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A Virtual Tour of the Black and Asian Presence in Bristol, 1500 - 1850

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Bristol had the second largest port after London and between 1720s and 1740s became Britain’s leading slaving port.

As a result of this trade, Bristol grew rapidly in population and size. It soon became Britain’s second city after London.

Ships from Bristol sailed to all parts of the globe carrying goods made in Bristol or its surrounding areas. These goods were used to buy slaves from Africa in return for money or produce for further sale in Britain or for re-export elsewhere.

This trade made some Bristolians very rich. You can see evidence of this wealth and the legacy of this trade all around you in Bristol.

At the same time, Black and Asian people came to Bristol as slaves, servants, sailors or visitors and their history, inextricably linked to the development of the slave trade and later Britain’s empire, can be found around Bristol too.

Map of Bristol

Click on a red cross to explore evidence of the Black and Asian presence.

Map of Bristol

Guinea Street Pero's Bridge The statue of Edward Colston Queen Square Merchants' Hall The Georgian House Corn Street Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery and the Wills Memorial Building The Sugar House, Lewins Mead


1. Pero's Bridge
2. Guinea Street
3. The statue of Edward Colston
4. Queen Square
5. Merchants' Hall


6. Corn Street
7. The Sugar House, Lewins Mead
8. The Georgian House
9. Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery and the Wills Memorial Building


Pero’s Bridge

Pero's Bridge In 1999 this footbridge was opened in the docks area of Bristol. It was named after an African slave who had been purchased in Nevis in the West Indies by the plantation owner John Pinney, who named him Pero Jones. Pinney brought Pero back with him when he moved to England in 1783. Pero lived, worked and died in Bristol.

This bridge is one of the few public monuments to the Black and Asian presence in the whole of Britain.

Can we find out more about Pero?

Although there is no visual record of Pero, it is still possible to find out something about his life by visiting John Pinney’s house at number 7, Great George Street (see the Georgian House) in Bristol, where there is a display on the top floor with information about Pinney and Pero.

There are also original documents (primary sources) about both men held at the University of Bristol Library. Some of those records relating to Pero are shown here.

Proof of purchase of Pero - opens new window
document | transcript
This document is the proof of purchase of Pero and his sisters Nancy and Sheeba. It shows the year that John Pinney purchased them and their ages when purchased.
List and valuation of John Pinney's slaves - opens new window
document | transcript
This document 1783 shows the value of the slaves Pero, Nancy and Sheeba when they were purchased. It also illustrates clearly that Pero was taken to England when John Pinney returned from Nevis.
Letter concerning Pero's health - opens new window
document | transcript
Here is a letter from John Pinney to a Mrs Dunbar dated 23 May 1798. In the letter, Pinney writes that Pero is very ill and is visited three to four times a week by the family. Within months of this letter being written, Pero was dead.

These documents are reproduced here with the permission of the Director of Information Services, University of Bristol and the Pinney family.

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Guinea Street

Guinea Street signGuinea was the name given to the western coast of Africa by traders. In 1663, the Company of Royal Adventurers, later known as the Royal African Company, produced a gold coin called a guinea. They traded in slaves and delivered gold obtained from the West African coast to the Mint, where it was turned into coinage. Bristol also produced brass pots and pans called ‘guinea pots’ especially for the African trade or ‘Guinea trade’ as the merchants called it.

In Guinea Street lived the slave traders and slave owners Edmund Saunders and Joseph Holbrook. One of many sugar houses also stood in this street ( see the Sugar House, Lewin's Mead).

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The statue of Edward Colston

The statue of Edward ColstonThis statue was erected at the end of the 19th century to honour the charitable works of the Bristol merchant Edward Colston. He was responsible for the endowment of many of Bristol’s institutions such as churches, schools, almshouses and hospitals. Several of Bristol’s landmarks are named after him including the nearby Colston Hall, which was built on the site of Bristol’s first sugar house. Much of Colston’s wealth came from his involvement in both the slave trade and the Royal African Company.


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Queen Square

Number 29, Queen SquareThis square was completed in 1727. Many merchants and officials who became wealthy through slavery or slave-produced goods, lived here.

At number 29 lived Henry Bright, a prominent Bristol merchant and slave trader who was also mayor of Bristol. He had a Black servant called Bristol.

Woodes Rogers' plaqueAt numbers 33 to 35 lived Captain Woodes Rogers, a famous privateer who made a voyage around the world in 1708 to 1711 trading in slaves on the way. He also invested in a ship carrying slaves from Africa to Jamaica.

The plaque says: "Woodes Rogers 1679-1732 Great Seaman Circumnavigator Colonial Governor Lived in a house On this site."

The first overseas Consulate for the USA was located in the square in 1792 underlining Bristol’s strong links with the slave-produced goods of North America.


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Merchants' Hall

On this site stood the Merchants’ Hall, the headquarters of the Society of Merchant Venturers who ensured that Bristol’s merchant traders took full advantage of the burgeoning trade in African slaves during the 18th century. A plaque commemorating the Society is on the wall of the current office block.

Merchant Venturers’ AlmshousesNext door (and shown here) are situated the Merchant Venturers’ Almshouses, built by the Society for sick and elderly sailors. On the wall you can see the coat of arms of the Society. From here you can walk along King Street, which was built in the 17th century. Residents included many who owed their wealth to the slave trade and the Theatre Royal's many patrons were Merchant Venturers. Thomas Clarkson, the abolitionist, visited here to gather information for use in the campaign against the trade.


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Corn Street

Number 56, Corn StreetCorn Street was the hub of Bristol’s trade with the rest of the world. Trading, insurance, banking and the provision of loans all took place in this street.

Number 56, Corn Street is a coffee shop which has been in existence for over 200 years. Bristol’s merchants preferred to do their trading in coffee houses such as this.

Plaster relief of head, the Corn ExchangeClose by is the Corn Exchange, where merchants traded their goods. Above the three doors of the hall are emblems representing trade with Asia, Africa and America.

The Old BankIn the same street is a plaque commemorating the Old Bank founded by Africa traders. This bank merged with others and eventually became the National Westminster Bank, which is now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland.


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The Sugar House, Lewins Mead

The Sugar House, Lewin's Mead This building, now a hotel, was once a sugar house and refinery. Bristol had over 20 such refineries in the 18th century. The demand for sugar created the demand for more African slaves to cultivate the sugar crop in the Caribbean. Close by is the Three Sugar Loaves public house, which was the name of the sugar refinery which stood on this site.



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The Georgian House

The Georgian HouseAt number 7, Great George Street stands the house built for John Pinney, who owned several sugar plantations on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. When he returned from Nevis in 1783, he used his wealth to build this house. It also served as an office for the sugar company that Pinney had set up with James Tobin on his return to Bristol.

A room in the Georgian HouseThe house is now owned by the Bristol City Museum and has been turned into a free museum with the house laid out as it would have been in the 18th century. There is a small display at the top of the house, with information on John Pinney and on Pero, his slave (see Pero's Bridge).


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Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery and the Wills Memorial Building

Wills Memorial BuildingBristol City Museum & Art GalleryThese buildings were the gift of the Wills family to the people of Bristol. The Wills family had become wealthy through the tobacco industry, which was slave- produced. They later became opponents of the slave trade and supporters of local charities.

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