
In 2014, the Bristol Music Trust announced a fundraising campaign to raise £45 million to refurbish and modernise the main hall. Proposed works include converting the cellars into studios, as well as other internal modernisations. By 2016, £25 million had been raised by Bristol City Council, the national Government, and Arts Council England. Work is expected to begin in 2017, with completion around 2019-20.
Artists and performers
Details of early performances at the hall are limited due to the subsequent fires, but the archive of the Royal College of Music holds programmes from 1896 onwards which reference a triennial musical festival that was founded in 1873, as well as performances by the (long defunct) Bristol Symphony Orchestra. The British Library holds details of the 1912 festival at the hall which, among other concerts, included a performance of Wagner's Ring Cycle over four days. It is known that the great pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff performed at the hall in the 1920s, and a concert programme from 1969 lists forthcoming weekly classical concerts with soloists such as Arthur Rubinstein and Igor Oistrakh as well as the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the (now defunct) Bristol Sinfonia, conducted by Sidney Sager and concerts by Bristol Choral Society which has staged at least three concerts annually at the Hall since its formation in 1889.
There is also an annual International Classical Concert Season featuring regular appearances by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and visiting UK and international orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Berliner Symphoniker in the 2011–12 season, as well as solo artists such as Murray Perahia.
The hall can also stage theatrical productions – from 22–30 December 2011 it hosted 15 performances of the Bristol Old Vic production of Coram Boy while the Old Vic was closed for refurbishment.
Colston Hall has been a popular venue for many rock and pop music acts since the 1960s. The Beatles first performed at the hall on 15th March 1963 as part of a package tour with Chris Montez and Tommy Rowe. The group returned there to play the last gig of a British tour on 10 November 1964, where four fans managed to sneak backstage and tip flour over their heads. Jimi Hendrix played twice at the hall during 1967.
From the late 1960s onwards, Colston Hall became one of the major rock music venues in the country. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John, Thin Lizzy, Roxy Music, Bob Marley and Lou Reed all performed at the venue. The Who first played Colston Hall on 10 November 1968, part-way through recording Tommy, with support from Free, and returned on 7 March 1970. Led Zeppelin played at Colston Hall in June 1969, part-way through recording Led Zeppelin II. Pink Floyd gave one of the first live performances of The Dark Side of the Moon at Colston Hall on 5 February 1972, over a year before the album was released.
In addition to rock and pop artists, the Hall regularly hosts comedians (including multiple-date sell-out runs by Billy Connolly and Bristol-born Stephen Merchant). An annual silent comedy festival takes place at Colston Hall.
Colston Hall was popular for wrestling matches from 1951. By the end of the decade, demand for matches was so strong that seats were block booked from one day to the next. Harold Sakata made several wrestling appearances there before moving into acting in the 1960s.
The last match was held in 2004; though an official reason was not given, locals believe it was no longer an appropriate image for Colston Hall.
Campaigners, many from the city’s Afro-Caribbean community, have called for the hall’s name to be changed because of Edward Colston’s link to the slave trade, much of his wealth having come from that trade, and his investments in the Royal African Company. The Bristol group Massive Attack vowed not to play at the venue while it retained its present name. The proposal sparked a heated controversy in the pages of the local press, although the majority of letters printed favoured retaining the Colston name.
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- Jamie Doward, "How Bristol's gracious mansions mask the shameful past of Britain's links to slavery", The Observer, 12 January 2014.
- "Colston Hall name change under consideration". Bristol Post. 13 June 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
- "Have your say: Colston Hall". BBC. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
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