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Colston Hall

Colston Hall
Engraving of the exterior, from 1873.
Colston Hall is located in Bristol
Location within Bristol
General information
Town or city Bristol
Country England
Completed 1860s
Client Corporation of Bristol

Colston Hall is a concert hall and grade II listed building situated on Colston Street, Bristol, England. A popular venue catering for a variety of different entertainers, it seats approximately 2,075 and provides licensed bars, a café and restaurant.[1] The venue is owned by Bristol City Council, but since April 2011 it has been run by the independent Bristol Music Trust.[2]


  • History 1
  • Artists who have performed at the Colston Hall 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


The site has been occupied by four buildings named Colston Hall since the 1860s.[3] In the thirteenth century, the site was occupied by a Carmelite friary, known as Whitefriars. Subsequently, the location held a large Tudor-era mansion known as the Great House, used by Queen Elizabeth I in 1574 on a visit to the city. In 1707, Edward Colston established the Colston Boys' School in this building, which was acquired by the Colston Hall Company in 1861. Colston Hall opened as a concert venue on 20 September 1867.[3] The architects were the prolific Bristol firm of Foster & Wood, working in the Bristol Byzantine style.[4] It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade II listed building.[5]

Interior of Colston Hall in 1873, before the fire.

Most of the building was damaged during a fire on 1 September 1898; the auditorium suffered immense structural damage, and the interior was more or less destroyed. The second hall opened in 1901,[6] and in 1919, the Corporation of Bristol purchased it from the Colston Hall Company. The City Council continues to manage the hall. The second hall was closed for remodelling in 1935.

In December 1936, the third hall was opened.[6] This survived the Luftwaffe air raids of the Second World War, but was burned down in 1945 after a discarded cigarette started a fire.[7] The hall was rebuilt once more, and the fourth reopened in 1951 to mark the Festival of Britain.[8] The first computerised booking system was installed in February 1983,[9] and a £500,000 modernisation programme was conducted at the start of the 1990s, which included extensive rewiring, and various backstage improvements.[10] The installation of removable seating in the front half of the stalls in 2005[10] improved the hall as a venue for pop concerts, providing space for fans to move around and dance in front of the stage; it also increased the overall capacity of the auditorium.

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.[11] The Bristol group Massive Attack vowed not to play at the venue while it retained its present name.[11] The proposal sparked a heated controversy in the pages of the local press, although the majority of letters printed favoured retaining the Colston name.[12][13]

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.[14][15]

The construction of the new foyer has allowed the old bar area, previously known as the "Little Theatre" or "Lesser Colston Hall"[16] to revert to being a performance space now known as "The Lantern" with a capacity of 350 standing,[17] plus new foyer performance spaces, education & meeting rooms, a restaurant, café and two bars in addition to the main hall that seats up to 2,075.

Artists who have performed at the Colston Hall

The venue has played host to many well-known acts over the years, including Pet Shop Boys, Belinda Carlisle, Erasure, Alison Moyet, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Iron Maiden, and more recently acts such as Anastacia and Robbie Williams.

In addition the 'popular music' artists in the above list, the Hall regularly hosts comedians (including multiple-date sell-out runs by Billy Connolly[18] and Bristol-born Stephen Merchant[19]).

There is also an annual International Classical Concert Season[20] featuring regular appearances by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and visiting UK and international orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra,[21] Philharmonia Orchestra,[22] the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Berliner Symphoniker in the 2011–12 season,[23] as well as solo artists such as Murray Perahia.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26] It is known that the great pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff performed at the hall in the 1920s,[27] 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[28] and concerts by Bristol Choral Society which has staged at least three concerts annually at the Hall since its formation in 1889.[29]

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.[30][31]


  1. ^ , Official Web SiteColston Hall Technical Information
  2. ^ "Colston Hall Governance Arrangements" (PDF). Bristol City Council. 20 September 2010. 
  3. ^ a b , Official Web SiteHistory of Colston Hall (1200s–1800s)
  4. ^ "The Colston Hall". Philharmonic Orchestra. Retrieved 19 May 2007. 
  5. ^ "The Colston Hall". Images of England. Retrieved 13 March 2007. 
  6. ^ a b , Official Web SiteHistory of Colston Hall (1900s–1930s)
  7. ^ , Official Web SiteHistory of Colston Hall (1940s)
  8. ^ , Official Web SiteHistory of Colston Hall (1950s)
  9. ^ "History of Colston Hall 1960s". Colston Hall. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  10. ^ a b , Official Web SiteHistory of Colston Hall (1990s)
  11. ^ a b Jamie Doward, "How Bristol's gracious mansions mask the shameful past of Britain's links to slavery", The Observer, 12 January 2014.
  12. ^ "Colston Hall name change under consideration". Bristol Post. 13 June 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  13. ^ "Have your say: Colston Hall". BBC. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  14. ^ "Roof-top turbine for music venue".  
  15. ^ "In pictures: Colston Hall foyer".  
  16. ^ Lloyd, Arthur. "The Colston Hall Complex, Bristol Including The Little Theatre". The Music Hall and Theatre History Website. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  17. ^ "Colston Hall – hall 2". Colston Hall. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  18. ^ "Billy Connolly at the Colston Hall". Colston Hall. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  19. ^ "Stephen Merchant at the Colston Hall". Colston Hall. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  20. ^ "Colston Hall Classical listings". Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  21. ^ "LSO/Adams". The Guardian. 15 March 2010. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  22. ^ "Philharmonia/von Dohnanyi". The Guardian. 14 April 2006. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  23. ^ "Colston Hall International Classical Season 2011/12 brochure" (PDF). Colston Hall. Retrieved 8 December 2011. 
  24. ^ "Murray Perahia". The Guardian. 13 April 2007. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  25. ^ "English Provinces: Bristol: Colston Hall (1896–1998)". Arts & Humanities Research Council Concert Programmes archive. Retrieved 22 December 2011. 
  26. ^ "Bristol Musical Festival (1912)". Arts & Humanities Research Council Concert Programmes archive. Retrieved 22 December 2011. 
  27. ^ "Colston Hall history 1900s–1930s". Colston Hall. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  28. ^ Scowcroft, Philip L. "A 167th garland of British light music composers". MusicWeb International. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  29. ^ Bowen, George S. (1898). Rejoice Greatly. Bristol: White Tree Books.  
  30. ^ "Coram Boy at the Colston Hall". MadamJ-Mo. Retrieved 23 December 2011. 
  31. ^ "Coram Boy – A Bristol Old Vic Production at Colston Hall". Bristol Old Vic. Retrieved 23 December 2011. 

External links

  • Official Web Site
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